From J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, how does Holden show exaggeration?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden is a funny and interesting character. He's a teenage boy who sees most adults as phonies and doesn't seem to fit in with many kids his age. Almost everything that Holden observes is exaggerated because he suffers from social anxiety, depression, and possibly bipolar disorder--all of which weren't even terms back in the 1940s and 1950s. As with many people, not just teenagers, situations and events generally seem worse than they really are. Holden is no exception. Therefore, one can pretty much turn to any page in the book and find a hyperbole--or exaggeration. Below is one of the best examples:

"One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window" (13).

The above example is great not only because is it a hyperbole, but the image is hilarious. Just picture Holden's overactive imagination looking at the school windows and "phonies" are jumping through them!

Another exaggeration Holden uses is when he is talking about his brother D.B. having served in the war. He said D.B. probably hated the army more than he did the war; but then Holden says the following which is the exaggeration:

"I swear if there's ever another war, they better just take me out and stick me in front of a firing squad. . . I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will" (141).

Obviously no one is going to let Holden ride on top of a bomb, but he sure has a flare for the dramatic!

One last example of Holden exaggerating is when he describes his actions. He will tell about something he said or did and then follow up with a promise that it actually happened that way--as if he has to prove he isn't exaggerating.

"I got excited as hell thinking about it. I really did. . . But I really decided to go out West and all. All I wanted to do first was say good-by to old Phoebe. So all of a sudden, I ran like a madman across the street--I damn near got killed doing it, if you want to know the truth. . ." (199).

In the above passage Holden follows his pattern of getting excited about something and then spontaneously overreacting. Then, when he writes about it, he says he almost got killed running through the streets rather than simply saying he made it across the street.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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