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Holden Caulfield's New York Odyssey

Places in "Catcher in the Rye"

Michael Lada-Brockhouse

on 12 December 2012

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Transcript of Holden Caulfield's New York Odyssey

by: Michael L.B. Holden Caulfield's New York Odyssey "The Catcher in the Rye" deals with 16 year old Holden Caulfield's two days on his own in New York City in December 1949. Holden wanders about the city and visits many places, all of which have a part to play in his story. Some of these places – like the Edmont Hotel and Ernie’s – are fictitious, but many others are real places. This presentation follows Holden's footsteps to the real places in his story. GOING TO THE SHOW WITH SALLY McBURNEY SCHOOL We’d gone in to New York that morning for this fencing meet with McBurney School. Only, we didn’t have the meet. I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the goddam subway. It wasn’t my fault. I had to keep getting up to look at this map, so we’d know where to get off. So we got back to Pencey around two-thirty instead of around dinnertime. The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a way. The first real place in New York mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye is the McBurney School. This school was a boys’ prep school at 15 West 63rd St The McBurney School was operated by the YMCA from 1916 until 1988, when it was closed and the building turned into condos. The building is still there, but the condo tower you see behind it in the picture would not have been there in Holden’s time. Holden says that he lost the fencing equipment by accident, because he had to keep getting up to check the map to make sure they didn’t miss their subway stop, But we learn later in the story that Holden has lived all his life in New York and knows his way around the city very well. Did he really have to keep checking the map, as though he’d never been there before? Maybe he “lost” the fencing equipment on purpose to show his contempt for his school and his lack of interest in its activities. He talks as though his being ostracized is funny, but we learn as the story goes on how lonely and isolated he really feels. THE DUCK POND “Hey, listen, “ I said. “You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?” When Holden arrives in New York from Pencey, he takes a cab from the station. He gives the cab driver his real home address before he realizes that he doesn’t want to go home and asks the driver to turn around take him to a hotel. Before the cab can turn, it has to go near The Pond in Central Park. Holden is concerned about the duck that swim around the Pond. What happens to them in the winter, when the Pond freezes over? Later in the story, Holden will ask another cab driver about the ducks in Central Park. Still later, he will walk through the park and visit The Pond to see for himself if there are any ducks there. Holden’s question is the kind a child would ask. His asking the question again and again shows his desire to hang on to his childhood. The adults treat the question as silly. The question is also a metaphor for Holden’s worries about himself and growing up. “Where do the ducks go?” is also asking “Where do I go?”. CENTRAL PARK It didn’t seem like Christmas was coming soon. It didn’t seem like anything was comng. But I kept walking over to the Mall anyway, because that’s where Phoebe usually goes when she’s in the park. She likes to skate near the bandstand. It’s funny. That’s the same place I used to like to skate when I was a kid. Holden walks from Broadway up to Central Park, hoping to find his sister Phoebe there. He goes to the Mall, by the bandstand, thinking she might be there. The Mall is a broad pedestrian walkway through Central Park. Along the Mall is a bandstand. It’s a very popular place for kids to roller skate and it’s here that Holden hopes to find Phoebe. Holden goes looking for his little sister in the places that he played when he was her age. In this part of his journey, he is retracing the steps of his own childhood. MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Holden goes into the Museum of Natural History beside Central Park to continue looking for Phoebe. One of Holden’s favourite exhibits in the museum is the Haida War Canoe, which he describes as being “as long as three goddam Cadillacs.” It is still there, but if Holden were to see this exhibit today, he would be sad to see that the life-sized figures of the Indians paddling it were removed in 2006. Holden used to visit this museum often as a child. In a world where everything is changing, the exhibits at the museum stay the way they are. Holden is afraid of growing up and of changes in his life and finds comfort as he revisits one of his childhood spots that is still the same as he remembers it. BILTMORE HOTEL335 MADISON AVE. I was way early when I got there, so I just sat down on one of those leather couches right near the clock in the lobby and watched the girls. A lot of schools were home for vacation already, and there were about a million girls sitting and standing around waiting for their dates to show up… It was really nice sightseeing, if you know what I mean. In a way, it was sort of depressing. Too, because you kept wondering what the hell would happen to all of them. When they got out of school and college, I mean. Holden makes a date to meet Sally at the Biltmore Hotel. The Biltmore was right next to Grand Central Station. “Under the clock at the Biltmore” was a popular meeting place back then (the hotel was torn down in 1981). Holden really enjoys being around all the girls in the Biltmore waiting for their dates. He likes how they all are so young and innocent, but he is depressed at the idea that they will all soon grow up and marry boring guys, Their time of youth and innocence is almost over and all their happiness will fade away. