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Free Study Guide for The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES


CHAPTER 20


Summary


Holden remains at the Wicker Bar, getting drunk. A singer named Valencia, accompanied by some "flitty looking guy with wavy hair," is performing. Holden prefers Valencia to Tina and Janine and asks the headwaiter to invite her to join him for a drink. Either the waiter does not give her the message or she is not interested, because she exits quickly when her act is finished.

In his drunken stupor, Holden begins once again to pretend he is wounded in the stomach; he keeps putting his hand under his jacket to prevent the bleeding. He decides again to call Jane, but phones Sally Hayes instead. She is not pleased with his phone call in the middle of the night and, realizing he is drunk, tells him to go home and go to bed. Before leaving the bar, Holden soaks his head in a basin full of cold water to sober up.

Once outside, Holden starts walking toward Central Park to see for himself whether the ducks are safely taken care of. He has some trouble finding the duck pond, even though he knows this part of the park very well. When he finally reaches the lagoon, the ducks are gone, which makes Holden think about death. He decides he wants to see Phoebe and makes his way towards home.



Notes


Holden remains in the Wicker Bar for a while after Carl leaves getting increasingly drunk because he is lonely and has nowhere to go. He playacts the gangster scene in his head, imagining Jane coming to nurse his wounds. He even calls Sally, in spite of the hour, and tells her Rocky’s mob has gotten him. It becomes increasingly clear that Holden is on a downward spiral, gathering momentum as he falls. When he reaches the lagoon, he discovers that the ducks do indeed have somewhere to go, for they are absent; he, however, belongs nowhere. Holden, sinking further into his depression, thinks about contracting pneumonia and dying.

While Holden is imaging his own death, he does not want to suffer the torturous experience of a burial ceremony; he hopes that "somebody has sense enough to just dump (him) in the river or something". He does not like the idea of being in a cold and dark cemetery "surrounded by dead guys with visitors coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday." Holden remembers visiting Allie’s grave when it was raining; he hated it that Allie had to stay there when everyone else ran for cover and continued living their normal lives.

Though Holden is desperately low on money, he skips his remaining change across the water of the duck pond; it is a sign that he is no longer thinking about the future or his own survival. This action, coupled with his thoughts on death, seem to indicate an increasingly troubled and dangerous state of mind. Finally, Holden decides to see Phoebe one last time before he dies. Though he has previously stayed away from home out of guilt, shame, and dread of his parents’ reaction to his latest expulsion, he cannot resist the urge to see to Phoebe. He knows her presence will comfort him.

 

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