The Catcher in the Rye: Novel Summary: Chapter 16-20
Chapter 16: Salinger’s sixteenth chapter begins with Holden taking a walk. It seems Holden always needs to be engaged in some kind of action in order to think deeply. Holden admits that he can’t stop thinking about the nuns he met. Soon he decides to buy a record for Phoebe called "Little Shirley Beans."
On the walk, Holden passes a small child walking near him and whistling the tune for which the novel is named: "if a body catch a body coming through the rye." At this point in the story Holden isn’t sure of its significance, but subconsciously he likes the song. He admits, "It made me feel better."
Finally, Holden decides to get the play tickets for his date with Sally Hayes, "the queen of phonies." Holden even admits that he doesn’t really care to see the show, but out of boredom, it seems, he reluctantly agrees to it. Soon he gets into his feelings about actors. He says that he hates most of them because they don’t act like real people. Then he says that he even hates the best actors because their egos get in the way of their performances. It seems no one can please Holden.
Holden decides to take a cab up to the park, where he sees a girl roller-skating and asks her if she knows Phoebe. She says yes, and then directs Holden to the Museum of Natural History. But Holden realizes that it’s Sunday and Phoebe wouldn’t be there anyway. Quickly Holden again is captured by a long series of reminisces about how much fun Phoebe and he have had in the museum. He talks about how everything in the museum would be exactly the same each time they went, except he and Phoebe would be different. This concept frightens Holden, who reasons, "Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway." Here Holden outlines his reluctance and possible inability to accept change.
Chapter 17: This chapter beings with Holden sitting in the lobby, waiting for Sally Hayes to join him for their date. He sees a lot of school girls on a field trip and gets to thinking about who they will eventually marry. He comes to the conclusion that most of them will marry "dopey guys." Holden then proceeds to describe all the kinds of dopey guys— guys who get mad over for the dumbest reasons, guys who never read to their kids, guys who are boring. Once he mentions "boring," he digresses into an instance where a seemingly boring guy he knew actually was kind of cool because he had such a knack for whistling. This strikes the reader as odd, but by this time it’s obvious that Holden is not ‘all there.’
Finally Sally arrives for the date ten minutes late— but Holden doesn’t press the issue. In the cab to the show, Holden tells her he loves her, and he says he really meant it at the time, though not anymore. Holden doesn’t seem to have believed his own daring because he confesses to the reader, "I’m crazy. I swear to God I am."
After the show, the couple goes ice-skating at Radio City. Inside the lounge there, Holden shares his hatred for school with Sally. He does into great detail about how he can’t stand any of the phonies or the cliques there, and soon Sally is overwhelmed. Then Sally is really tipped over the edge when Holden asks her to go into the wilderness out east with him and live in a quaint, log cabin. Soon the two begin arguing and shouting at each other. Sally leaves in a huff when Holden tells her she’s a "royal pain in the ass." Holden dismisses her as being unable to carry on an intelligent conversation and concludes the chapter by admitting he really is "a madman" sometimes.
Chapter 18: As usual, chapter eighteen begins with Holden considering giving Jane a call. Soon he digresses about how unpredictable girls are in general. He cites specific examples from his personal history in which girls thought that the most snobby guys had inferiority complexes and vice-versa. Perhaps all these girls really are hard to understand or perhaps Holden is the one who can’t accurately decipher between a conceited or a humble guy. This is left up to the reader.
Finally Holden really does call Jane but she isn’t home so he calls an old friend from school, Carl Luce, and the two decide to meet at the Wicker Bar for a drink at ten o’clock. Until then, Holden decides to see a movie. As usual, Holden has trouble enjoying the show because he can’t comprehend the idea behind acting. He admits, "It seemed so stupid." Soon Holden is even criticizing the people sitting next to him. He tells about one lady who cried throughout the whole picture. He points out, "The phonier it got, the more she cried." Holden thinks very poorly of this lady when she won’t even take her child to go to the bathroom because she’s so enamored by the show. Holden really can’t stand this (this makes sense since he sees himself as a catcher in the rye— someone who protects small children) and characterizes the woman by saying, "She was about as kindhearted as goddam wolf."
The rest of the chapter is more reminiscing about how D.B. was in the war. Holden says that he could never be in the army because he couldn’t stand to look at the back of a guy’s neck. This makes complete sense, since Holden would rather be looking around at the action, hoping to absorb everything around him. If there’s one thing Holden can’t stand, it’s restraint.
Chapter 19: Salinger’s nineteenth chapter begins with Holden’s first-person description of the Wicker Bar. He characterizes the place as "full of phonies,"-- not an unusual Holden remark. Holden states simply to the reader, "If you sat around there long enough and heard all the phonies applauding and all, you got to hate everybody in the world." Again, Holden can’t stand the arrogance of the performers nor the admiration of the crowd. It seems Holden automatically associates performance with phoniness. Perhaps he’s seen so many phony performers in his lifetime, both at home and school, that he can no longer differentiate between the phony and the authentic.
The rest of the chapter seems unimportant at first glance, but going deeper, there are a few points worth mentioning. First, Holden’s conversation with Luce (a former schoolmate and older graduate student) proves two things. First, it proves that Holden desperately wants to impress Luce with his maturity. He talks about standing up to meet him to show how tall he has grown. Second, it proves that Holden is still unable to find self-confidence due to his lack of maturity. Luce tells this to Holden when explaining why the boy has such a "lousy sex life." Luce, a junior psychoanalyst of sorts, tells Holden that his body is not fully functional because his mind is immature. This, though seemingly accurate, only serves to confuse Holden more about his role in society. Again, the reader sees that Holden is really searching, but can’t find, positive adult role models.
Chapter 20: This chapter begins with Holden’s admission of being "drunk as hell" at the Wicker Bar. It seems that the boy is becoming increasingly desperate and full of despair and self-contempt. Soon Holden begins hallucinating again about being shot in the stomach and having his guts hanging out on the floor. This is similar to what he imagined after being beat up by the pimp from the elevator earlier in the trip. Eventually Holden decides to call Sally, despite it being the middle of the night. He tells her in his drunken gibberish that he is planning on lighting the Christmas Tree with her on Christmas Eve. It seems Holden has hit a new low. He admits, "...I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome." Walking aimlessly into the street, Holden drops Phoebe’s record and it breaks into pieces. It seems this record is a metaphor for Holden’s life in general now.
Soon Holden starts to daydream about the cemetery in which Allie is buried. He dislikes it, saying that Allie is surrounded by a "bunch of dead guys." To Holden, at least, Allie is very much alive; perhaps this explains his confusion. Holden asserts that it isn’t fair how Allie has to stay in the grave while everyone else has the freedom to leave whenever they please. Holden even dares to consider his own death, and decides that Phoebe would feel sad. Phoebe seems to be the only one who cares for Holden.