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were the old couple, and they were very good, but I didn’t like them much. They were different, though, I’ll say that. They didn’t act like people and they didn’t act like actors. It’s hard to explain. They acted more like they knew they were celebrities and all. I mean they were good, but they were too good,.. If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. After they meet at the Biltmore, Holden and Sally go to see a play, “I Know my Love”, with the Lunts. This play opened in New York on Nov. 2, 1949 and ran until June, 1950 at the Shubert Theater, at 225 West 44th Street. This is from the program for the play. Holden and Sally would have been given this. And this is the Shubert, as it looks today Holden hates plays and actors, and people who like plays and actors. He dislikes these things and people because none of them are real. The actors in a play, even when they are very good, are just showing off their skills, more concerned with the applause of the audience than with the truth of the characters they play. He also hates the people who stand around in the lobby of the theatre discussing the show because they are only saying the things they’ve heard other people say and think they are expected to say and not thinking for themselves or telling the truth about their own feelings. ICE SKATING AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER “Let’s go ice-skating at Radio City!”That’s the kind of ideas she always had….“You can rent those darling little skating skirts. “ old Sally said. “Jeannette Cultz did it last week.”That’s why she was so hot to go. She wanted to see herself in one of those little skirts that just come down over their butt and all. After the theatre, Sally and Holden go skating at Rockefeller Center, beside Radio City, at 5th Ave and 49th St. The Rockefeller Center skating rink has been one of the most popular places for outings in New York City for almost 70 years now. It’s been featured in many movies. Holden realizes that Sally wants to go skating just so she can show off in a short skirt. This really turns him off, but despite his knowing that Sally is a very shallow person, he tries to get closer to her after the skating. He confides in her and actually asks her to run away with him. When she acts like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about and tells him he’s being ridiculous, he puts her down and is mean to her. He realizes that he doesn’t even like her but he is so desperate for companionship and understanding that he has approached even her. By this point in the story, Holden is so upset that he actually shouts at Sally and begins acting irrationally, like a person on the edge of a breakdown. MOVIES AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL The part that got to me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You’d have thought she did it because she was a kind-hearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn’t… You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they’re mean bastards at heart. I’m not kidding After leaving Sally, Holden goes to the movies by himself at Radio City Music Hall, right behind the skating rink. He sees the Radio City Christmas show, but is disgusted by the fact that it is all just commercial fluff and has nothing to do with the real spirit of Christmas. He also talks about his dislike for the phoniness of movies and people who like them, when he focuses on a woman in the audience who cries through the fake sentimentality of a silly movie, with an unrealistic plot, but is mean to her own real child. SETON HOTEL In case you don’t live in New York,, the Wicker Bar is in this sort of swanky hotel, the Seton Hotel… It’s one of those places that are supposed to be very sophisticated and all, and the phonies are coming out the window, Holden arranges to meet Carl Luce, a boy two years older than himself whom he knew at the Whooten School, at the Wicker Bar in the Seton Hotel. The only Seton Hotel in New York is at 144 East 40th St, , which is an easy walk from Radio City. The Seton is still there, but today, it doesn’t look very swanky Holden meets Carl, who’s now a student at Columbia University. Carl chooses the Wicker Bar as a place to meet, but Holden hates that place because he feels that people are only welcome there if they are important or celebrities and he thinks he will be treated rudely because he is just an ordinary person. When Carl arrives, all Holden can think of to talk about is sex. He bombards Carl with questions that Carl thinks are childish and stupid. Holden hoped that Carl would be someone who could help him deal with his own anxieties and questions about sexuality, but Carl is not interested in the discussion, and leaves, suggesting that Holden ought to see a psychiatrist. Holden has made another effort to connect with someone and been rejected. He leaves the wicker bar feeling even more alone then he did before. HOLDEN’S APARTMENT I started thinking how old Phoebe would feel if I got pneumonia and died. It was a childish way to think, but I couldn’t stop myself. She’d feel pretty bad if something like that happened. She likes me a lot. I mean she’s quite fond of me. She really is. Anyway, I couldn’t get that off my mind, so finally what I figured I’d do, I’d sneak in the apartment, very quiet and all, an just sort of chew the fat with her for a while. Holden decides to go home to see his sister. He plans to sneak in at night, because his parents don’t know yet that he is in New York and he doesn’t want to face them. We