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The Catcher in the Rye | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Chapter 20

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 20 of J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.

The Catcher in the Rye | Chapter 20 | Summary



Holden remains at the Wicker Bar past midnight, getting drunk. He decides to call Jane but changes his mind and calls Sally, telling her that he would come trim the Christmas tree. Sally tells him to get to bed, and Holden feels crazy for calling her. Holden staggers to the men's room to douse his head with cold water and then sits on a radiator to warm up. The pianist enters, notices Holden's age, and tells him to go home. Holden goes to the hat room, crying because he feels lonely and depressed. The hat-check girl, too, urges him to go home, making him put on his red hat over his wet hair.

Holden walks to Central Park to see the ducks. Then he drops Phoebe's record, and it shatters. Holden gathers the shards, stuffing them in his coat pocket. He finally finds the slushy pond and hunts around it for nesting ducks, nearly falling in. Holden sits on a bench and fantasizes about dying from pneumonia. He imagines people at his funeral, the aunts and cousins who came to Allie's funeral and spoke of how peaceful Allie looked.


Holden's two nights in New York City are somewhat hellish for him. He has the following as he tries to keep himself from going home to face his parents:

  • The tourists from Seattle stick him with their check.
  • He is shamed and robbed by a prostitute.
  • He is threatened and hit by her pimp.
  • He is treated disrespectfully by waiters, cab drivers, and bartenders.
  • He is insulted as immature by an older student he trusted.

But strangers Holden encounters often react in caring, if ineffective, ways:

  • Mrs. Morrow chooses not to be offended by his flirtations and "mothers" him.
  • The nuns call him a "sweet boy" and converse with him genuinely.
  • Carl Luce agrees to meet him and talk.
  • The pianist and hat-check girl see his condition and tell him to go home.

Holden feels terribly alone and disconnected; he actively rejects connection because people are "phony." But he does, in fact, meet people who show him—even if they don't know him—genuine human concern.

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