The Catcher in the Rye Questions and Answers
by J. D. Salinger

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In The Catcher in the Rye, is Holden himself a phony?

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Perhaps Holden is a phony because life and those in his life have forced him to be so. His parents don't want to hear the truth. However, Holden doesn't even seem to be honest with himself, and until he is, he is probably the biggest phony.

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lizbv eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think Holden is absolutely a phony, however I really think he is forced to be a phony.  He cannot open up to any adult about his concerns because he probably feels they will simply tell him "that's life" and encourage him to just move on.  They would most likely not understand the struggle he is feeling within.  I do, however, also thinks he tries to have some fun with it, showing not a phoniness but a childish immaturity.  He feels forced to be a phony regardless of anything because he has to pretend he is fine in front of...

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atyourservice | Student

Yes, Holden is a phony, to me he is the biggest phony in the book. Here's why

Throughout the book he lies a lot, every chapter he mentions a new lie. On page 65 he mentioned the fact that he had to read a time table in order to stop himself from lying because once he starts he can go on for hours, and earlier on he mentioned the fact that he was one of the best liars he has ever met in his life. It seems like his also affected him. As I read the book I kept seeing a reoccurring theme, whenever he said something he always added he/she/it really did at the end, almost as if we the readers wouldn’t believe him when he said something, his constant urge to lie might contribute to that. We also see many examples of his compulsive lying throughout his journey as he keeps lying about his age, and identity. Despite some situations not requiring him to lie, he still makes up an excuse to lie, for example when he met the mother of his schoolmate, he could have just given her his name yet he made up the excuse of not wanting to tell her his life story as a an justification to not tell her his real name.

Wiggin42 | Student

What we have to understand upon reading Catcher is that Holden is an unreliable narrator. We cannot take what he says at face value. He calls everyone a phony. For instance, he calls his brother a phony for selling out to Hollywood. But what how does Holden use the phrase "selling out"? He means it as simply writing script for Hollywood and making money. Holden liked it better when his brother's stories didn't make a lot of money and were about topics only he liked. Holden is the original "hipster". And in the way how hipsters can appear hypocritical in their criticism of all things; Holden is the very same as well. 

wordist | Student

To me CATCHER is less about teenaged coming-of-age angst and more about a kid struggling to keep his head above water because of mental illness in the form of PTSD. Holden is barely "holdin' on."

Holden appears to be suffering from PTSD stemming from the death of his brother and from witnessing the suicide of his schoolmate who bailed out of a dorm window wearing the sweater Holden loaned him.

Here are the symptoms of PTSD that Holden exhibits: depression, inability to concentrate, crying, uncontrollable rage, lack of motivation, sleeplessness, etc. (I'm intimately familiar with these symptoms because I was diagnosed with PTSD stemming from childhood trauma.) 

In a 1953 interview with a high-school newspaper, Salinger: "My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book was a great relief telling people about it."

I don't think Salinger when he was writing CATCHER had a clue about PTSD, as it wasn't even a recognized psychiatric diagnosis until decades later. He just blasted his feelings onto paper and let the chips fall. He probably thought he was just crazy.

People see JD Salinger as some kind of literary genius because he sold 70 million copies of one book. I think he just opened his spleen and let it rip. I'm not saying he wasn't talented and educted; he had plenty of both going for him. I'm saying he leveraged his talent on top of some inner need to get this desperate crisis part of his life onto paper and kept going until it was done.