Sixteen year old Holden Caulfield is the narrator and the main character of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
Holden constantly encounters people who strike him as “phony,” a word he applies to anything that is unauthentic or otherwise fake. Throughout this Holden reveals to us that he hates phonies, while still calling himself a “terrific liar”. Throughout the book Holden constantly expresses his hatred for “phonies.” Holden labels anyone who isn’t genuine a phony. This trend of dishonesty is most evident with Holden’s classmates from Pencey Prep, who Holden repeatedly classified as “phonies.” One student from Pencey, who Holden finds to be a phony, is Ackley.
Holden is aware of the fact that Ackley is always lying. Holden tells us that Ackley lies especially about his sexual life and Holden definitely knows this, therefore exemplifying Ackley’s phoniness. Stradlater, Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep, qualifies as another person who Holden considers to be a phony. He is often described as this handsome and well groomed guy, but Holden often acknowledges that he is a “secret slob”. Holden continues to provide details that Stradlater appears well groomed, but his toiletries, such as his razor, are disgustingly unclean. Holden’s continuous hatred for phonies eventually leads him into the feeling of loneliness, which shows his value honesty.
Holden’s strong value for honesty, along with his deep hatred for phonies later results in him entering a state of loneliness. We become aware of Holden’s loneliness when we see that at the beginning of the book, he separates himself from the rest of the Pencey students by watching the football game from Thomsen Hill rather than the grandstands with all his other classmates. Holden’s desire to find an honest person who he can talk to is difficult considering he is stuck with the mindset that “everyone around him is phony.” Due to Holden’s fixed mindset that anyone who isn’t genuine is a phony, Holden begins to lie. His lies transform him into the very thing he hates, a phony. Holden often pretends to be someone else when he is around strangers and even calls himself “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life,” which shows his pride for being a liar. (Salinger, 19).
He always tries to impress people by pretending to be someone he is not. When Holden was talking to Mrs. Morrow on the train, he lied about his name and told her he was Rudolph Schmidt. Holden continued lying and when she asked why he was leaving school, Holden replied by saying “I have this operation…
I have this tiny tumor on my brain.” Holden lied because he didn’t want to say he was kicked out of school; therefore, he became phony and made up a reason that seemed worth listening to. All of this concluded shows how Holden was becoming a phony due to his loneliness. He puts on an act in hopes of having a conversation with just about anyone. Being a phony is an important trait to survive.
Mr. Haas, the headmaster of Elkton Hills who Holden calls “the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life,” is a phony because he wants to put on a good image for the school by not showing the truth. He continues to say that Mr. Haas would go around with a phony smile shaking everyone’s parents’ hands.
We can see that being phony doesn’t make someone a bad person but makes it a human instinct for survival. Yet even though Holden is right that people are phony, it’s clear that Holden’s hatred of phoniness is still self-destructive. Holden is constantly pointing out the phoniness in others although he himself is often phony since he lies. Being a phony is what makes people human. Holden’s desire for people to be their true uncensored selves is wishing that the world could be inhuman. He is wishing for the world to be something that it can never be.In society people are not their true authentic selves due to fears of being judged or not fitting in.
Everyone wants everyone to think a certain way about them and sometimes that means having to act a certain way that isn’t them. People have to be dishonest at times to survive, whether it’s to protect someone’s feelings or to make themselves look good. Being genuine means you have to be okay with the possibility of not being accepted or liked by others. This can be hard because for some, all people want is satisfaction of acceptance from others, the feeling of fitting in.