Over the years, members of the literary community have critiqued just about every author they could get their pen on. One of the most popular novels to be critiqued has been J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In favorable critiques, Holden Caulfield is a good guy stuck in a bad world. He is trying to make the best of his life, though ultimately losing that battle. Whereas he aims at stability and truth, the adult world cannot survive without suspense and lies. It is a testament to his innocence and decent spirit that Holden would place the safety of children as a goal in his lifetime. This serves to only re-iterate the fact that Holden is a sympathetic character, a person of high moral values who is too weak to pick himself up from a difficult situation.
S.N. Behrman, in his review for The New Yorker, also took a sharp look at Holden’s personality. Behrman found Caulfield to be very self-critical, as he often refers to himself as a terrible liar, a madman, and a moron. Holden is driven crazy by phoniness, an idea under which he lumps insincerity, snobbery, injustice, callousness, and a lot more. He is a prodigious worrier, and someone who is moved to pity quite often. Behrman wrote: “Grown men sometimes find the emblazoned obscenities of life too much for them, and leave this world indecorously, so the fact that a 16-year old boy is overwhelmed should not be surprising” (71). Holden is also labeled as curious and compassionate, a true moral idealist whose attitude comes from an intense hatred of hypocrisy. The novel opens in a doctor’s office, where Holden is recuperating from physical illness and a mental breakdown. In Holden’s fight with Stradlater, his roommate, he reveals his moral ideals: he fears his roommate’s sexual motives, and he values children for their sincerity and innocence, seeking to protect them from the phony adult society. Jane Gallagher and Allie, the younger brother of Holden who died at age 11, represent his everlasting symbols of goodness (Davis 317).
A quote by Charles Kegel seems to adequately sum up the problems of Holden Caulfield: “Like Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,Caulfield is in search of the Word. His problem is one of communication: as a teenager, he simply cannot get through to the adult world which surrounds him; as a sensitive teenager, he cannot get through others of his own age” (54).
Catcher in the Rye Essay: Holden and His Phony Family
Holden and His Phony Family in The Catcher in the Rye
The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, interacts with many people throughout J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, but probably none have as much impact on him as certain members of his immediate family. The ways Holden acts around or reacts to the various members of his family give the reader a direct view of Holden’s philosophy surrounding each member.
Holden makes reference to the word “phony” forty-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). Throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden describes and interacts with various members of his family. The way he talks about or to each gives you some idea of whether he thinks they are “phony” or normal. A few of his accounts make it more obvious than others to discover how he classifies each family member.
From the very first page of the novel, Holden begins to refer to his parents as distant and generalizes both his father and mother frequently throughout his chronicle. One example is: “…my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all – I’m not saying that – but they’re also touchy as hell” (Salinger 1). Holden’s father is a lawyer and therefore he considers him “phony” because he views his father’s occupation unswervingly as a parallel of his father’s personality. For example, when Holden is talking to Phoebe about what he wants to be when he grows up, he cannot answer her question and proceeds to give her his opinion about their father’s occupation..
‘Lawyers are all right, I guess – but it doesn’t appeal to me,’ I said. ‘I mean they’re all right if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t’ (Salinger 172).