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Barron's Booknotes-The Catcher In the Rye by J. D. Salinger-Free Booknotes/Synopsis
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CHAPTER 17

Holden's references to sadness and depression, coupled with his mental trip back to the beauty of childhood, are signals that the tension in him is mounting. It's becoming more difficult for him to cope as the hours pass. In this chapter he almost forces a crisis.

He's waiting for Sally in the lobby of New York's Biltmore Hotel, a popular meeting place for young people at the time that Salinger was writing. The place is filled with girls his age, and he's watching them. It was "nice sightseeing" he says, but also "sort of depressing."

The depressing part is thinking about what's going to happen to most of the girls he sees. They're all going to have conventional lives, he thinks, married to boring men. But notice where Holden's thoughts about bores lead him. He ends up saying that life with a bore might not be so bad after all. Even a bore, he thinks, has at least one quality that sets him above everyone else, or one special talent that no one else has.

His date with Sally resembles an emotional roller coaster ride. "I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her," he says. On the way to the theater, he tells her he loves her. Though he knows it's a lie, he says he meant it when he said it. By the time they leave the theater, he "sort of hated old Sally."

"I'm crazy," he tells us. Later, he calls himself a madman. Of course, he means these statements as figures of speech, but they still indicate that he has some idea that he's behaving erratically.

Sally suggests that they go ice skating. In a restaurant at the rink, Holden's troubles begin coming to a head. He tells Sally how much he hates school, and uncharacteristically he's willing to see himself, and not the rest of the world, as the problem.


"I don't get hardly anything out of anything," he cries. "I'm in bad shape. I'm in lousy shape." Unlike his use of "crazy" and "madman" earlier, this is no figure of speech for Holden. He's serious, he's admitting he's in trouble, and he's asking Sally to help him.

That, of course, is one of the most irrational things we've seen him do yet. Sally Hayes is the last person who might be willing to help him. She doesn't even understand most of what he's saying to her.

He makes the further mistake of asking her to come live in the woods with him. Her response would be funny if Holden's condition weren't so serious. As he has done all along, he's trying to reach out to someone. But, as usual, he's saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. The net result of Holden's attempt is that he annoys Sally by his use of profanity, and finally insults her.

NOTE:

Once again, Holden's attempt at communication comes to nothing. Worse than nothing, really, because he's just alienated someone he's known for a long time. He does try to apologize, but Sally won't accept it, and she tells him he's mad.

So he's alone again, more depressed than ever, and angry with himself for asking Sally to go away with him.

"The terrible part, though," he says, "is that I meant it when I asked her." And that really is terrible, because it shows that Holden has nearly lost control of himself.

Sally Hayes isn't someone with whom Holden wants to live. He can't even endure an afternoon with her. His invitation to her is the irrational act of a desperate person, someone who will do anything for human companionship.

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