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Did Mr Antolini come on to Holden or not?

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Paula Vince That hair stroking incident at night is so sudden and strange, especially after Antolini has just won Holden's trust before giving some sound advice. But do you think his subsequent action is just an innocent paternal sort of gesture, or did he have some darker motive in mind?

I tend to think that Holden's reaction alone makes the incident not okay, no matter what Antolini's intentions may have been. For a teacher to stroke a student's hair while he's asleep, a time when we're most vulnerable, personal boundaries are being violated. Mr Antolini reacted with some embarrassment and seemed to make an effort to downplay the incident, suggesting that being caught took him off guard. His response, 'I'm just admiring you,' is a bit offish too.

Even when Holden tries to rationalize the incident and wonders if he'd over-reacted, he still feels really uncomfortable about it. That alone makes it creepy to me, and puts it in the category of something that should never have happened.

What do others think? Is Antolini a good teacher or a creep?


message 2: by Monty J (last edited Nov 27, 2019 07:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying as a teacher, Antolini stepped over the line, but he was also a friend of the family. Holden came to him seeking support late at night. Antolini give him shelter and advice, great advice, as a friend of the family not as a teacher.

Still, the stroking of his hair made Holden uncomfortable. He was no longer the little kid Antolini had taught and known. Holdens discomfort signifies his maturation, his coming of age.

I didn't take it as a come-on but Holden did, and he acted accordingly.

If Antolini had invited him over, that would be different, but Holden came to him in a time of need, and Antolini took him in. Caressing his head was an act of compassion that sprang from knowing him as a young boy. But Holden had changed. His rejection of the gesture signifies his transition into manhood.


Paula Vince Monty J wrote: "as a teacher, Antimony stepped over the line, but he was also a friend of the family. Holden came to him seeking support late at night. Antolini give him shelter and advice, great advice, as a frie..."

Yeah, that does sort of ring true. Perhaps it's no stretch to imagine that Antolini, with innocuous intentions, behaved as if Holden was still the kid he'd known. Yet his mistake (or one of them) was forgetting that he was now dealing with a young man, which made the issue more complex. Of course it was a bit different in the fifties. In the 21st century, it's a dodgy move even if the student was still a kid.


Bill Smoot Having read the the relevant pages carefully many times and discussed it with my own students, I believe either interpretation is plausible. If that is true, it makes the passage all the more effective, because Holden isn't sure and the reader isn't sure, so it brings the reader closer to Holden by sharing his perspective of just not knowing.


Wattt Paula wrote: "Monty J wrote: "as a teacher, Antimony stepped over the line, but he was also a friend of the family. Holden came to him seeking support late at night. Antolini give him shelter and advice, great a..."

oooh good answer


Paula Vince Bill wrote: "Having read the the relevant pages carefully many times and discussed it with my own students, I believe either interpretation is plausible. If that is true, it makes the passage all the more effec..."

Yeah, it's easy to imagine that's just how Salinger intended it, which makes him a really good writer. I tend to think that he meant no harm, yet the fact that he waited until Holden was asleep proves that he himself knew it wasn't a great move to make.


message 7: by Monty J (last edited Dec 03, 2019 07:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Paula wrote: "...s Antolini a good teacher or a creep?"

I'd say the guy is a pretty brilliant and courageous teacher, the diametric opposite of Mr. Spencer. It was he who compassionately covered then picked up James Castle's body after he committed suicide at Elkton Hills. Later, he took in Holden when he called late at night, distraught and ill, then he gave Holden terrific advice about getting a good education and prepared a bed for him on his couch. Remember, he was not just a teacher but a friend of the family.

Antolini is established on the first page of Chapter 23 as a courageously compassionate individual in the gentle manner in which he protects Holden and his dorm-mates from trauma by shielding the young students from viewing such a ghastly sight. He then further elevates himself by tendrely lifting the boy's mangled frame and carrying it away.
(23,174) He was the one that finally picked up that boy that jumped out the window I told you about, James Castle. Old Mr. Antolini felt his pulse and all, and then he took off his coat and put it over James Castle and carried him all the way over to the infirmary. He didn't even give a damn if his coat got all bloody.
After such a dramatic display of compassion, Antolini's tenderness toward Holden is completely in character. That Holden took it as a come-on is more a reflection him than Antolini. Holden was just as Antolini said, "... a very strange boy."

Here's some of Antolini's advice:
Antolini: (24, 189) "I'm not trying to tell you that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It's not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they're brilliant and creative to begin with--which, unfortunately, is rarely the case--tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative."
That Salinger, a WWII combat veteran, was capable of creating such complex and memorable characters as Antolini, Stradlater, Mr. Spencer and the like speaks highly of him. Such writing is rarely equaled.

