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While he's waiting for Phoebe to meet him at the museum, Holden talks with two children who are playing hooky from school and have come to see the Egyptian mummies. (This is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not the American Museum of Natural History that Holden talked about earlier.) Look at the paragraph in which Holden explains to the boys how the Egypt buried their dead. Then go back to Chapter 2 and reread the social studies essay answer that Mr. Spencer read aloud to Holden.
In the earlier version Holden was parroting textbook material for an essay question he found boring. Now he's using the same material, but because he's telling it to the boys, he's animated by the material and thinks it's "very interesting." Mr. Spencer probably wouldn't have appreciated the difference; Mr. Antolini certainly would have.
When the boys leave, Holden enjoys the peace and quiet in the tomb. But only for a moment, because he's slapped with another obscenity scrawled on the wall This time he makes a joke about the obscenity. It's a bitter joke, but a joke all the same. The difference in his reaction may signal that something actually has happened to Holden.
There's also a difference in his deaf-mute daydream, which he talks about again on his way to meet Phoebe during her lunch hour. He has now expanded the daydream to include a trip back home when he's about thirty- five, and occasional visits from Phoebe and D. B. He seems now to be less determined to cut himself off completely. He's hedging a bit on just how much of a hermit he really wants to be.
Holden is about to receive another shock that may bring him even closer to the reality that he's been trying so hard to avoid. It comes at the climax of his conversation with Phoebe in front of the museum.
Instead of coming to meet him right from school, Phoebe went home and packed some of her belongings so she could run away with her brother. She now refuses to listen to any plan of his that doesn't include her. After insisting over and over again that she isn't going back to school, she tells Holden to shut up.
"It was the first time she ever told me to shut up," Holden says. "It sounded terrible. God, it sounded terrible. It sounded worse than swearing."
The night before, Holden ignored her acting as though she were his older sister. But he can't ignore her telling him to shut up. It looks as though Holden has seen the first sign that his little sister is growing up. Holden doesn't want to see anyone grow up, especially not Phoebe. How does he deal with this potentially earth-shaking fact? Read what he says a little later about Phoebe's grabbing for the gold ring on the carousel:
"I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse," he says, "but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them."
That sounds as though Holden has learned an important truth about innocence and childhood: that neither is a permanent condition. "It's bad if you say anything to them," he says, signifying that he realizes that you can't stop someone from moving into another stage of life.
He may have finally come to grips with his fear of seeing people grow up and change. He is, after all, admitting that he can't stop Phoebe from doing it, and Phoebe represents everything he has been trying to preserve. This sudden realization of a truth seems to have a good effect on Holden. He tells us he "felt so damn happy all of a sudden."
And that's the first time in the book he's been happy about anything.