After a dry and unappetizing steak dinner in the dining hall, Holden gets into a snowball fight with some of the other Pencey boys. He and his friend Mal Brossard decide to take a bus into Agerstown to see a movie—though Holden hates movies—and Holden convinces Mal to let Ackley go with them. As it turns out, Ackley and Brossard have already seen the film, so the trio simply eats some burgers, plays a little pinball, and heads back to Pencey.
After the excursion, Mal goes off to look for a bridge game, and Ackley sits on Holden’s bed squeezing pimples and concocting stories about a girl he claims to have had sex with the summer before. Holden finally gets him to leave by beginning to work on the English assignment for Stradlater. Stradlater had said the composition was supposed to be a simple description of a room, a house, or something similarly straightforward. But Holden cannot think of anything to say about a house or a room, so he writes about a baseball glove that his brother Allie used to copy poems onto in green ink.
Several years before, Allie died of leukemia. Though he was two years younger than Holden, Holden says that Allie was the most intelligent member of his family. He also says that Allie was an incredibly nice, innocent child. Holden clearly still feels Allie’s loss strongly. He gives a brief description of Allie, mentioning his bright red hair. He also recounts that the night Allie died, he slept in the garage and broke all the windows with his bare hands. After he finishes the composition for Stradlater, he stares out the window and listens to Ackley snore in the next room.
Home from his date, Stradlater barges into the room. He reads Holden’s composition and becomes visibly annoyed, asserting that it has nothing to do with the assignment and that it’s no wonder Holden is being expelled. Holden tears the composition up and throws it away angrily. Afterward, he smokes a cigarette in the room just to annoy Stradlater. The tension between the two increases when Holden asks Stradlater about his date with Jane. When Stradlater nonchalantly refuses to tell Holden any of the details, Holden attacks him, but Stradlater pins him to the floor and tries to get him to calm down. Holden relentlessly insults Stradlater, driving him crazy until he punches Holden and bloodies his nose. Stradlater then becomes worried that he has hurt Holden and will get into trouble. Holden insults him some more, and Stradlater finally leaves the room. Holden gets up and goes into Ackley’s room, his face covered in blood.
Holden’s kindness to Ackley in Chapter 5 comes as a surprise after the disdain that Holden has displayed for him in the previous two chapters. Though he continues to complain about Ackley, the sympathy he feels for his next-door neighbor is evident when he convinces Mal Brossard to let Ackley join them at the movies. Equally surprising is Holden’s willingness to go to the movies after his diatribes against their superficiality. Holden’s actions are inconsistent with his opinions, but instead of making him seem like a hypocrite, this makes him more likable: he is kind to Ackley without commenting on it, and he shows himself capable of going to the movies with his friends like a normal teenager.
The most important revelation in these chapters comes about when Holden writes the composition for Stradlater, divulging that his brother Allie died of leukemia several years before. Holden idealizes Allie, praising his intelligence and sensitivity—the poem--covered baseball glove is a perfect emblem for both—but remaining silent about his emotional reaction to Allie’s death. He alludes to his behavior almost in passing, saying that he slept in the garage on the night of Allie’s death and broke all the windows with his bare hands, “just for the hell of it.” He tried to break the car windows as well, but could not because his hand was already fractured from smashing the garage windows. Throughout the novel, it becomes increasingly clear that Allie’s death was one of the most traumatic experiences of Holden’s life and may play a major role in his current psychological breakdown. Indeed, the cynicism that Holden uses to avoid expressing his feelings may result from Allie’s death.
Holden seems to feel increasing pressure as he moves toward leaving school, and Salinger manipulates the details of Holden’s physical environment to match his protagonist’s feelings. Holden cannot get a moment alone; Ackley continues to barge in with his made-up sex stories, and when Holden writes the very personal composition about his brother Allie, Stradlater criticizes it and then taunts Holden about Jane. When Holden finally snaps and attacks his roommate, Stradlater easily overpowers him, and when he tries to seek refuge in Ackley’s room, Ackley is so unpleasant that Holden cannot relax. He leaves abruptly, as though trying to escape the torment of his environment. What Holden does not yet realize, however, is that he carries his torment with him, inside himself.