In chapter 8, Holden lies to the women on the train. Why would he be so calculating and manipulative? Is he now not the phony?
In chapter 8, Holden is riding on a train to New York and strikes up a conversation with the mother of one of his classmates. Holden introduces himself as Rudolf Schmidt and immediately fabricates a story about her son, Ernest Morrow. Holden tells the woman that her son "adapts himself very well to things" and his classmates tried convincing Ernest to run for class president. When Holden tells the woman that Ernest is sensitive, he simultaneously tells the reader,
"Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat" (Salinger, 30).
The entire train ride, Holden lies about Ernest's accomplishments and outstanding personality traits. Interestingly, Holden tells the reader,
"Old Mrs. Morrow didn't say anything, but boy, you should've seen her. I had her glued to her seat. You take somebody's mother, all they want to hear about is what a hotshot their son is" (Salinger, 31).
Holden's comment to the reader indicates that he enjoys seeing Mrs. Morrow excited and pleased to hear about her son's positive qualities. While Holden is technically manipulative, he simply enjoys seeing Mrs. Morrow's positive reaction. Holden also knows that Mrs. Morrow will be more attentive if he continues praising her son, which could explain his motivation for lying to her. By lying to Mrs. Morrow, Holden is being "phony," which is something he continually attributes to certain peers and adults. The fact that Holden despises phony individuals, while he is also a phony, reveals his hypocrisy and contributes to his unreliable narrator status.
When Holden meets Mrs. Morrow on the train, his state of mind is unstable, he enjoys making a fool of her, by lying about her son Ernest, telling her his name is Rudolph Schmidt, the name of the Janitor at Pencey Prep.
Holden is full of contempt for adults. He feels like a failure, he is jealous of Ernest, the fact that his mother is proud of him. On some level, Holden enjoys talking to Mrs. Morrow, because he can pretend that everything in his life is normal.
After this moment of pretense passes and he remembers that he is in trouble, way over his head trouble,he decides that Mrs. Morrow is deluded about her stupid son. So he enjoys fooling her, laughing at her secretly.
He makes the ultimate escape at this point in the book, fleeing from Pencey and leaving reality behind. The incident on the train is only the first of many instances where Holden pretends to be someone else, manipulates the people around him and acts like a huge phony.
Starting with Mrs. Morrow, as his first victim, Holden engages in angry, behavior, lashing out at others. Holden is very close to a mental breakdown, the cumulative stress of his life has caused him to role play to relieve the pressure that he feels. After his lost weekend in New York, Holden is admitted to a mental hospital
The very same actions that Holden accuses of others he is in fact guilty of himself.