In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden calls other people phony.  In what way is he one? ( chapter 9)

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 9, Holden is extremely phony with Faith Cavendish when he calls her at a very late hour. He pretends to be a mutual friend of somebody named Eddie Birdsell and implies that he is a Princeton student. He pretends to be older than sixteen, as he does throughout the novel. There is no doubt that Holden does a lot of lying and misrepresenting.

I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera.  (Chapter 3)

Examples of Holden's mendacity or phoniness can be found on practically any page in the book. For example, opening the book at random to pages 96-97, we come upon the encounter with the prostitute named Sunny. He decides he can't perform with her and tells her:

"The thing is, I had an operation very recently."
"Yeah? Where?"
"On my wuddayacallit--my clavichord."
"Yeah? What the hell's that?"
"The clavichord?" I said. "Well, actually, it's in the spinal canal. I mean it's quite a ways down in the spinal canal."

Many readers have pointed out rather gleefully that Holden tells a lot of lies and indulges in a lot of false pretenses. He freely admits it. But what is important is that Holden is never dishonest with the reader. He is always trying his best to tell the truth, even when it makes him look bad--as it does in his dealings with Sunny and the bellhop Maurice. If Holden is being a phony, he knows he is being a phony. That is the difference between him and some of the people he regards as phonies.

It might be argued that it is because Holden does so much lying and pretending and exaggerating that he can detect it so easily in other people. He can certainly detect it in himself, and he isn't proud of it. He would like to have an honest relationship with somebody, but every contact he makes with another person seems to involve him in hypocrisy. He can't tell other people the truth--but he does tell the reader the truth, and that seems to be his motive for writing his confession. No doubt there is a little bit of Holden Caulfield in all of us???

Chapter 2 is especially interesting because Holden goes to see his teacher Mr. Spencer with the best intentions. He really likes the old boy and is paying him a visit out of kindness. But the meeting turns into a cross-examination and a lecture. Spenser insists on reading Holden's exam paper as if to prove that he was justified in flunking him, when Holden fully realizes how inadequate the paper was and how much he deserved to flunk--perhaps even more so than Mr. Spenser.

"It was a very dirty trick, but I went over and brought it [his exam paper] over to him--I didn't have any alternative or anything. Then I sat down on his cement bed again. Boy, you can't imagine how sorry I was getting that I'd stopped by to say good-by to him.

After that there is no sincerity between Holden and the teacher. Holden even starts thinking about the ducks in Central Park South while "shooting the bull" with Mr. Spencer. Holden says:

You don't have to think too hard when you talk to a teacher.

Holden tells another lie to escape from that room smelling of Vicks Nose Drops.

So when I told old Spencer I had to go to the gym to get my equipment and stuff, that was a sheer lie. I don't even keep my goddam equipment in the gym.


workaround | Student

Holden is phony for he is friends with phony people. In doing so he ends up being apart of the people that he thinks are phony.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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