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It is in the early hours of Monday morning when Holden returns Grand Central Station. He decides to sleep on one of the benches in the waiting room because he has nowhere else to go. He wakes around nine, as the hustle and bustle of the working day begins. He thinks about the night before and the incident with Mr. Antolini; he wonders if he has misinterpreted Antolini’s touch. Disturbed by these though, he tries to think of something else. He reads a magazine someone has left behind. It is some kind of health magazine, however, and Holden gets more depressed, certain he has cancer and is dying.
Holden decides to go out and buy himself an inexpensive breakfast. He does not want to spend too much of Phoebe’s money. Since his stomach is upset, he just drinks coffee. He leaves the train station and walks out to Fifth Avenue. All around him, people seem to be in the Christmas spirit, which is depressing to Holden. He begins to imagine he is disappearing, becoming invisible. He thinks the distance it takes to cross the street keeps growing and fears he will never reach the other side; it is like a death dream. He then begins to talk to his dead brother, asking him to help him cross the street. Each time Holden makes it across another street, he thanks Allie.
After a while, Holden sits down on a bench to formulate a plan of action. He decides he will hitchhike "way out west". However, he decides to meet Phoebe one last time and say good-bye. He goes to her school and delivers a note asking her to meet him in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for lunch. Since he has nothing else to do, he goes to the museum to wait.
While Holden waits, he meets two young boys and helps them locate the display of Egyptian mummies. The tomb-like structure makes Holden ill, and he goes to the bathroom and faints. Once he revives, he goes out to wait for Phoebe. She is twenty minutes late, but she is no longer mad. In fact, she shows up with a suitcase, announcing her intention to go with Holden. He scolds her and tells her no, which makes her sulk. Finally, Holden convinces her he will not leave. He takes her to the zoo, and they end up at the carousel. Holden watches as she rides the carousel over and over, bringing the action of the novel to an end.
At the beginning of this chapter, Holden is re-thinking the scene with Mr. Antolini. He questions whether his judgement of Mr. Antolini was premature and wonders if it is possible that the touch was a harmless gesture of paternal affection. He thinks he probably should have returned to Mr. Antolini’s house after he retrieved his luggage. This self-doubt illustrates a change in Holden; throughout the novel he has quickly made moral judgments about everyone and everything. The change, however, does not indicate that Holden is getting better. Instead, he begins to seriously believe that he has cancer and is going to die within a few months, simply because he has had an ulcer in his mouth for two weeks. This fear of death turns into paranoia as he begins to think he is disappearing. He beings to talk to Allie, begging for help, in a manner typically associated with psychological disorders like schizophrenia. Holden appears to be deteriorating at an alarming pace.
While Holden is walking, he comes across two men unloading a Christmas tree off a truck. One of them says repeatedly, "Hold the sonuvabitch up; Hold it up, for chrissake. This provokes a bitter laugh from Holden who thinks "it certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree". There is bitter irony in the scene where something special and related to Christmas is so easily profaned. It is a harsh world.
Holden sees profanity as phony and wants to eliminate from the world; therefore, he takes it upon himself to erase the offensive graffiti from the school stairway and halls. Everywhere he sees obscene words written, he tries to clean them up with the attention and commitment of an obsessed or compulsive person. He thinks about Phoebe and other children seeing the words, a vision that infuriates him. By cleaning the walls, he thinks he has become the catcher in the rye, shielding the children from the brink of corruption. But there are too many obscenities painted and carved into the walls. Holden is forced to accept the fact that he cannot catch everyone or everything or clean up all the graffiti.
Faced with the inescapable fact that he cannot be the catcher in the rye, Holden tries to picture himself living away from sick society. He definitely decides to go out west and imagines himself in a little cabin somewhere far away from everyone. D.B. and Phoebe may visit him, but only under strict observance of the rule "that nobody (can) do anything phony when they visit". Before he leaves town, Holden feels he has to see Phoebe and say good-bye. He goes to her school and leaves a note, telling her to meet him for lunch at the Museum of Natural History. While waiting for her, he goes down into the Egyptian tomb at the museum. At first he feels a certain peace that comforts him; but then he associates the peace with death, which upsets him. Then he notices graffiti even in the tomb. He feels overwhelmed and barely makes it to the bathroom before he faints. When he recovers, he goes up to meet Phoebe.
When Phoebe arrives, she proves her love for Holden. She is twenty minutes late for their meeting because she has gone home and packed her suitcase. She announces to her brother her plan to accompany him out west. Holden scolds her harshly, partly because he is shocked and partly because he is still a little sick. Instantly he is sorry for his harshness; he decides to make it up to her by taking her to the zoo and carousel in Central Park and promising her that he will not go away. The action of the novel ends with Holden watching his beloved sister ride round and round on the carousel; it is the symbol of his spinning world.