One of the most important themes in "The Catcher in the Rye", is the tendency people have to judge one another. The narrator, Holden Caulfield, is not only judgmental of the people he meets, but of society as a whole. Throughout his experiences, he criticizes the phoniness and shallowness that he encounters in the world around him. One sees, that while Holden spends much of his time judging the actions and intentions of others, he never recognizes his own faults.
Throughout the novel, Holden runs into both old and new faces. He almost instantly begins to criticize them, never taking the time to think about their true intentions. An example of this is seen when Holden bids farewell to his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, before leaving Pencey. Mr. Spencer is obviously trying to help Holden, but all Holden can think about is "if the lagoon in Central park would be frozen over when he got home, and if it were, where the ducks would go," (Salinger 13) while at the same time "shooting the bull" (Salinger 12). He glibly agrees with everything that Spencer says, while internally criticizing his appearance and how he talks. When Holden met with Sally Hayes, he didn't even think twice before thinking she was "quite the little phony" (Salinger 106). Sally seems to genuinely want to be with Holden, but Holden won't let himself believe it. After accusing the theater of being full of phonies, he is so depressed he claims to have "sort of hated old Sally by the time he got in the cab." (Salinger 128) Blinded by his cynical view of people, he can't get close to anyone.
Not only does Holden's judgmental outlook on society rule out any possibility of him having a relationship, but it prevents him from getting to know himself. He is so focused on everyone else's foibles that he can't see his own. Every time he comes face to face with failure, he blames it on other people. When asked by Spencer about what went wrong at his previous school, Holden claims that he "just quit" (Salinger 13), and reminisces about the materialistic society and all the superficial people he encountered while there. It is as if Holden covers up his faults and failures by telling himself that they occur because of the phonies and their phony way of life. His failure to take responsibility for his own actions can be seen in his immature attitude and the way he does many of the phony things he claims he can't stand.
It is important to learn from the mistakes of Holden Caulfield. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, one can see the detrimental effects that judging people has on one's ability to interact in society. Throughout the novel, Holden was too busy calling people phony to look at his own phony actions. Even more drastic is how his cynical outlook on society ultimately led him to a world of isolation. Deep inside he wanted companionship, but was too blind by his opinions to see it when it was right in front of him.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York City: Bantam Books, 1964.