In Chapter 22 of J.D. Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye, Holden asks, ''How would you know you weren't being a phony?'' Why would Holden think this would be a problem for someone?
The question, "How would you know you weren't being a phony" (172) epitomizes Holden's theme throughout the book. This question is exactly what Holden wonders and seeks answers for when presenting each and every anecdote portrayed throughout his lonely journey from school to his home in New York City. Before this question is asked by Holden, he has been challenged by his sister Phoebe to describe something he likes in the world. This doesn't really pan out as Phoebe had hoped so she asks him what he wants to do with his life. She asks him if he wants to become a lawyer like their father. Holden answers by saying that the job doesn't really interest him other than the fact that saving other people can be a good thing that lawyers do. However, he wonders if lawyers really go into the profession to help people or just to make a lot of money. For himself, Holden thinks that he could very well be working as a lawyer and not know if he was doing it for the right reasons; and, that is where the question comes up. He then wonders if he could really understand his own intentions. This state of wonder is probably part of every teenager's rite of passage. Holden seems to represent what many teens may feel as they grow up, notice other people, and then decide what type of person to become. Holden continually desires to be a real person who is not a hypocrite but also someone who stands up for what he believes. The process through which each person must go in order to discover these answers is different for everyone. Hence, this question is important to Holden because of his desire not to become phony as he sees others have become.