When Stradlater returns from his date with Jane Gallagher, he is in a terrible mood. He asks about the essay, and Holden gives it to him. When he reads about Allie’s baseball mitt, Stradlater freaks out and tells Holden he does not do anything right. Holden, who had been very pleased with the composition, takes it from Stradlater and rips it up.
Holden’s emotions are strained, because he has been anxious about Stradlater’s date with Jane.
When he quizzes Stradlater about the date, he responds mysteriously; his cryptic manner infuriates Holden, who starts a fight. Stradlater wins the fight easily and prepares to go out, telling Holden to clean himself up, since he is a bloody mess. Holden goes in search of Ackley.
Although Holden makes a deliberate effort throughout the novel to act as if he does not care about anything, it is very obvious in this chapter that he cares about many things. He is obviously upset that Stradlater is going on a date with Jane and worries about the intentions of his roommate. Jane is a childhood friend of Holden, and he apparently still cares about her deeply, even remembering the manner in which she plays checkers.
Holden’s concern over the date with Jane grows so intense that by the time Stradlater returns, Holden has worked himself into a frenzy. It is only natural that when Stradlater rudely criticizes the essay on the baseball mitt, Holden loses it and rips the paper to pieces. He has spent his Saturday night doing his roommate’s homework, and his efforts are not even appreciated. Holden is also very sensitive above the subject matter of the composition, for he has written about Allie’s glove, a subject that Holden regards with reverence. Since Holden keeps the glove with him at school, Stradlater is surely aware of its importance.
Holden tries to interrogate Stradlater about his date, clearly trying to get information about whether Stradlater has had sex with Jane. When Stradlater gives a mysterious answer, Holden fully loses control and attacks Stradlater, who is taken by surprise and not interested in fighting. Holden, however, persists until Stradlater is forced into the fracas. Holden loses the fight, as he always does, and looks a bloody mess. Stradlater, treating Holden like a child, instructs him to clean himself up.
Holden’s portrayal of Stradlater provides the reader with more information about both of the boys. Stradlater, part of the in-crowd, is a smooth talker and a good-looking kid with a nice body. Holden obviously feels a bit jealous of him, calling Stradlater one of the "athletic bastards" who all stick together. The sensitive Holden will never be a part of this in-crowd. In fact, Stradlater, who seems totally devoid of feelings, is a stark contrast to Holden. He does not appreciate that Holden has sacrificed his Saturday night to do his homework. Instead, the callous, conceited athlete says that Holden never does anything right. He obviously cannot understand how a boy of sixteen could be so sensitively attached to a baseball mitt. Stradlater and Holden simply exist on two entirely separate planes and cannot understand each other.
The fight between the two boys is the first peak in the rising action of the novel and serves as a mini-climax. Up to this point, Holden has done a lot of talking and a lot of thinking, but he has not participated in much action, even in his flashbacks. In this scene, he literally erupts into a rage, revealing that his emotions are not in check and that he lies to himself about not caring for anything. Holden has stewed all even about Stradlater’s date with Jane. When he is mysterious about what has happened on the date, Holden cannot hold back and loses total control. When he attacks Stradlater, the reader knows he does not stand a chance against this fit athlete. Holden is destined, as always, to come out on the losing side of the battle.
It is significant to note that as a narrator Holden appears to be very honest in this scene, making the reader trust him. He certainly has the opportunity to paint any picture that he wants, but he seems to be very realistic in his portrayal of the fight. It is certainly not a kind portrait that he draws of himself or Stradlater. Holden even implies that he is to blame for the fight, as well as Stradlater.
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