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In a sense, everything Holden counted on has been taken away from him. Phoebe didn't give him the understanding and compassion he was hoping for. She even wrenched Allie from him as a source of comfort by coldly reminding him that their dead brother is no longer real. He hasn't been able to get in touch with Jane Gallagher. And Mr. Antolini turned out to be the biggest disappointment of all.
Before this chapter is over Holden will have reclaimed some of what he's lost in the past few hours; whether that helps with his overall problem is something you'll have to decide when you've finished the book.
The first thing he reclaims, to a degree at least, is his regard for Antolini. When he wakes from a nap in Grand Central Station, he thinks about what happened at Antolini's, and he decides that he might have been wrong in thinking that the man was acting like a pervert. He has every reason to think of Antolini as a good person, and he could have misconstrued the situation.
Even after he's dealt with this question, though, Holden is still more alone than ever before, and his physical condition is deteriorating. His headache is worse, the dizziness continues, he can't swallow, and he's now troubled by nausea and diarrhea.
These are only his physical symptoms. They signal an even more serious emotional state, one we've been seeing signs of since Holden felt he was about to disappear on his way to Mr. Spencer's house.
While he's walking in Manhattan on this Monday morning, Holden sees things that point up both the ugliness and the beauty of the world he has so much trouble with. The ugliness is seen in the use of profanity by a man who's unloading a Christmas tree from a truck. It may be a hopeful sign that Holden finds this funny instead of depressing.
The beauty is seen in the Christmas shoppers who remind Holden of the fun he's had with Phoebe. As he walks up Fifth Avenue-once again toward Central Park-he's feeling rather cheerful because of those happy memories.
But not for long. He begins to feel that he's about to disappear, and he calls on Allie to keep it from happening. In spite of the trauma of hearing Phoebe remind him that Allie is dead, Holden is apparently intent on keeping his brother in his life. Finally, after walking a couple of miles, he sits on a park bench, perspiring and breathing heavily.
That's where he hatches his plan to escape all this trouble for good. The section begins in the middle of a long paragraph, with the sentence, "I decided I'd go away." Read it carefully-it's the other side of the catcher in the rye dream.
In this dream Holden would cut himself off from all human communication by running away and pretending to be a deaf mute. It's a more extreme version of an idea he mentioned to Ackley, when he asked about the possibility of a non-Catholic joining a monastery. Both schemes would allow him to disappear from the world, and on his own terms.
Because he wants to say good-bye to Phoebe, he goes to her school to have a note delivered to her in class. On his way to the principal's office he sees an obscenity scrawled on the wall, and it nearly destroys him. Small children are going to see this obscenity. It's going to disturb them and ruin the beauty of their childhood world. That makes Holden furious. As the catcher in the rye, he rubs the words out with his hand, intent on keeping the children from being hurt by the ugliness.
After he drops off the note for Phoebe, he leaves the principal's office and sees the same obscenity written on another wall. This one is scratched in, and even the catcher in the rye can't remove it to protect the children. Then he decides that it's a hopeless battle, anyway. You can't erase all the obscenities in the world.
Is Holden admitting that ugliness is simply a fact of life? Is he accepting ugliness as something that can't be erased? Has he decided that he can't protect children from it, that he can't prevent them from growing up? Does he no longer want to be the catcher in the rye?
There are readers who say that the obscenity jolts Holden into an awareness of the real world that he didn't have before. And there are readers who say that he has only realized how monumental the problem is, without making any decision about giving up the battle. You'll have to see how Holden behaves in the few remaining pages of the book before you can say whether the obscenity has caused a major change in the way he looks at life.