Holden and the Rest of the World
Holden is everybody's favorite judgmental cynic. He also has a bit of a problem: he's completely alone and he knows it – we stopped count at about 22 when we tried to track the number of times he admits to being lonely. The clear conflict here is that he judges and hates everyone, but at the same time wants them to join him for a drink and chat it up for the evening. He seems perpetually caught in this very limbo: judging a person, making a half-hearted attempt to reach out, and then being disappointed when that person isn't there to support him, talk with him, or try to understand him.
Often, Holden can't even get to the point of reaching out at all. His passivity and indecision take over at key moments. Check out the very first thing he does when he gets o ff the train in New York City – he goes into a phone booth. He knows he wants to call someone, but proceeds to veto all of his options: D.B. is in Hollywood, Phoebe is sleeping, he "doesn't feel like" calling Jane's mother, he's afraid Sally's mom will pick up at her house, and he "doesn't like" Carl Luce. Holden steps out of the phone booth after twenty minutes, having not called anyone. This is the story of his life. Or at least the story of The Catcher in the Rye. When Holden does end up interacting with people, he usually gets the short end of the stick. He invites Ackley along to the movies, but Ackley won't return the favor by letting Holden sleep in his roommate's bed. He writes Stradlater's composition for him, and in return gets yelled at (and socked in the nose, but technically that was for different reasons). He even had to type that essay on a junky old typewriter because he had lent his own to the guy down the hall. He gives up his hound's-tooth jacket for the night, knowing it'll get stretched out in the shoulders. He gets stuck with the tab for the three "moronic" girls' drinks in the Lavender Room at his hotel. He pays Sunny even though he doesn't have sex with her, and ends up getting cheated out of five more dollars (and socked in the stomac h, although technically this, too, was for different reasons).
Despite all this instances, Holden never makes himself out to be a victim. He doesn't seem to notice that he gets taken advantage of – repeatedly. This is part of his own youth and naïveté. Despite his judgmental exterior, Holden is surprisingly eager to please – and to make friends.
Holden and the Phonies
OK, but how can Holden be enthusiastic about meeting people when he deems everyone and their mother (literally – he encounters quite a few mothers in this story) to be phony? In his mind, everyone is a social-climber, a name-dropper, appearance-obsessed, a secret slob, a private flit, or a suck-up. Holden finds any semblance of normal adult life to be "phony." He doesn't want to grow up and get a job and play golf and drink martinis and go to an office. And he certainly doesn't want anything to do with the "bastards" that do. Except that, really, he sort of does. So what's the catch?
Basically, if Holden calls everyone a phony, he can feel bett er when they reject him. It's not his fault the three girls in the Lavender Room weren't terribly interested in giving him the time of day; they were just phonies who couldn't carry on a conversation. He can't feel bad if Ackley doesn't want to let him stay and chat; Ackley's just a pimply moron. If Stradlater
doesn't want to hang out, it's because he's a jerk. We prefer not to use tired, old terms like "defense mechanism," but we're certainly tempted to in this case. Holden: Crazy or not?
So far, Holden doesn't sound too different from a typical, disaffected youth. We all know people like this. We've probably all felt like this at one point or another. But there are definite hints in the text that Holden isn't just another normal teenager. For one, we know he had to take some sort of "rest" from regular life to go through therapy and get psychoanalyzed. We know he's...
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