How does the reader perceive Holden's encounters with adult hypocrisy in the Catcher in the Rye?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden's insight when perceiving the world of adult "phonies" comes across as both believable and humorous to the reader, mostly because his insights, although negative and harsh, ring true.  His assessment of Mr. Haas, for instance, has the reader shaking their head in agreement over the hypocritical behavior of adults:

"For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. [...]On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents" (Chapter 2).

Mr. Haas and his double-standard for treating the students' parents justly earns Holden and the readers' censure.  Holden's characterization of Haas shows him to be a smarmy, self-absorbed, superficial man; the readers' instant dislike of the character gives credence to Holden's assessment of his "phoniness." 

Holden's treatment of Mrs. Morrow, for example, shows that he does not hate or believe that all adults are phonies on principle alone.  He actually treats her nicely, with respect, even if he does believe that her son is a total loser.  Holden's interaction with Mrs. Morrow and his genuine belief that "she was just nice and all" shows that he believes some adults do have potential to be genuine (Chapter 8). 

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The Catcher in the Rye

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