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Free Study Guide-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger-Free BookNotes
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Chapter 21

Summary

Holden arrives at the apartment building and believes he has had "the best break in years" because the elevator boy is a substitute who does not recognize him. Holden makes up a silly lie, which ends up confusing the elevator boy enough that he lets Holden up without asking too many questions. Fortunately, Holden has the house key and makes a tiptoed journey through the apartment to Phoebe’s room. When she is not in her bed, Holden remembers that she sometimes sleeps in D.B.’s room. He finds her sleeping soundly and watches for awhile. Before he wakes her, Holden sits down at the desk and reads one of her school notebooks.

As expected, Phoebe is thrilled to see him. She tells him about all the recent happenings in her life. Holden listens with a great deal of care and affection and is happy just to be with her. She tells Holden their parents are at a party in Connecticut and will not be home until late. Suddenly she realizes Holden is home from Pencey earlier than he should be and asks if he has been kicked out again. Holden tries to lie his way out of the situation, but Phoebe sees through him and gets upset. She covers her head with a pillow and refuses to talk to him.


Notes

All day long, Holden has been wanting to see Phoebe; he even tried to find her in Central Park. Now that he is finally in the same room, he lovingly watches her sleep and looks at her schoolwork before he wakes her. It is like he is trying to be a part of her world and re-establish his connection with her. At the same time, Phoebe is obviously a calming influence that brings out Holden’s sensitive nature. After she is awake, he listens to her report of daily activities with almost reverential awe. He even says, "I felt swell, for a change . I didn’t even feel like I was getting pneumonia or anything anymore." Holden has assured the reader all along that Phoebe understands him best, so this meeting is highly important and emotionally charged, a key scene in the continuing development of Holden’s emotional breakdown.

Phoebe is thrilled to see her brother, and they converse as equals, with mutual affection for one another. Holden shows Phoebe the broken record he and bought her. She tells him she will save the pieces for sentimental. Holden is touched by her kindness, and in a manner typical to him, he can only say "she kills me".

Unfortunately, all the hope Holden has banked on this very important meeting quickly gives way to tremendous disappointment. Phoebe guesses that Holden has been expelled again and gets very upset. She refuses to talk to Holden, burying her head beneath a pillow and yelling "Daddy’ll kill you." It is an unexpected affirmation that Holden is a failure, and this rejection is by far the most shattering blow to an already Holden’s already devastated ego. He has believed all along that Phoebe will understand what no one else seems to and that Phoebe will accept him for what he is. When she turns her head away, Holden is defeated, and the novel will rapidly spiral to his total breakdown.

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