don’t know the address of Holden’s apartment, but he tells us at various points that is at East 71st St. and 5th Avenue. Holden also says that he can look out over Central Park from the windows of his parents’ apartment, on the 12th floor. It might have been here, at 1 East 71st. St. Holden starts fantasizing about dying and how his death might affect others. He knows this is a childish fantasy, but he can’t get it out of his head. These thoughts make him want very much to see his sister Phoebe. He tries to talk to Phoebe about his disgust with the phoniness of people all around him, but Phoebe gets very angry with him forconstantly screwing things up. She challenges him to name someone or something that he actually likes, rather then always be negative about everyone and everything. This puts him in mind of his favourite teacher, Mr.Antolini, and he calls him and asks if he can come over and talk to him. SUTTON PLACE Mr. and Mrs. Antolini had this very swanky apartment over on Sutton Place, with two steps that go down to the living room and a bar and all… I would have walked down to their house, because I didn’t want to spend any of Phoebe’s Christmas dough that I didn’t have to, but I felt funny when I got outside. Sort of dizzy. So I took a cab. When Phoebe aks Holden if there’s anything or anyone he actually likes, Holden thinks of Mr. Antolini, the best teacher he ever had, and decides to go talk to him. Sutton Place, where Mr. Antlolini lives, is a two-block long street along the East River, betwwn 59th and 57th streets. The Sutton Place neighbourhood is one of the wealthiest areas of New York, with beautiful old brownstone houses. Mr. Antolini is the first person Holden has tried to talk to who seems to understand what Holden is going through. He offers Holden help and some good advice and Holden is calmed and comforted. When Holden falls asleep however, Mr. Antolini touching his head awakens him. Rightly or wrongly, he assumes that Mr. Antolini is making a pass at him and he runs away. This is a terrible moment for Holden because he now thinks that the only adult who seems willing to listen to him and help him is just using him, and is just as phony as everyone else. GRAND CENTRAL STATION I didn’t know where the hell to go. I didn’t want to go to another hotel, and spend all Phoebe’s dough. So finally all I did was I walked over to Lexington and took the subway down to Grand Central. My bags were there and all, and I figured I’d sleep in that crazy waiting room… It wasn’t too nice. Don’t ever try it. I mean it. It’ll depress you. After he leaves Mr. Antolini’s, Holden has nowhere to go for the night. He walks down to Grand Central Station, New York’s main railway station, at 72 East 42nd St., about 12 or 13 blocks from Mr. Antolini’s apartment. Grand Central was built in 1912 and was then – and still is today – the biggest railroad station in the world. In Holden’s time, the huge “grand concourse” of Grand Central Station was filled with wooden benches. Today, it’s a big, open space. Holden decides to spend the night sleeping on a bench at Grand Central Station. It is ironic that he chooses a place full of people all going somewhere because he has nowhere to go. METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART… EGYPTIAN COLLECTION That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck You” right under your nose. After his night at Grand Central, Holden drops off a note for Phoebe at her school asking her to meet him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 1000 Fifth Ave., on her way home from school. He plans to give her back her money and say goodbye to her before he goes away. While he waits for Phoebe at the museum, he goes to see the mummies. There is a reconstructed Egyptian stone temple in the museum, and Holden goes there to find that someone has scratched “Fuck You” into the stone wall. On his way to the museum, Holden becomes obsessed with the idea of dying. He fears simply disappearing and no one noticing that he is even gone. At the museum, he meets two children who ask the way to the mummies, and he takes them into the Egyptian temple exhibit. He likes being there, until he see’s the graffiti on the wall, and it brings back to him the fear of dying and having someone right this on his gravestone, as though he never mattered to anyone. He is starting to feel very sick, and faints when he goes to the museum washroom. CENTRAL PARK CAROUSEL All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say 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. Holden meets Phoebe at the Museum of Art and they walk together into Central Park, down first to the zoo, and then, just past the zoo, to the carousel, not far from the pond and its ducks. Phoebe doesn’t think the Central Park carousel will be open in December, but it’s inside a small pavilion and stays open all year-round. The horses in the carousel are made of wood, and hand-carved. They are now more that 100 years old. This is the final New York scene of the story. Phoebe meets Holden and tells him she is going to go with him when he runs away out west. This forces Holden to now act as the adult, and recognize how his actions can affect others. He promises Phoebe that he will not run away, but will come home with her. He puts Phoebe on the carousel and as he watches her go round and round, he comes to realize that no one has to be a catcher in the rye, and that he should allow both Phoebe and himself to grow and change. Phoebe asks him to ride with her, but he chooses instead to stand, like an adult, and watch her go around. He gives Phoebe his red hat, symbolizing his giving up his childhood and passing it along to her.
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