Summary and Analysis
It is very late when Holden arrives at the Antolinis' "swanky" apartment on Sutton Place. The couple hosted a party earlier in the evening, and Mr. Antolini is still drinking heavily. Mrs. Antolini (Lillian) makes coffee and goes to bed. Holden feels dizzy and has a headache. The coffee does not help Holden. Mr. Antolini ignores his coffee and fixes himself another highball. Holden discusses an Oral Expression course, taught by Mr. Vinson at Pencey, which Holden failed. Antolini defends the instructor.
Mr. Antolini is about the same age as Holden's brother, D.B., and usually seems like a great guy. Tonight he wants to discuss pedagogy more than Holden cares to. He also offers long-winded theories concerning Holden that the boy could do without. Holden is very tired. He has slept only two or three hours since Saturday morning, two days ago. It has been an exhausting weekend. He and Antolini make up the couch, and Holden falls asleep.
Suddenly, Holden is awakened. He is shocked to find Antolini sitting on the floor by the couch, patting Holden's head. Holden becomes very upset and insists on leaving. He decides that Mr. Antolini is a pervert.
Holden becomes increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Antolini. He initially tells us that the instructor was the best teacher he has ever known. Antolini is a kind of mentor, almost an older brother. Holden compares him to D.B., whom he clearly admires despite his brother's relocation to Hollywood. Young, articulate, and popular, Antolini is also intensely caring as evidenced by his continuing concern for Holden as well as his attentions to the mangled body of James Castle. But in this chapter, Holden discovers the feet of clay on his golden idol. Whether Holden's ultimate judgment (that Antolini is "perverty") is accurate or not, he is forced to recognize that Antolini does have his problems.
Holden already knows that Antolini is a heavy drinker. When the teacher greets him at the door with a highball in hand, Holden passes it off as "sophisticated." Nonetheless, the excessive drinking does bother Holden. He mentions it several times and notices that, when coffee is served, Mr. Antolini just fixes himself another highball. Holden thinks that Antolini should be careful or he "may get to be an alcoholic."
Well on his way to drunkenness, Antolini shows a side of himself that is especially annoying to Holden. Sounding very much like old Mr. Spencer at Pencey Prep, the instructor pontificates on pedagogy, specifically defending the teaching techniques of Mr. Vinson, who offers a class called "Oral Expression" at Pencey. Holden flunked the course but dislikes Vinson more because the man is cruel and shallow. If a student gives a speech and strays from the point, Vinson insists that the other boys yell "Digression!" at him. The interruptions especially intimidated a shy, nervous student named Richard Kinsella, who was giving a speech about his father's farm in Vermont. Richard did digress, telling about his uncle who had polio. Kinsella was interesting and excited in his story, but the boys cut him off with shouts of "Digression!" and Vinson gave him a D+ in the course. Holden prefers digressions. He often finds them more worthwhile than the original topic and digresses frequently, to the reader's benefit, in his own story.
Antolini disagrees that digressions are positive, arguing that "there's a time and place for everything." He then waxes philosophical, and at length, on Holden's character and the kinds of problems he may have in later life if he doesn't learn to conform. Inventing a strained and unfortunate metaphor, Antolini speaks of Holden's mind and education as if the boy were being fitted for a cheap suit. Holden is exhausted and yawns, unable to take any more. Perhaps it is Antolini who needs to learn that there is a time and a place for everything.
Most disturbing for Holden is the shock of waking to find Antolini patting him on the head. Holden's reaction, and his conclusion, may be excessive. Salinger allows the reader to decide, but it may be that Antolini is just drunk and awkwardly caring. After all, he is only patting Holden's head, not any other part of his body. For his part, Holden holds no doubt. He has seen more than his share of "perverty" behavior and is out of the apartment in short order.
swanky ostentatiously stylish; expensive and showy.
lousy with dough here, oversupplied with money.
asthma a generally chronic disorder characterized by wheezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, and a suffocating feeling, caused by an allergy to inhaled substances, stress, etc.
oiled up here, drunk, intoxicated.
digression a wandering from the main subject in talking or writing.
pedagogical of or characteristic of teachers or of teaching.
"It's a secret between he and I." Mr. Antolini surely knows that this example of poor grammar is one that Holden frequently slips into, using the subjective form of the pronouns instead of the objective. The correct form would be to say, "It's a secret between him and me."