In chapter 8 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden lies to the woman on the train. Why would he be so calculating and manipulative? Is he now not the phony?

In chapter 8 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden lies to the woman on the train because he has a fundamental contempt for adults and the world that they have created. That world is full of phoniness, and Holden unwittingly adds to it by lying so freely. In that sense, he too is now a phony, according to his own standards.

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Holden's conversation with Mrs. Morrow on the train can be viewed in at least two ways, and it is likely that he himself does not quite know which is the accurate one. Either he is expressing contempt for her and for the whole adult world, as well as the values of Pencey Prep, or he is being kind by telling her what every mother wants to hear about her son.

In the second case, there is a further distinction to be made between genuine kindness and empty, formal politeness. Holden despises the latter and is always dismissing overly enthusiastic greetings and similar displays as "phony." However, if he is genuinely trying to improve the quality of Mrs. Morrow's lif, and her view of her own son, then at least he has a good motive for his lies. Whether this mitigates their phoniness is unclear and is, indeed, one of the many factors which changes according to Holden's mood.

If he is merely trying to make a fool of Mrs. Morrow, then it is arguable that he is being so phony as to satirize phoniness itself. This view is supported by an intelligent guess as to the contents of the next conversation that Mrs. Morrow will have with her son, in which she is certain to tell him about his classmate's glowing words. If she recalls the name "Rudolf Schmidt," Ernest will promptly tell her that this is the name of the janitor, and Mrs. Morrow will be made to feel a fool.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 5, 2021
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Holden Caulfield has a very profound contempt for the adult world and what he sees as its innate phoniness. It may seem surprising, then, to see him engage in such blatantly phony behavior in chapter 8 of The Catcher in the Rye, when he meets a fellow student's mom on a train and proceeds to tell her a pack of lies about himself and the lady's son Ernest.

Technically speaking, Holden is guilty of the very phoniness of which he accuses just about everyone he encounters, especially those in the adult world he so heartily despises. And yet Holden's lies could be seen as expressing not just phoniness, but a total contempt for that world and those who inhabit it.

If you lie to someone as frequently as Holden is doing to Mrs. Morrow here, you're not showing them any respect. And if there's one thing we know about Holden, it's that he has no respect for the adult world. He therefore shows no hesitation in lying to Mrs. Morrow. As he doesn't respect her—how could he respect the mother of Ernest Morrow, someone he really detests?—then he doesn't see why he should tell her the truth.

Whatever Holden's motivations, however, there's no doubt that he has unwittingly joined the mass ranks of the phonies he so cordially loathes.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 5, 2021
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In chapter 8, Holden is riding on a train to New York and strikes up a conversation with the mother of one of his classmates. Holden introduces himself as Rudolf Schmidt and immediately fabricates a story about her son, Ernest Morrow. Holden tells the woman that her son "adapts himself very well to things" and his classmates tried convincing Ernest to run for class president. When Holden tells the woman that Ernest is sensitive, he simultaneously tells the reader,

"Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat" (Salinger, 30).

The entire train ride, Holden lies about Ernest's accomplishments and outstanding personality traits. Interestingly, Holden tells the reader,

"Old Mrs. Morrow didn't say anything, but boy, you should've seen her. I had her glued to her seat. You take somebody's mother, all they want to hear about is what a hotshot their son is" (Salinger, 31).

Holden's comment to the reader indicates that he enjoys seeing Mrs. Morrow excited and pleased to hear about her son's positive qualities. While Holden is technically manipulative, he simply enjoys seeing Mrs. Morrow's positive reaction. Holden also knows that Mrs. Morrow will be more attentive if he continues praising her son, which could explain his motivation for lying to her. By lying to Mrs. Morrow, Holden is being "phony," which is something he continually attributes to certain peers and adults. The fact that Holden despises phony individuals, while he is also a phony, reveals his hypocrisy and contributes to his unreliable narrator status.  

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When Holden meets Mrs. Morrow on the train, his state of mind is unstable, he enjoys making a fool of her, by lying about her son Ernest, telling her his name is Rudolph Schmidt, the name of the Janitor at Pencey Prep.  

Holden is full of contempt for adults. He feels like a failure, he is jealous of Ernest, the fact that his mother is proud of him. On some level, Holden enjoys talking to Mrs. Morrow, because he can pretend that everything in his life is normal. 

After this moment of pretense passes  and he remembers that he is in trouble, way over his head trouble,he decides that Mrs. Morrow is deluded about her stupid son. So he enjoys fooling her, laughing at her secretly. 

He makes the ultimate escape at this point in the book, fleeing from Pencey and leaving reality behind.  The incident on the train is only the first of many instances where Holden pretends to be someone else, manipulates the people around him and acts like a huge phony.

Starting with Mrs. Morrow, as his first victim, Holden engages in angry, behavior, lashing out at others.  Holden is very close to a mental breakdown, the cumulative stress of his life has caused him to role play to relieve the pressure that he feels.  After his lost weekend in New York, Holden is admitted to a mental hospital

The very same actions that Holden accuses of others he is in fact guilty of himself. 

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