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Holden Caufield as Untrustworthy Narrator in The Catcher in the Rye
The problem with most first person narratives is that there is only one point of view. In The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caufield shares his past experiences as a distressed teenager. The entire story is told through his own troubled mind, which often distorts the experiences. Salinger portrays the reason behind Holden's immaturity by demonstrating his untrustworthy qualities.
Most of Holden's views contradict themselves because of Holden's own confusion. This confusion blinds him from being able to realize that most of his criticism is against himself. Salinger clearly presents this after Stradlader hits Holden. "All that blood and all sort of made me look tough. I'd only been in about two fights in my life, and I lost both of them. I'm not too tough. I'm a pacifist, if you want to know the truth"(46). Even though Holden enjoys to see himself beaten up, he contradicts himself by proclaiming he is a peaceful person. Salinger utilizes these contradictions to reveal how unreliable Holden's observations are.
Salinger also depicts Holden's immaturity through the judgment of his peers and elders. Holden's disillusionment of good people alters the true personality of each person he meets. Holden even criticizes his new classmates, whom he has not even meet yet. "It's full of phonies/.../and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day"(131). Just because Holden is uncomfortable in his school, he feels the need to disapprove of everyone. Salinger exploits this immaturity to illustrate the reason for Holden's loneliness and confusion.
Throughout the story Salinger introduces characters that actually appeal to Holden, which give him guidance and make him feel better about himself. Mr. Antolini is one of these people. Holden seems hopeless in his quest for happiness, but Mr. Antolini guides him in the right direction. Even after all the help, he still finds a way to scrutinize Mr. Antolini. "What he was doing was, he was sitting on the floor right next to the couch, in the dark and all, and he was sort of petting me or patting me on the goddam head"(192).
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Holden's depressive character prevents the reader from recognizing the reality of Holden's life. Salinger keeps this evident through Holden's actions, which can never be taken seriously. Salinger proves the importance of staying truthful to yourself, and never taking shortcuts to happiness. Holden repeatedly fails to realize this and is trapped in his own misery.