The Catcher in the Rye By J. D. Salinger Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

Sally is ten minutes late but looks terrific in her black coat and matching beret. She is thrilled that they will get to see the Lunts and is impressed by the performance. Holden is less than thrilled, first by the performance on stage and then by Sally's performance in the lobby. He dislikes the way she talks with an Andover student named George. After the show, they go ice skating at Radio City. Holden tries to talk with Sally about things of real importance to Holden. He asks her to run off to Massachusetts and Vermont with him. The date ends badly, and he walks out.

Analysis

The dominating theme of Chapter 17 is compatibility, or lack of it, between couples. The opening scene, the play, and the exchange at the skating rink all deal with the question of life partners and what a disaster it is to have the wrong one.

The question first occurs to Holden as he waits for Sally under the clock at the Biltmore Hotel. He is girl watching in his own way. Instead of wondering what it would be like to be with this girl or that, temporarily, Holden's mind drifts. He begins to wonder what will "happen to all of them." What kinds of life partners — "dopey guys," as he calls them — will they find? Some probably will end up with petulant jerks who pout if they lose a game of golf. Others will marry mean guys or boring guys or guys who never read a book. Typically, Holden then digresses about a boring guy he knew who could whistle exceptionally well. Considering the events about to unfold, perhaps he should worry more about the kind of partner he may end up with. Sally is convenient and familiar and available, but she is no Jane Gallagher.

The theater play tells the story of two life partners from youth to old age. The partners seem compatible but artificial. Holden thinks the show is "on the crappy side," but he concedes that the Lunts are pretty good. However, he concludes that they are too good, like Ernie at his piano, and that they show off for the audience. The play's storyline takes the couple through various trials of life, and Holden concedes that it is not the worst he has seen.

From the beginning, Sally seems like an odd match for Holden. She is extremely phony. Everything is "marvelous" or "lovely" for Sally, but we get the idea that she doesn't really feel things the way Holden does. At the intermission, she is mostly concerned with seeing and being seen. Finally she spots George, from Andover, whom, Holden suspects, she probably has met only once. She greets him like a lifelong friend. He is a fellow phony, saying that the Lunts are "absolute angels," and he is even Sally's match at name-dropping. Sally and George should ride off together into the future, cocktails at the club in hand.

At the skating rink, Holden makes the mistake of trying to talk with Sally about his passions. But he only confuses and frightens her. She asks him not to shout and says she has no idea what he is talking about. Instead of backing off, Holden soars. He suggests that they borrow a car and take off for a couple of weeks to Massachusetts and Vermont. They could get a cabin. It's beautiful up there. Maybe they could get married and live there forever.

However serious Holden may or may not be, or whether he would be serious ten minutes later, Sally is not the right girl for this fantasy. She is neither spontaneous nor sensitive. She has little imagination. "You can't just do something like that," Sally says. She feels threatened and angry. She tries to placate Holden by suggesting that they think about all this after college. Holden, of course, is aware of the mutability of time. Things will change. The moment will be lost.

The disagreement turns angry, and Holden tells Sally that she gives him "a royal pain in the ass." Suffice to say that, after this remark, the date is over. Sally says she will get home on her own. Holden leaves her at the skating rink bar.

It finally occurs to Holden that maybe Sally was not the right girl to ask about such a venture. He is right. Sally is a practical girl, ambitious in conventional ways, greedy, a bit of a social climber, who will get what she wants when she wants it, because she always has. We can be sure that, throughout life, Sally will never be caught leaving her kings in the back row.

Glossary

bunk talk that is empty, insincere, or merely for effect.

rubbering short for rubbernecking, meaning to look at things or gaze about in curiosity.

cliques small, exclusive circles of people; snobbish or narrow circles of friends who share a common interest or background.

fantastic here, existing in the imagination; imaginary; unreal.

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