All I need’s an audience. I’m an exhibitionist.
This quotation from Chapter 4 captures Holden’s thoughts while he tap dances for Stradlater in their dorm bathroom at Pencey, and it offers a key to Holden’s behavior throughout the novel. An exhibitionist is usually motivated to act out of a need for attention, and Holden needs attention badly. In fact, Holden seems to be looking for an audience throughout the novel: he constantly leaves the privacy of his hotel room for public places, strikes up conversations with strangers, and even meets up with old acquaintances he claims not to like very much, such as Sally Hayes and Carl Luce.
In the first place, I hate actors. They never act like people.
Holden makes this observation in Chapter 16 when buying theater tickets for his date with Sally. Actors epitomize the artificiality and “phoniness” that Holden despises. Yet, according to Holden, many of the “phony” people he knows don’t act “like people” either. Thus, Holden seems to be chasing after an idea of authenticity that does not exist in reality. In other words, everyone is an actor. Even Holden, a self-proclaimed exhibitionist, is an actor in search of an audience.
If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more.
This comment, which appears in Chapter 17, is prompted by the famous actor couple, the Lunts, whom Holden and Sally see perform during their date. This moment helps explain Holden’s aversion to both performance and success. He seems to believe that performance and talent somehow corrupt the performer and that success will turn a person into a showoff or a phony. This belief may also help explain why Holden continues to fail out of school: he is afraid that academic success will corrupt him.