As the above post noted, Holden Caulfield often appears to be at odds with other characters and incapable of making correct judgments about his own behavior in Catcher in the Rye. He makes many observations about the behavior of others, particularly with respect to how “phony” almost everybody is, but, as is true in real life, he does not necessarily look at himself as critically.
The author, J.D. Salinger, doesn’t fully disclose Holden’s condition until the very end of the story. Readers can tell that he appears to be unraveling to some extent as he leaves Pencey and makes his way home. But it is not until the final chapter that we find out that he has actually been hospitalized. While he doesn’t say a whole lot about his time in treatment, he does tell us something important:
A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.
We can see from this statement that Holden is still not able to analyze his own mind very well. This calls into question his reliability as a narrator because we have to wonder how accurate his statements are when he cannot make relatively simple judgments about himself, much less others.
Finally, in the book’s last paragraph, Holden says:
About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about.
The fact that he has, at least to some extent, changed his mind about people who affected him so negatively casts doubt on his original judgments about them. We have to consider the likelihood that his feelings toward these characters were strongly influenced by his own state of mind, which we now have reason to question.