Chapters 21 to 23
Holden arrives at the Caulfield family apartment. The elevator man is
new and does no recognize him. As he does not wish his parents to be alerted he tells the elevator man he is visiting the Dicksteins who live across the hall.
He sneaks into the apartment and goes to Phoebe’s room, but she is not
Then he remembers that she likes to sleep in D.B.’s room when he is away to Hollywood. There he finds Phoebe sound asleep and he spends time looking at her and reading through her schoolbooks. He notices that she signs her name Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, even though her middle name is Josephine. Holden has observed that children always look at peace when they are asleep, unlike adults.
Holden eventually wakes Phoebe and they start to talk about her school
play. Phoebe slowly realizes that Holden has been expelled and that their father will ‘Kill’ him.
She repeats this, over and over. He tries to explain why he fails at school, but she accuses him of hating everything. He refutes her claim and she challenges him to name something he likes. He tries, but fails, and then his mind wanders and he starts to think about his conversation with the nuns at breakfast.
He then thinks about James Castle, a fellow student at Elkton Hill School,
who committed suicide by jumping out of a window. He had been the subject of taunts by other boys at the school.
Holden then responds to Phoebe’s question and says that he likes Allie, but
Phoebe replies angrily saying that he is dead.
She then asks him what he is going to do with his life. He makes a feeble response and quotes from the song ‘If a body catch a body, comin’ through the rye’. He says that he could stand on the edge of a precipice next to an enormous field of rye and catch the children playing there if they got too near the edge of the cliff.
He leaves the room and makes a call to Mr. Antolini, his English teacher
from Elkton Hill School, who invites Holden over to stay the night.
Returning to Phoebe’s room he asks her to dance, and then they hear their
parents returning so Holden hides in Phoebe’s closet and Mrs. Caulfield comes in to tuck Phoebe in. Holden says goodbye to Phoebe and leaves for Mr. Antolini’s.
Holden is becoming more unbalanced, again pondering over his brother’s
death. Each time this happens, the experience becomes more traumatic due to his fragile state.
He is preoccupied with the inviolate innocence of children.
Holden is in constant turmoil with the world and those in it. Holden’s
only respite in this section of the book is when he watches Phoebe asleep and reads through her schoolwork, this being one of the most important passages in the novel.
Children look good asleep, while adults ‘look lousy’.
This calm period abruptly changes when Phoebe awakes and she starts to put
Holden under pressure, asking him what he is going to do with his life, and asking him to name something he likes.
Holden’s mind sidesteps these pointed questions and he remembers the Castle boy who committed suicide in one of Holden’s turtleneck sweaters. His response to Phoebe is that he likes Allie, which makes her angry.
Holden watched his English teacher, Mr. Antolini pick up the broken body of
Castle in Holden’s sweater and this prompts him to call the teacher who invites him to come over and spend the night.
Holden is low on funds and Phoebe lends him her Christmas money, which
causes him to break down into tears.
‘Catcher in the Rye’ is what Holden wants to be, as he is unable to see a place for himself in the real world. He has conjured up for himself a position almost of guardian in the world of children and their innocence. He is like a pathetic Peter Pan figures, never wanting to grow up.
This passage interprets the novel’s metaphoric title. Holden has
fallen down the precipice to adulthood alone.
This place is an ugly world, which he hates. He wants to save other children from the same fate. They play in the field of tall rye, unable to see the dangers at the edge. It is too high for them, but the catcher can save them from making the fall.