Holden catches a train to New York in the middle of the night. On the train, the mother of a student who attends Pencey Prep sits next to Holden. Mrs Morrow and Holden have a conversation in which Holden constantly lies. He lies about his name and introduces himself as Rudolf Schmidt, he lies about Mrs Morrow's son who Holden says is 'one of the most popular boys at Pencey'. He lies about his health and his grandmother. He also misguidedly considers Mrs Morrow in a sexual manner and acts a lot older than he really is.
This is Holden's first foray into the adult world and as such prepares the reader for the behaviour that he will display in New York. Most noticeable is the contrast created between Holden's dislike of 'phonies' and his phony behaviour. He travels under a false name and false pretences. It is important that you ask the question here, who is Holden kidding and why? (Remember that there is no right answer but that you need to demonstrate that you have considered the character.) Is he lying to Mrs Morrow because he cannot help it, as he claims, or is he too embarrassed to admit that he has been kicked out of Pencey Prep and feels that he has no friends. Consider that he is very lonely. He has no one to turn to. He even wants to avoid his parents.
One thing that you may notice about Holden throughout the novel is that he is sensitive. This is not expressed through his actions but through the reader's interpretation of his internal thoughts and patterns. Holden laughs at Mrs Morrow when she claims that Ernest 'is a sensitive boy... perhaps he takes things a little more seriously than he should at his age' (p49). Do you think that this is a reasonably accurate description of Holden as well as of Ernest? From what we have seen of Holden's interactions at Pencey, do you think that his classmates would view him as a sensitive boy?
Holden's desire to be an adult is expressed through the way that he misguidedly thinks of Mrs Morrow as a sexual object, offers her cigarettes, asks her to drink cocktails with him and boasts about his height and grey hair.
Holden arrives at Penn Station, the major railway station in Manhattan. It is late at night and he finds that he has no one to call. He decides again not to call Jane and mentions an ex-girlfriend, Sally Hayes, and an ex school mate Carl Luce, both of whom the responder will be introduced to later in the novel. Holden catches a cab and, unsure of where he is going, eventually ends up at a cheap hotel called the Edmont. In the cab he asks the driver where the ducks in Central park go during winter and invites him for a drink. At the Edmont, Holden is exposed to the sexual perversions of late-night New York. Finally he calls a girl whose number he has from a brief acquaintance. Holden tries to act older than he is but in the end the lady does not agree to meet up with him.
Penn Station is a symbol for movement and direction. Holden is lacking in options. He recalls that Sally's mother once said that he 'had no direction in life' (p53) and this is a particularly apt description of him at the moment. Another symbolic motif related to direction is introduced as Holden ponders the whereabouts of the ducks. Holden's options and comfort are frozen, as is the habitat of the ducks. Holden is, therefore, eager to find out what they do. He is desperate for friends, to the point where he asks the cab driver to spend time with him. It is worth noticing that Holden first gives his home address to the cab driver. The reader can, or will see, that many of Holden's problems would be solved if he could face his parents. His instinct to go home demonstrates his feeling of displacement.
Instead of going home he stays instead at the Edmont. Holden is both shocked and fascinated by the sexual perversion that he sees going on around him. He is repulsed but at the same time admits that 'crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes' (p56). This is a typical example of Holden's internal and personal contradictions.
Holden has become selfish and unaware. His plan to contact Jane by sending her a message that her aunt has been killed in a car crash shows no empathy on his behalf. Do you think that Jane would appreciate being told such a shocking thing? His loneliness drives him to contact Faith Cavendish, a lady he does not know anything about except for the fact that she used to be a burlesque dancer. He lies his way into a conversation and when finally his plans to meet her fall through, he feels as though he has 'fouled' it up. Consider, however, that although he could convince her that he was older than he was over the phone, if they had met she would certainly have known how young he was. Holden has not thought through the consequences of his actions.
Unable to sleep, Holden makes his first appearance in a night club. He dresses up and goes to the hotel night club called the Lavender Room. Holden describes the bar cynically, making negative comments about the bar, the clientele and the music. For all his talk of looking old, he is refused service and is forced to drink Coke. He gives the 'eye' to three women sitting near him whom he describes as 'the three witches' (p63) and finally convinces them to dance with him. They are not at all interested in Holden and are in New York to spot celebrities. Despite spending the whole night struggling to get into a conversation and failing, he ends up paying for all their drinks and having to leave because the bar is closing.
The fact that Holden is again in some kind of agitated state is clear from the fact that he cannot sleep. Notice throughout the novel that Holden swings frequently from depression to mania. As Holden is dressing for the night-club he remembers and describes in some detail his little sister Phoebe. The reader can see again a strong emotional attachment to members of his family, particularly those younger than him. It is interesting that he is so eager to contact a child. The reader can already see that he has such major problems that he really needs somebody more mature than he is to understand. It is up to the individual reader to decide whether his obsession with Phoebe is purely for love or also because he does not want to face the realities of adulthood. Perhaps he seeks to take refuge in the limited judgement of a child.
Holden's idyllic and happy thoughts of Phoebe and the childhood world are contrasted sharply with his cynical first impressions of the Lavender Room. It is difficult to decipher whether his attempts with the three women whom he constantly criticises is out of desperation and loneliness, or actual feelings towards them that he does not want to admit. Certainly, considering Holden's tendency to criticise everything, it is difficult to determine what he means and what he does not mean. The effect of Holden's criticism is that he never takes responsibility. The problem with the Lavender Room experience, according to Holden, was not himself or that he was too young, but that the Lavender Room and its clientele were terrible.