Summary and Analysis
It is dawn on Monday as Holden leaves the Antolinis' apartment. He sleeps on a bench at the waiting room in Grand Central Station until about 9 a.m. Having second thoughts about Mr. Antolini's intentions, he wonders if he should have returned and stayed there. Walking up on Fifth Avenue, searching for an inexpensive restaurant in which to eat breakfast, he suddenly feels very anxious. Every time he steps down off the curb to cross a street, he thinks he may just keep falling and disappear. He asks his dead brother, Allie, to help him. Holden is physically and emotionally exhausted, sweating profusely despite the cold. He is near collapse.
In a final, awkward attempt to save himself, Holden decides to go "way out West" and live as a deaf-mute so he won't have to talk with people. Before leaving, he arranges to say good-bye to Phoebe. While he is with her, he decides to stop running and return home. In a brief final chapter, Holden concludes the story, telling us that he doesn't know what he thinks about everything that has happened, except that he misses the people he has told us about.
Holden's anxiety as he crosses streets on Fifth Avenue is reminiscent of the feelings that he had on his way to Mr. Spencer's home near the end of Chapter 1. There, too, he felt that he was disappearing every time he crossed a road. The terror is related to the horror he feels toward mutability and death; it is not surprising that he calls on Allie for support. Allie has crossed over and knows the territory.
Holden's efforts concerning Phoebe seem ambiguous. He says he wants to see her before he leaves for the West. Because she is his most trusted living link to family, we have to wonder, even at this point, whether he really wants to say good-bye or whether he just longs for home. While delivering a note for Phoebe to the principal's office of her school, he sees that someone has written "Fuck you" on the wall by the stairs. This enrages him. Holden's own language is often salty, and Phoebe asked him to stop cursing when he visited her in the apartment, but he finds this word especially abhorrent and does not use it around his sister. It upsets him that innocent children must see such a thing. While waiting for Phoebe at the Museum of Art, he shows two boys an Egyptian tomb and sees the same obscenity on the wall even there. Holden concludes that there is no way to escape the ugliness of the world. Death is never far from his thoughts, and he guesses that someone probably will put the phrase on his tombstone, right under his name and the dates of his birth and death.
Holden's conversation with Phoebe results in his ultimate decision to go home. At first, she is determined to leave with him, having brought her essentials in one of his old suitcases. He says she cannot go. She refuses to return to school and insists that she does not even care about her role as Benedict Arnold or missing the play. Holden's decision to return home is suspiciously easy. Supposedly to get Phoebe to stop crying, he says he has changed his mind and is not leaving. He notices, though, that she is not crying at the time he makes this decision.