Summary and Analysis Chapter 12



On the way to Ernie's, Holden discusses ducks, fish, and winter with the cab driver. At the club, Holden expresses his opinions concerning the aesthetics of performance, Ernie, the crowd in general, and a nearby couple in particular. Lillian Simmons, a former girlfriend of D.B., pops by his table with her date, a Navy officer. Holden declines her invitation to join them, saying he was just leaving.


The cab driver's name is Horwitz. He is a grouchy, somewhat twisted amateur zoologist, but at least he is willing to entertain Holden's inquiry about where the ducks in Central Park go in winter. Actually, Horwitz prefers to discuss the fish. He gruffly declares that the fish have a tougher time than the ducks. Fish spend the winter frozen in the ice, according to Horwitz. They take in nourishment through the pores in their bodies. His opinions are amusing, but the comic aspects of the scene depend more on the nature of the dialogue. Holden and Horwitz sound like two old antagonists who have had this discussion a hundred times before and jump on each other's lines as ancient acquaintances do when excited about a controversial topic. Salinger beautifully captures the crisp, tough conversational sounds of the city through this dialogue.

Holden's aesthetics are tested at the nightclub. Despite the very late hour, Ernie's is packed, mostly with students on Christmas break. Ernie is an extremely skillful piano player, but Holden thinks that he has become too slick. Ernie has a huge mirror in front of him and a spotlight on his face so that the crowd won't miss an expression. In a way, Ernie is like Holden's brother, D.B. They both once were true artists, in Holden's mind, but have sold out: Ernie to the sycophantic fans and D.B. to Hollywood. Perhaps reflecting Salinger's values, Holden feels that an artist should live only for his art, eschewing fans and fame. When he starts pandering to the crowd, showing off with high ripples on the keys as Ernie does, he has lost his way. This crowd, of course, loves it; as Holden observes, people applaud for the wrong reasons. Ernie concludes with a "very phony, humble bow."

At a nearby table, some "Yale-looking guy" is talking to his date about an attempted suicide while copping a feel under the table. Several critics have noticed the juxtaposition of sex and death in the novel, this scene at Ernie's being one of the more bizarre examples. Holden concludes that he is "surrounded by jerks."

Lillian Simmons, who used to date D.B., comes by Holden's table with her date, a Navy officer. She is annoying in a bubbly, phony way that Holden finds particularly irritating. The only real thing about her may be her "very big knockers." She loves to be noticed. Holden knows that she only wants to impress him so that he will tell D.B. about her, and he quickly declines her invitation to join Lillian and her date at their table. Having told her that he was just leaving, he heads back to the hotel.


flitty here, Holden uses the term to refer to male homosexuals.

Tattersall having a checkered pattern of dark lines on a light background.