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The Phony Holden of Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger writes about a young man who is very distraught after World War II. In Salinger's only published novel The Catcher in the Rye he talks about a young man who does not understand society and the surroundings he lives in. He keeps referring back to how everyone and everything around him is a phony. He makes himself seem unreliable by telling the reader that he lies openly.
In the novel Holden is what you would call an unreliable narrator. The definition of unreliable is - a person or thing that cannot be counted on or trusted. You cannot trust Holden if you know that he lies all the time. Since the reader knows that he is a habitual liar you may never know the difference from when he is telling the truth or when he is telling another one of his stories. Holden goes in and out of mental lapses throughout the novel that affected his mind and psychological state greatly.
Holden is an unreliable narrator for many reasons. Holden tells the reader that he lies all the time and sometimes does not even notice that he is lying. Holden does not see things beneath the surface. Finally he is not mentally stable and feels very insecure about many things.
Susan K. Mitchell's comments talk about how Holden is confused about the world and the people who are around him. He is an immature man who is still recovering from the effects the war had on him. He has also just failed out of school and so that has sent him into further depression. Holden sometimes contradicts his statements that he said earlier on and he doesn't realize it. "Holden is a man who does not practice what he teaches."(Mitchell 1) "You cannot believe what Holden says about his family after he has told you that he lies."(2) "Holden tells falsifications so often that he doesn't even realize whether he is lying or telling the truth."(2) Holden tells Sally he loves her, "It was a lie of course, but the thing is, I meant it when I said it."(2) "Since the book is told through the eyes of the narrator our observations are biased.
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In the beginning of the story Holden is in a sanitarium in California recovering from a mental breakdown. Peter J. Seng's comments just go into more detail about how Holden got himself into a sanitarium and how he is doing now back in the real world. "Holden keeps thinking that he is a young man who thinks he will never die."(Seng 1) "Holden is a man to pass severe judgments on others he is not so quick to see the faults in himself."(1) Holden once again is too focused on something rather than himself. He does not see his life slipping away slowly like we do. "Holden's failure might be that he was never able to connect with himself."(1) "Holden hates lies, phoniness, pretense, yet these are often his own sins."(1) Holden says, "He hates people who do not measure up to his standards of taste and urban sophistication."(Seng 2) Holden contradicts everything that he has just talked about.
Salinger goes onto say that Holden is really down about things and needs someone to save him but no one is there to save him and so Holden falls through the cracks. Holden, "The funny part is I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her I'm crazy."(Salinger pg124) Holden, "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."(Pg16) Holden, "I swear to God I'm crazy I admit it."(Pg124) These are takes of the two critics and the one author. This is how they interpreted the story through the eyes of Holden.
Peter Shaw's comments help to understand Holden himself going through the tough times and how it affected his mental state. "Holden's self punishments have something to do with the guilt over Ali's death."(Shaw 2) The reason Holden is going through so many ups and downs is because of a very strange and rare disease. "Holden is suffering from the prime danger of this age an exclusively prolonged moratorium on growing up."(3) Holden is a very smart character but he is extra attentive when children are present more so than when an adult is around. "Holden is insightful it seems where children are concerned, but less so with adults especially parents except when their children are present."(7 "Holden feels sympathy for the outcasts in life and literature but not for anyone who does not display psychological disturbance."(8) "Holden has been known to deliver negative judgments on the world."(Shaw 8)
My examples of Holden proving that he is a liar are in the quotes that I'm presenting. He keeps repeatedly saying that he lies all the time and so that should be enough in itself to prove it. Holden's mind is not always where it should be. Sometimes he wanders off onto things that are so far off topic. Holden is an unreliable narrator you never know when to believe him or not. All of these help to prove that he is a liar and if not a liar one who is going to tell lies more often than who is not going to.
In this novel there are countless examples to show that Holden is grief stricken. Mitchell says of Holden, "Holden wants to protest all children."(Mitchell 5) Holden wants to look out for all the children because he does not want to see any of them get injured or hurt. He cares more about the average child than a regular person would. "By thinking this he believes that he can save everyone but the one person that he cannot save is himself."(5) "When Holden does become aware of his own writerliness be goes over the brink into insanity."(Mitchell 5)
Seng's comments are slightly altered from that of Mitchell's. "Holden is disturbed because he now sees that the world belongs to adults."(Seng 3) Holden does not like this idea because he thinks that all adults are phonies. Holden says, "he wants a world with little boys and girls who need help with tying their shoes."(2) "Holden's mental breakdown is a direct result of his inability to come to terms with adult reality."(2) This next quote sums it all up for Holden. "Holden is not a mere victim or modern society, but is in some sense a tragic figure."(Seng 5)
Salinger has some great quotes that come directly from the book. Holden says, "All I wanted to do first was say good bye to old Phoebe so all of a sudden I ran like a madman across the street I damn near got killed doing it."(Salinger) This quote shows a lot about how close Holden was to Phoebe and how he had to be taken from this world so quickly. "This is what old Phoebe had on it Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield. That killed me. Middle name is Josephine for God's sake not Weatherfield."(Pg 160) "I thought what I'd do was I'd pretend I was one of those deaf mutes. That way it would not have to have any God damn stupid useless conversations with anybody."(Salinger PG 198) All of these quotes show how upset Holden was about life and everything going on around him. So many things have made him think that life is crap and pointless and not worth living. But if Holden had just gotten help sooner rather than later then maybe he would have been completely different.
Is Holden going to be the person who is always telling lies to society, acting corrupt, and being a phony? Or is Holden going to change to a new someone a Holden that maybe we have not seen before. Well you will never know because this book does not go on, but you can be left to ponder that question. Will Holden change or be the same old person who was corrupt and always telling lies?