Summary and Analysis
Holden is tired of taxis and walks the forty-one blocks back to the hotel, wearing his red hunting cap with the earflaps down, missing his pilfered gloves, and bemoaning his cowardice. The elevator man, Maurice, doubles as a pimp and offers to provide Holden with female companionship for "five bucks a throw" or fifteen dollars for the night. Holden agrees to go for "a throw" in his room, 1222, but almost immediately regrets it. The hooker calls herself Sunny; Holden tells her his name is Jim Steele. Although they do little more than talk, because Holden is more depressed than ready to have sex, Sunny says that her fee is ten dollars. Holden pays her only five, and she leaves, calling him a "crumb-bum."
Holden's reflection on his cowardice and inept fighting ability foreshadows events in the next chapter. He realizes that he is more likely to attack someone verbally. What frightens him most in such a conflict is having to look at the other fellow's face.
As he waits for the prostitute, Holden passes time by brushing his teeth and changing his shirt. He confesses to being "a little nervous" and admits that he is still a virgin. The truth is that Holden, at age 16, seems to be what we might call a "good kid." When he is making out with a girl and she asks him to stop, he stops. "No" means no for Holden. He is interested in sex, but he doesn't quite understand how to get there.
What he learns with Sunny is that he prefers not to get there with a prostitute. The whole scene is depressing rather than erotic for Holden. He has to get to know a girl, and like her a lot, before he is comfortable with intimacy. One of the likable things about Holden is that, beneath it all, he has some healthy values. In addition, he has mixed feelings toward Sunny. She is very young (about Holden's age) and seems to be almost as nervous as he is. As Holden describes it, "She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. She was around my age." Holden is depressed that she is so young leading this kind of life. It saddens him to think of her going to a store to buy the green dress that she has worn for him and that he hangs in the closet so it won't get "all wrinkly," as Sunny puts it, in her child-like language. When "Jim Steele" says he is 22, she responds, "Like fun you are." And yet, there is something very spooky about Sunny. Holden tells us that this child with her squeaky little voice is much more frightening than a "big old prostitute, with a lot of makeup on her face and all. . . ."
The names, "Sunny" and "Jim Steele," are ironic; neither name fits the person. Freudian critics delight in analyzing their significance. Remember that Salinger's boyhood nickname was "Sonny." What kind of Freudian slip has Salinger made by naming the prostitute "Sunny"? What has he revealed about himself? "Steele," some critics suggest, is a strained attempt at phallic superiority.
Holden needs a way out of this "big mess." He promptly decides that an elaborate lie is best. He claims that he recently had surgery on his "clavichord," which Holden may or may not know is an old musical keyboard instrument. He tells Sunny that the clavichord is located "quite a ways down in the spinal canal." Sunny's response is to come on stronger. She sits on his lap and says he is cute. She says he reminds her of some guy in the movies. Then she starts talking crudely, and Holden ends the session. Sunny says her fee is ten dollars, but Holden insists on paying her only the five that Maurice mentioned. He fetches her dress from the closet, and she leaves. Sunny again reminds us of a child as her parting curse is to call Holden a "crumb-bum."
rake an immoral , corrupt, depraved man.
polo coat a loose-fitting overcoat made of camel's hair or some such fabric.
nonchalant showing cool lack of concern; casually indifferent.