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Everybody’s A Phony
J. D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is a very well known piece of the twentieth century. It’s a story about a seventeen-year-old boy, Holden Caufield, who experiences some interesting things and people upon his being expelled from Pencey Prep. School. From having breakfast with a couple of nuns on a bus, to spending an evening with a far from seraphic prostitute, Holden handles each situation the best way he can. However, most of the people Holden encounters, he deems innately phony; Holden thinks almost everyone is a phony.
Holden discusses how phony his headmaster at Elkton Hills, Mr. Haas, was when he was there:
[Mr. Haas] was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life . . .. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody’s parents when they drove up to school. He’d be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. . . . I mean if a boy’s mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody’s father was one of those guys that wear those suits with big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Haas would just shake hands with them and give half and hour with somebody else’s parents (13-14).
To Holden, it was blatantly clear that Mr. Haas was just putting on act to please the parents who showed up. He thought that everyone should be himself and not wear stupid facades.
Holden Caulfield lived in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing in his dormitory. That hall was only for juniors and seniors. The dorms were named after this person named Ossenburger who also went to Pencey Prep. School a long time ago. After Ossenburger got out of Pencey, he made a lot of money in the undertaking business, and he gave a pittance to the school. That pittance is why the hall was named after him. Then the next morning, Ossenburger gave a speech to the students of Pencey Prep. about how he was never ashamed when he was in some kind of trouble, but he would get right down on his knees and pray to God, and that you should always talk to God wherever you are. Ossenburger said to think of God as your friend. Caulfield got a kick out of this speech thinking how he could “Just see this phony bastard .
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Later, Holden went to this nightclub called Ernie’s. Holden was going there for a few drinks. Even though it was so late, the club was still packed. Ernie, the piano player, was playing some tune that Holden couldn’t recognize. Ernie was “putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and all this other tricky stuff . . .”(84) Yet, the crowd was going wild and crazy for Ernie. Holden thought that Ernie’s snobbish attitude was completely phony, but he still felt sorry for him. Next, “Old Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow” (84). Holden doesn’t even think that Ernie knows if he’s playing the correct tunes or not anymore.
Holden absolutely despises the movies, especially a phony audience watching a movie. He had gone to see a movie, and it was a really sappy one at that. It started off with some guy, Alec, limping out of a hospital not knowing his own identity. He meets a nice girl on a bus, and they’re both carrying a copy of Dickens’s Oliver Twist. They both fall in love. They’re about to be married when another girl, Marcia, shows up. Marcia was Alec’s fiancée before his accident. The other girl tells Alec to go with Marcia, and he does. But his memory doesn’t return until he’d hit on the head with a cricket ball. And by then, Alec forgot about the poor nice girl he had fallen in love with. Holden was about ready to puke: the movie was so sappy! However, what made it worse was the lady, mesmerized by the film, sitting next to Holden who cried throughout the entire movie. One would assume that this lady was crying because she was kindhearted. Holden thought that “she was about as kindhearted as a wolf” (139). She had a young boy with her, her child, he presumes, and the kid had to go to the bathroom. But the lady wouldn’t take him until the movie was over. She kept telling the child to sit down and shut-up. Holden concluded that if “you take somebody who cries their goddamn eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, nine times out of ten they’re mean bastards at heart” (140).
Next, Holden discourses about two “French babes” he once saw perform in the Wicker Bar within the swanky, Seton Hotel. Tina would play the piano and Janine would sing along. Most of the songs were either pretty dirty or in French too. They weren’t being real; Janine, a true phony, would always whisper into the microphone before each song:
"And now we like to geeve you our impression of Vooly Voo Fransay. Eet ees the story of a leetle Fransh girl who comes to a beeg ceety, just like New York, and falls een love wees a leetle boy from Brookleen. We hope you like eet” (142).
When Janine was done with all the whispering and being “cute as hell,” she’d sing a “dopey” song, half in French and half in English, and “drive all the phonies in the place mad with joy” (142).
Even the nice teachers on the faculty at Pencey Prep. were phonies too. Mr. Spencer, one of Holden’s favorites, only turned phony when he was being watched. For example, when Headmaster Thurmer observed Spencer’s class, Spencer was a complete phony. He’d crack the corniest jokes for the entire half and hour of observation. Spencer would “practically kill himself chuckling and smiling and all, like as if Thurmer was a goddamn prince or something” (168).
All Holden wanted was for people to be real; the world is full of phonies, and Holden knew this. He planned to maybe return home when he was thirty-five or so, in case someone’s dying wish was to see him. He would allow his younger sister to visit him during the summer and on Christmas and Easter vacation. And D.B., Caulfield’s older brother the writer, could visit him if he needed a nice quiet place to write, but he couldn’t write movies, only stories and books. And anyone else could visit Holden too, as long as they followed his rule which stated that “nobody could do anything phony when they visited me. If anybody tried to do anything phony, they couldn’t stay” (205).