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The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Chapter 16

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 16 of J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye | Chapter 16 | Summary



Holden walks to a record store to find a record he knows Phoebe would like. A family exits a church and walks ahead of Holden, the little boy happily singing a song: "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." Holden feels a little better until he reaches Broadway, which is crowded with people in their Sunday best. Holden felt depressed again because of the crowd's excitement over going to the movies. His mood bounces up again when he finds the record. He also buys tickets to a drama he thinks Sally will like, though he is no fan of theater.

At Central Park Holden asks children Phoebe's age whether they know where she is, and a classmate answers that Phoebe might be at a museum. He walks to the Museum of Natural History, which he'd often visited with his class when he was young. He remembers the sensory details of the museum: the cool stone floors, the stillness of each exhibit. Nothing changes there, he explains, except the viewer. Holden puts his hunting hat back on and walks on, thinking sadly about how Phoebe will be different each time she visits the museum. When he reaches the museum, he discovers that he doesn't want to go in.


Holden describes two representations of life, acting and museum exhibits:

  • Acting, plays, and movies: Holden says he hates actors. He can hardly follow a play's plot for worrying whether an actor will "do something phony every minute." The mismatch between real life and how an actor portrays it, and the necessity of checking the genuineness of every word and gesture, exhausts Holden.
  • Museum exhibits and dioramas: Holden finds these static displays soothing. They never change. The witch doctor is always wearing his mask; the Eskimo is forever fishing through the hole in the unmelting ice.

Holden's world is changing around him. Adult responsibilities and relationships press on him, and he does not know what the adult world will offer him or demand of him. His fears are hard to put into words, but his preference for the still, unchanging world of the museum over the shifting shadows on the movie screen help readers grasp the conflict.

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