Summary and Analysis
It is too late to get a taxi in Agerstown so Holden walks to the train station. He lowers the earflaps on his hunting cap to protect against the cold. En route to New York City, he is joined at Trenton by an attractive woman who turns out to be the mother of a classmate, Ernest Morrow. Holden introduces himself as Rudolf Schmidt, actually the name of the custodian at his dorm, and invents several flattering stories about the woman's son, "Old Ernie." When Mrs. Morrow asks why he's leaving school before the end of the semester, he tells her that he has to return home because he has a brain tumor and that he must have surgery.
When he arrives at New York's Penn Station, Holden considers telephoning several people but ends up calling no one. He takes a cab to the Edmont Hotel where he observes unusual happenings from the window of his shabby room. His phone call to Miss Faith Cavendish, a young lady whose sexual reputation precedes her, ends without any plans to meet.
As he begins the train ride to New York, Holden makes one of his many observations on "phony" art and literature. This time the target is the kind of slick magazine that features stories of romance or adventure, with girls named Linda or Marcia lighting pipes for guys named David. Sometimes, he confesses, he can actually read such tripe without puking, but not tonight. He puts his hunting cap in his pocket and just sits there until a lady boards at Trenton, choosing the front seat next to his because she is carrying a large bag.
Mrs. Morrow is the mother of Ernest, whom Holden immediately recognizes as "doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey." Ernie is the kind of jerk who enjoys snapping his soggy towel at the other boys' butts. He really likes hurting people, and Holden suspects that Ernie will continue to be a "rat" for the rest of his life. Although he despises her son, that is not what Holden tells Mrs. Morrow, who sees her son as a "sensitive" boy who perhaps takes life too seriously.
Holden has warned us that he loves to lie. He confirms that on the ride to Penn Station. First, he introduces himself to Mrs. Morrow as Rudolf Schmidt, using the name of his dorm's janitor. Then he describes her son to Mrs. Morrow in glowing, grown-up terms. Old Ernie "adapts" very well, something that anyone who has been away at school will recognize as a universal adult virtue. Her son is a complex guy, according to Holden, the sort of fellow who is a little difficult to get to know at first but only because he is an original, one of a kind. Ernie is enormously "popular," another adult virtue that most of us fail to achieve. He should have been president of the class but is so modest that he refused to accept the nomination and run for office. Holden understands how mothers love to hear good things about their sons and wonders if Mrs. Morrow will always think of Ernie as the shy fellow who refused his class' nomination, even as the despicable boy becomes a despicable man.