20 July 2013 Catcher in the Rye Interpretive Analysis
Why does Holden so passionately despise “phonies”? Is Holden himself a “phony”?
Holden Caulfield absolutely hates phonies, but shows signs of being one himself, suggesting he may be a hypocrite. He dislikes phonies because he believes that they are fake and hypocritical; corrupted by the ways of the world. His idea of a phony is someone who lies for money or attention. Holden wants a pure, clean society where no one is corrupted by greed, lust, or any of the seven deadly sins. Nobody is safe from his critical eye, not even his own brother
DB, who is a fairly successful scriptwriter in Hollywood. The only person he really likes is his little sister, Phoebe. Phoebe is a fairly precocious fourth grader whom he sees as a veritable genius. He speaks of her fondly, saying, “You never saw a kid so pretty and smart in your whole life. She’s really smart” (67). It is definitely a testimony to his character that the only people he thinks fondly of are his innocent little sister, and his dead brother. It can be inferred that
Caulfield only likes “pure” or “innocent” people. His little sister is a child, and therefore can be considered innocent. His brother Allie is dead, resulting in Holden’s putting him on a pedestal, which is a fairly common action with friends and family of the deceased. They feel guilty that the person can no longer live their life, and immediately blame themselves for any past wrongs involving the person, whether or not it was their fault. His idolatry of Allie is evidenced when he reminisces about their past, saying, “He didn’t get sore about it he didn’t get sore about anything but I keep thinking about it anyway, when I get very depressed” (99). It is hugely ironic that he dislikes phonies so much, because he himself is one of them. He hates it when others curse (shown by his anger when he comes upon the Fword written on a bathroom wall), but he regularly swears, as you can tell when the girl he’s dancing with asks him, “Watch your language, if you don’t mind” (72). Holden can’t stand drinkers, but one of the first things he does when he gets to New York is get drunk. He doesn’t even seem to register how strange it is that
he is drinking, and even rather flippantly says, “When I’m drunk, I’m a madman” (151).
Therefore, one can infer from the examples above that Holden is the biggest phony of all, and really should not be so critical of everyone.
2) Why can’t Holden fit in, either at school or in New York?
Holden is considered an absolute loser at school, which is no surprise to anyone who has read the book. He’s arrogant, hypocritical, and quick to judge. Few people are willing to tolerate that kind of attitude , much less willing to befriend someone so moody. Knowing Caulfield’s habit of calling nearly everyone he meets a phony for the most random reasons, he drives away the few who are brave enough to reach out to such a different person. However, this kind of isolation is common at private schools, where everyone is more or less wiped of their individuality. But New York is the melting pot of cultures and personalities, shouldn’t he be taken a bit more seriously there? Then why is he being treated even more condescendingly he was than at school? The reason lies in his attempts to act more like his idea of a mature person, such as hiring a hooker, drinking while underage, or constantly trying to ask older women on dates. While Holden thinks that he is the world’s first and foremost authority detecting fakery in others, his perception of fakery is merely presumption. Others are far better at detecting Holden’s poseur ways, and see him for what he is: a lonely misanthrope. It’s not to see why Caulfield despises most of humankind so much, though. Even in his attempts to be nice, he faces rebuttal over and over again, as we see when he writes Stradlater’s essay for him,