In The Catcher in the Rye, even though Holden tells the readers he is a good liar, why does the reader believe almost everything he says?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden refers to himself in the following terms:

I’m most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. (chapter 3)

Yet the reader tends to be drawn into Holden’s narrative and go along with what he says because of the attitude Holden adopts to his audience, which is very different to the one that he generally reserves for the outside world. While he feels that society is full of phonies and seems unable to relate to his peers or authority figures or anyone else in his daily life (except children)he appears to regard his audience differently. He envisages an ideal audience who shares his views and understands his feelings – in effect an extension of himself. Indeed, we come to feel that we, the readers, are the one  privileged group that Holden would not lie to.

Holden creates an intimate, confidential and even confessional tone with his reader. He often addresses the reader directly. For example, when he ends up with nowhere to go and is reduced to sleeping in the railway station,  he admonishes the reader against ever doing the same.

Don’t ever try it. It’ll depress you. (chapter 25).

He also wants the reader to share his rare joys, like when he’s watching Phoebe and the other kids on the carousel:

God, I wish you could have been there.(chapter 25)

Perhaps the most striking instance of the nature of the relationship that Holden imagines with his reader is the injunction with which he closes the book:

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you end up missing everybody.(chapter 26)

We, the readers, are the ones that Holden has confessed everything to – yet he finishes with this strange advice to us: not to ever tell anybody anything.  We may even detect a note of regret that he has poured out his soul to his invisible audience.

In any case, and even if we do not agree with Holden’s ways and ideas, it is hard to resist the lure of a narrator who reaches out so invitingly to his audience.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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