In Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, what are three ways that Holden lies to himself?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden is certainly an interesting character who does lie to himself. He openly admits it by saying, "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful" (16). If he lies to everyone else, why not himself? Of course, liars don't believe that they actually would lie to themselves. When a person lies to him or herself, it's usually done by way of deceit, denial, or avoiding responsibility for something.

One example of Holden lying to himself is when he avoids taking responsibility for leaving the fencing team's foils on the subway. We read about it as he is standing on a hill watching the school's game of the night alone rather than down in the audience participating. He says that the team "ostracized" him, so we infer that is the reason why he didn't go to the game. In his defense he says,

". . .we didn't have the meet. I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the goddam subway. It wasn't all my fault. I had to keep getting up to look at this map, so we'd know where to get off"(3).

Another way Holden lies to himself is when it comes to getting kicked out of schools. He gets kicked out of Whooton, Elkton Hills, and Pencey. He explains it to Mr. Spencer this way:

"I didn't have too much difficulty at Elkton Hills . . . I didn't exactly flunk out or anything. I just quit, sort of" (13).

It's as if he deals in half-truths because that may have been part of the reason he left Elkton Hills. But then he goes on to say that he left because he was "surrounded by phonies"(13). This isn't taking responsibility, either. He isn't facing facts. What might have been the main reason for him quitting at Elkton Hills was that bullies indirectly forced James Castle into committing suicide. Rather than facing that the suicide freaked him out, he indirectly blames leaving that school on "phonies."

Finally, Holden lies to himself about his relationships with girls--specifically with Jane. Mostly, he's confused, inconsistent, and lives in a fantasy world about this girl; but that's not unlike lying. For example, he believes he had a real connection with Jane and therefore gets jealous when he finds out she's going out on a date with his roommate Stradlater. Then he obsesses over her for most of the book. He even says,

"Then she really started to cry, and the next thing I knew, I was kissing her all over-anywhere-her eyes, her nose, her forehead, her eyebrows and all, her ears-her whole face except her mouth and all. She sort of wouldn't let me get to her mouth" (79).

What he isn't doing here is reading Jane's body language. She doesn't want to kiss him, yet he's all over her. He thinks he's comforting her and that they have this great connection, but she will only hold his hands in the movies. She won't let the relationship move forward. Deep down, he must know he doesn't have a chance with Jane because he never gets up the nerve to actually call her.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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