Here's a link to my article, "Misjudging Mr. Antolini" on Wattpad.com: https://www.wattpad.com/58013882-midj...


Monty J Heying Monty J wrote: "Paula wrote: "...s Antolini a good teacher or a creep?"

I'd say the guy is a pretty brilliant and courageous teacher, the diametric opposite of Mr. Spencer. ..."


Another thing to consider is how Antolini's admiration for Holden fits into the novel's prevailing theme of maturation and the transition into adulthood.

Antolini fills dual roles of both family friend and teacher. In both cases, he has an implied responsibility to cultivate the boy so he will develop into a successful and productive adult. Salinger characterizes Antolini as not only a brilliant teacher but also hints that he may be a closet homosexual, making him a fascinatingly complex character. The homosexual implications charge their interaction with sexual tension.

The big question here is whether a gay man can compliment an adolescent male without being accused of pedophilia.

Aide from Antolini's gayness, as a family friend, he was acting out a responsible nurturing role by giving Holden advice, calling him "handsome" and stroking his head. All of these gestures fulfill the "family friend" duty to shore up Holden's self-confidence by reinforcing his positive qualities of intelligence, education and physical attractiveness.

If Antolini were an aunt and did those things, few people raise an eyebrow. But since Holden thinks he's gay, he reacts homophobically, taking the reader along with him. Homophobia was prevalent in the 1950s when this novel was published, so it's understandable that Salinger's writing would reflect the mores of his milieu.

A family friend should be able to do what Antolini did without being accused of making a sexual pass. But Holden's overreaction characterizes him as both heterosexual and homophobic. Furthermore, his overreaction represents a maturation milestone--that he not only can discern subtleties of gay behavior, but is also assertive enough to defend his masculinity. This is evidence of Holden's maturity.

At 17, Holden was not legally an adult, but his behavior in this instance establishes that he's mature enough to defend his masculinity.


message 9: by Dean Ryan (last edited Jan 13, 2020 05:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dean Ryan Martin It seems Mr. Antolini has crossed his boundary line. Holden sees him as a caring teacher and whether or not, Mr. Antolini is attracted to Holden, the boundary line should not be crossed. I mean, Holden is just 17. He is still a teenager. In psychology, this is the stage wherein a person finds his identity, "Who am I?" If this stage is dissatisfied, it might lead to identity crisis. Somehow, Holden faces his crisis too. He smokes. He studies but his grades suffer a lot. He engages in unnecessary fights. It is fair to say when Holden approaches Mr. Antolini, Holden is expecting a support from a fatherly figure, who can give him inspiration, motivation and words to live by. Yet, a stroking incident happened. Holden feels shocked by this inevitable. Whether Mr. Antolini appears to be closeted gay or not, he seems to give Holden a reason to feel awkward and uncomfortable. His overreaction to the situation is the most common response we can get from a teenager like him.


message 10: by Bionicjim (last edited Nov 23, 2020 10:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bionicjim I was proud of Holden for quickly deciding that what Mr. Antolini was doing (patting his head in the dark while he was sleeping after ingesting a lot of alcohol) was NOT OK and taking it upon himself to exit the situation instead of allow anything more to transpire. I think this was a fantastic example of exactly what a young person should do in a situation in which they are uncomfortable.
I realize this was written 70+ years ago, but Mr. Antolini as described by Holden had been demonstrating grooming behavior including:
Friendly with child outside of school environment
Making in-roads through family
Offering a place for Holden to sleep
Offering Holden alcohol/cigarettes
Insinuating Holden is safe under his watch
Complimenting his physical appearance (handsome, long-legs)
Accusing Holden of over-reacting and being strange

I agree with the posts above that Holden is the ultimate judge and he has been a poor one throughout the book -but his actions here were exactly correct.


Joanna Bionicjim wrote: "I was proud of Holden for quickly deciding that what Mr. Antolini was doing (patting his head in the dark while he was sleeping after ingesting a lot of alcohol) was NOT OK and taking it upon himse..."

I 100% agree with everything you wrote.


Joanna Paula wrote: "Is Antolini a good teacher or a creep..."

The problem is that he was BOTH, a good teacher and a creep. Thats what betrayal trauma is all about. When Holden freaks out, Antolini SHAMES him by telling him that he is strange, instead of showing compassion in a moment when Holden is feeling confused and scared. Like someone else wrote, Antolini was grooming Holden. That doesnt take away the fact that he was good to Holden many other times. Thats what makes this kind of abuse so damaging.


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