Phoniness: Its Effect on Holden Caulfield’s Character and His View on Society

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Shannon LeBlanc
Mr. P. Murray
Phoniness: Its Effect on Holden Caulfield’s Character and his View on Society December 3, 2012

Phoniness: Its effect on Holden Caulfield’s character and his view on society

There comes a time in life when one believes that they are surrounded by nothing but fallaciousness and deception. In J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy, travels to New York to try to escape the corrupt events that have transpired in his life. While in New York, he encounters many difficult occasions which make him draw to the conclusion that he lives in a world of "phoniness." Hypocrisy is a concept that Holden constantly refers to throughout the novel. Holden makes reference to the word "phony" fourty-four separate times throughout the novel (Corbett 68-73). Each time he seems to be referring to the subject of this metaphor as -- someone who discriminates against others, is a hypocrite about something, or has manifestations of conformity (Corbett 71). He believes that people are superficial and that the world is soiled by “phoniness”. This is Holden`s way of using this as a means to mask his own insecurities and the “phoniness” within his own character. As a result, Holden develops a “phony stigma” that he uses to identify various animosities in his life, including himself. For one, Holden often behaves like he is bigger than everyone around him, and points out the falsity in everyone else. Throughout the novel he meets many people who to him are nothing but superficial such as: Sally Hayes, Carl Luce, Maurice and Sunny, and Mr. Spencer. They say and do things that keep up their appearances rather than reflecting what their true thoughts and feelings are. Holden spends so much time and energy searching for the aspect of phoniness in other people that he never truly observes it within himself (Phoniness in the Adult World). As a result, Holden tends to be extremely judgmental of people. He views everyone in a negative manner and considers them to be nothing but phony. For example: when Holden calls Sally late at night, he assumes that she just came back home from a date. He develops a mental picture of what her date may act like, in which he says, "All of them saying sophisticated stuff to each other and being charming and phony" (Salinger 151). In addition, when he is out on this date, Sally ends up meeting an old “friend” of hers named George Andover. Seeing how they both interact with each other angers Holden and causes him to rant about the whole situation. This proves the fact that Holden is extremely judgemental of other people, even people who he hasn’t even met. “You should have seen the way they said hello. You’d had thought they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. You’d have thought they’d taken baths in the same bathtub or something when they were little kids. Old Buddyoos. It was nauseating. The funny part was, they probably met each other just once, at some phony party…He was the kind of phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question…It was the phoniest conversation you ever heard in your life…The worst part was, the jerk had one of those very phony Ivy League voices. He sounded just like a girl” (Salinger 127-128) Holden also believes that the school system and teachers are phony because they pretend to be helpful to students, in order to elevate their own egos. In the beginning, he evidently states his opinion about the educational system. “One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. 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....
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