To Holden, Mr. Antolini represents the only adult that is concerned for him. Holden takes a genuine interest in what Mr. Antolini has to say, even trying to stop himself from yawning, whilst he is speaking. There is a deep respect for his teacher’s intelligence and Holden shows he can respect authority, by referring to him as Mr Antolini and not something else as he does with Mr Spencer, or ‘old Spence’. We can see a small advance in maturity from Holden, in this particular extract, when he even realises his mistake, when interrupting Mr Antolini mid-sentence.
‘”Mr Vinsons,” I said. He meant all the Mr Vinsons, not all the Mr Vineses. I shouldn’t have interrupted him, though. ‘ However, the general feeling that Holden may be beginning to think maturely and listen to people is suddenly halted when he wakes to find Mr Antolini patting him on the head. Instantly Holden perceives this to be a Homosexual advance or encounter and decides to leave the apartment. Alternatively it may have simply been an old friend, marginally inebriated, trying to comfort a teenager in trouble. Not only does he leave the apartment but also loses the respect for Mr Antolini he once had.
This reaction makes it clear to the reader that Holden is becoming more and more mentally unstable, after such a seemingly insignificant event. This is more evidence to show his sexual insecurity and nervousness, and disdain for Homosexuals, as previously seen when Holden meets up with Luce in the bar. It is possible that Holden may have subconsciously been looking for an excuse to leave, as he felt he might be losing his individuality, by finding someone that he can relate to. This is a recurring motif in the book, that is, once again his situation leaves him lonely, homeless, gradually more unstable, and in need of some emotional sympathy.
Holden removes himself from the situation, as soon as the going gets tough. From another point of view, it is possible to sympathise with Holden, as Mr Antolini motives are not made clear. The whole situation is very unclear, which could make anyone nervous. From this, Holden’s actions seem to be more rational. Holden makes Mr Antolini out to be a very stable, secure man, yet his constant drinking, whilst Holden is present could indicate that he is not as stable as previously thought. This may be a reason for Holden feeling comfortable around him.
Mr Antolini manages not to alienate Holden, by being the most sympathetic of the adult characters in the book. Holden respects Mr Antolini’s non-conforming attitude and unconventional methods. He not only is comforting Holden but realises that Holden is different to most pupils and recognises that he wants to retain his uniqueness, and consequently approaches him in an alternate way, especially when addressing the matter of education. Holden is very open with Mr Antolini, previously telling him that he had flunked out of school.
Mr Antolini challenges Holden’s view of education and even presents education as an opportunity to develop his own uniqueness, by choosing the information relevant to him. ‘”Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea of what size mind you have… You’ll begin to know you true measurements and dress your mind accordingly”‘ The concerns that Mr. Antolini has for Holden make Holden’s reaction to the physical contact, far to rash.
Previously in the book we have seen Holden’s insecurity with physical contact, for example with Sunny in the hotel room, and even with Phoebe, describing her as a little too affectionate, after she hugged him. Holden’s decline into insanity is further increased by this incident with Mr Antolini. Someone that Holden has trusted and looked to for guidance has stepped across the mark, has let him down. This for Holden is the final straw and he leaves in a hurry. Holden never blames his own actions; it is always the other person’s fault.
Salinger uses a literary technique in this particular chapter, which is also present in the rest of the book, but is significant in this chapter. It is the way that Holden describes his actions with a relative calm, which contrasts with the desperation of the actions themselves. Holden’s change in politeness and respect is apparent when he is around Mr Antolini. He constantly tries to refrain from yawning and even notices his rudeness when he finally does yawn. ‘Then all of a sudden, I yawned. What a rude bastard, but I couldn’t help it. ‘ This is an obvious change in maturity for Holden, but the change ceases when he leaves the apartment.