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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger
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In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, why is Holden acting like a hypocrite?

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Holden Caulfield has many issues he's dealing with as a teenager. He's afraid of becoming a phony adult like many he's encountered in his life. He's an idealist who wants the world to be perfect because he's had quite a rough time in life in his 16-17 years. For example, his...

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Holden Caulfield has many issues he's dealing with as a teenager. He's afraid of becoming a phony adult like many he's encountered in his life. He's an idealist who wants the world to be perfect because he's had quite a rough time in life in his 16-17 years. For example, his little brother Allie died about 3-4 years previous to his telling of his story, and he never received the help necessary to deal with his grieving process. Holden was simply sent to boarding schools where he felt lonely most of the time. His resentment and grief boil over, and he blames others for his life. Little does he know that as he blames others for being hypocrites, he himself starts acting like one. Such is the case with hypocrites because they can see the hypocrisy in others, but not in themselves.

One example of Holden being a hypocrite is when he goes out with Sally Hayes. They meet George, one of Sally's friends, at the movies, and Holden gets jealous. Rather than identifying the jealousy in himself, he criticizes her and George as they talk.

"Finally, when they were all done slobbering around, old Sally introduced us. . . You should've seen him when old Sally asked him how he liked the play. He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody's questions. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady's foo behind him" (127).

The above passage shows Holden judging George and calling him a phony, when just a little bit later on, Holden becomes the phony by asking Sally to run away with him. He says he loves her, but after talking with George, he wanted to take her home and never see her again. Then he turns around and asks her to run away with him. This behavior clearly shows that he is not self-aware and cannot see when he is being a hypocrite.

One more example of Holden being a hypocrite is when he criticizes someone for being a phony (acting fake, or saying one thing and doing another), and then he says the following:

"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" (16).

It seems that Holden can blame others for being phony or fake, but with almost every turn, he's lying to people and pretending he's something he's not. Maybe as Holden gets the help he needs in that hospital in California, he will understand how to be less of a hypocrite.

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