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

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
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What are some important adjectives that Holden uses throughout The Catcher in the Rye?

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Holden Caulfield, the disaffected protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, is very descriptive throughout the book, applying adjectives to everything and anything to show his scorn and superiority complex. The most important is "phony," which he uses as a pejorative towards anything he views as fake, disingenuous, or deliberately affected to gain prestige in the eyes of others.

Anyway, when he was finished, and everybody was clapping their heads off, old Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow. Like as if he was a helluva humble guy, besides being a terrific piano player. It was very phony -- I mean him being such a big snob and all.

Holden's scorn for just about everything shows in these descriptions, and in others; he uses words like:

  • "You're a stupid chiseling moron"
  • "They finally got me this stinking table"
  • "The band was putrid"
  • "funny-looking guy"
  • "Boy, she was good-looking"
  • "Forty-one gorgeous blocks"
  • "They gave me this very crumby room"
  • "a few pimpy-looking guys"
  • "a few whory-looking blondes"

Most of Holden's descriptions are negative, showing his extreme distaste for just about everything. Even when he speaks with his sister, the only person he really cares about, he can't keep the negativity and scorn out of his voice:

Boy, was she wide-awake. It only takes her about two seconds to get wide-awake. She was sitting--sort of kneeling--way up in bed, and she was holding my goddam hand.

Even her affectionate nature, meant only as a gesture of love, gets described as "holding my goddam hand." He obviously doesn't literally mean his hand is damned by God, but instead is simply using a reflex description, almost a nervous verbal tic.

(Quotes: Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye,

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