Catcher adulthood scares him, Holden labels everything

Catcher In the Rye Final    Holden Caulfield, a sixteen year old boy, constantly encounters situations and people that he labels as phony, his way of describing things that he perceives as shallow, fraudulent, artificial, or fake. The phoniness of the adult world seems to surround Holden, he claims that the people around him are pretending so hard, they don’t even realize how ingenuine they are. This idea is reflected in many of the supporting characters, many of whom are portrayed as stereotypes, doing their best to conform to the system. However, Salinger makes it very apparent that Holden’s own ideas of phoniness often lead to self-deprecating outcomes. Although he despises phoniness in others, he himself is often phony, usually in an effort to seem out of the ordinary. In the novel Catcher In the Rye, phoniness represents Holden’s desire for unlimited youth, it stands as an explanation for everything that is wrong with the world around him, and provides him with an excuse to remove himself from society and wallow in his pessimistic solitude. Holden himself is also guilty of the phoniness that he despises.    Holden’s use of phoniness is used to distract from his fear of getting older. Instead of facing the fact that adulthood scares him, Holden labels everything in the mature world as phony, something he does not want to be. Simultaneously, he describes the world of children as innocent, having not yet succumbed to the fake world of adulthood. This represents Holden’s desire to stay young forever and his disdain for growing up. For example, when talking about the principal of his old school, Elkton Hills, he states:For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. 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. You should’ve seen the way he did with my roommate’s 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 very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Haas would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he’d go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else’s parents. I can’t stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills. (p. 14)    He says similar things when describing Mr. Spencer. When talking to him at his house, he nods and smiles on the outside, but on the inside he curses and despises the old man, complaining about how phony and stupid his advice is. Most of the people that Holden describes as superficial are authority figures, people who have followed societies guidelines and boosted themselves to the top. This shows Holden’s fear of taking on responsibility, and his fruitless hopes of never growing up.     Secondly, for Holden, phoniness represents everything that is wrong with the adult world, and as a result, gives him an excuse to withdraw and never face responsibility. For example, in chapter 22, Holden says that if you’re a lawyer, “all you do is make lots of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides, even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guy’s lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the goddamn movies? Trouble is, you wouldn’t.” (p. 172) Through this he explains that adults are inevitably phony, everything that they do is hypocritical and insincere, whether they realize it or not. By labeling adults as phony and everything he strives not to be, Holden allows himself  to be protected by an armour or childish cynicism and does things like continuously flunk out of school and act immaturely in an effort to prevent growing up.     Lastly, Holden himself becomes a symbol of the very thing he despises, proving Salinger’s argument that hypocrisy and fraudulent conformity can be incredibly harmful, and that the world is not a black and white canvas for judgement. Throughout the novel, Holden constantly points out the insincerity of others, but fails to realize that he also possesses the attributes that lead him to label others as phony. On countless occasions, Holden tells pointless lies and even labels himself as a “compulsive liar”. He voices agreement to things that he despises and goes out with girls that he doesn’t like. For example, on the train to New York he meets the mother of one of his fellow students. Instead of being genuine, he decides to lie. Holden tells her that he is Rudolf Schmidt, giving the name of the school janitor for no reason other than to lie and to avoid unnecessary conversation. He also tells her that her son Ernie is very popular at Pencey, and that he is a good friend of Holden’s. He tells her that in the class elections, another boy “- Harry Fencer – was elected. And the reason he was elected, the simple and obvious reason was because Ernie wouldn’t let us nominate him. Because he’s so darn shy and modest and all.” (p.57) Just before this Holden has recounted to the reader that Ernest was “doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey, in the whole crumby history of the school.” (p. 54) Additionally, he goes out on a date with Sally Hayes, who he “wasn’t too crazy about” (p.105) and “gave him a pain in the ass”. (p. 106) While some of the people Holden meets, for instance, Sally Hayes, Carl Luce, Maurice, Sunny, and Mr. Spencer, are quite phony and pretentious, Holden is so preoccupied with the fakeness of others that he fails to identify it in himself. His phony actions are often a bit mean-spirited or unnecessary, and individuals like Maurice and Sunny are quite harmful. Holden wishes to believe that the world is simple and that phoniness and innocence are kept separate, he disproves his own theory, and shows that judgement should not be so quickly dished out in a complicated universe.     In conclusion, Holden uses the word phony as a barrier and as justification for his immature actions. He allows himself to label people of success and conformity as phony, in affect giving him reason to withdraw into seclusion. He also identifies the childish universe as one of curiosity, innocence, and virtue, while describing the real world as superficial and undesirable. This leads him to act in childish ways, dropout of school, and do everything in his power to avoid responsibility and prevent himself from growing up into a phony. However, through his desperate attempts to preserve his childish purity, he himself becomes the epitome of phony. He never stays true to his personality, he constantly lies, pretends he is someone he’s not, spends time with people that he hates, and never says exactly what he is thinking.


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