Is Holden a phony?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Phoebe's questioning of Holden in chapter 22 provides a critical moment where Holden's phoniness is both evident and challenged.  Prior to this, Holden could be seen as a phony because of his lack of contribution to the world.  It is really no different from the inauthenticity he sees within it.  Part of what makes Phoebe such a great and vibrant character in the novel is that she challenges Holden:  “You don’t like anything that’s happening.”  With this statement and what comes across as a rebuke of Holden, Holden can be seen as a phony himself.  He has absorbed so much of the negative aspects of the social world around him that he has replicated that towards which he has so much disdain.  Holden has become what he hated, and in this, one can see him as a phony.  Holden offers little in way of constructive value to the world.  He has become a phony because of his own inability to challenge the preconceptions of the world he hates.

Yet, it is at this point where Holden does show some level of authenticity.  He speaks to loving his brother and loving Phoebe.  His love for Phoebe is where Holden develops authentic and constructive feelings.  His hope to be the "catcher in the rye" is a reflection of this.  Phoebe's question catches Holden off guard because she was right.  She was able to demonstrate that Holden has become a caricature of sorts, a phony human being in his inability to be honest and to show constructive feelings and, emotions.  Phoebe's question also marks the point where Holden becomes more authentic.  It is at this point where gains an authentic aspect to his identity and becomes something constructive in a world that lacks it.

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