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The Judgmental Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, is a classic novel about a sixteen-year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, who speaks of a puzzling time in his life. Holden has only a few days until his expulsion from Pency Prep School. He starts out as the type of person who can't stand "phony" people. He believes that his school and everyone in it is phony, so he leaves early. He then spends three aimless days in New York City. During this time, Holden finds out more about himself and how he relates to the world around him. He believes that he is the catcher in the rye: " I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What have I to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff..." (173). He briefly enters what he believes is adulthood and becomes a "phony" himself. By the end of the story, Holden realizes he doesn't like the type of person he has become, so he reverts into an idealist; a negative, judgmental person.
Holden's idealism is first brought forth when he describes his life at Pency Prep. It is full of phonies, morons and bastards. His roommate, Stradlater, " was at least a pretty friendly guy, It was partly a phony kind of friendly..." (26) and his other roommate, Ackley is "a very nosy bastard" (33). Holden can't stand to be around either one of them for a very long time. Later, he gets into a fight with Stradlater over his date with Jane. Holden is upset because he thinks that Stradlater "gave her the time" and that he doesn't care about her; 'the reason he didn't care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron' (44). Holden not only sees his roommates as phonies and bastards, but he also sees his headmaster at Pency Prep as a "phony slob" (3). This type of person is exactly what Holden doesn't want to be. He strives to be a mature adult; caring, compassionate, and sensitive.
Even when Holden goes out or reads a story, it is just full of phoniness, ".
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Holden is surrounded by this type of people no matter where he goes. He can't function in their environment. This explains why he has trouble staying in school and why he tries so hard to be the idealist.
After he leaves Pency Prep, he goes through a transition period. On the train ride home, Holden becomes intertwined in a conversation with an older woman. She happens to be the mother of a student from Pency. He starts rambling off lies on top of lies about anything that comes to his mind, as long as it is good conversation. The whole time though he is laughing at himself. He has become a phony; the type of person he hates most. Holden also lies to his sister when she asks about him being home so soon; "They let me out early" (165). All of this phoniness comes easily to him. It just happens during conversations.
Holden talks of leaving and going West. When Phoebe, his 12 year-old sister, learns of this, she "drags Holden's old suitcase, full of her clothes" (207) down to meet him. Holden becomes very upset about the idea of her leaving. He wasn't sure that he wanted to go West. It was just a lie. This is when Holden realizes that his "phoniness" has caused a big problem. Later, he takes her to the carrousel and lets her ride around several times. It begins to rain, but he doesn't run for cover. He sits there and watches Phoebe. "I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy" (213). Holden saw how being a phony could really affect the loved ones in his life. As Holden develops this important bond with his sister, he realizes that he doesn't have to be phony. He is comfortable around her, "Then all of a sudden she gave me a kiss" (212) and he feels that she truly cares for his true self.
In conclusion, when Holden returns to school, he becomes surrounded by the type of people he hates. Knowing what it is like to be phony, and not liking it; Holden reverts back to being the idealist. He is the person who sets the perfect example of how a person should be and treat others.