Why does Holden call the headmaster a phony slob?Who else does Holden call phony?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 1 Holden talks about a girl named Selma Thurmer who was the headmaster’s daughter at Pencey. Her father Dr.Thurmer was the headmaster. Holden says little about the man except this:

What I liked about her, she didn’t give you a lot of horse manure about what a great guy her father was. She probably knew what a phony slob he was.

Then in Chapter 2 Holden reflects on two other private schools he was expelled from: Whooton and Elkton Hills. He remembers the headmaster at Elkton Hills as “the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer.” So apparently both headmasters were pretty phony in Holden’s view, and presumably phony in the same way. Haas was “charming as hell,” but on visiting days he only used his charm on the parents who were the best-dressed and seemed the most affluent and most important. Holden ends his description of Haas (and presumably of Thurmer by inference) by saying: “I can’t stand that stuff. It drives me crazy.”

Although Holden is a "rich kid," he does not share the elitist mentality of most of the students, faculty  and parents associated with elitist schools like Pencey, Whooton and Elkton Hills. Throughout the novel it is apparent that Holden equates the adulation of money with phoniness.

jennacurtis | Student

Holden thinks the headmaster is a phony because he is "fake". Holden mentions that the headmaster only talks to attractive parents at school events. He said the headmaster would only shake hands and smile at the fat or ugly parents and then he would walk away from them and talk for hours to the attractive student parents. 

He also partly blames the headmaster for the entire fakeness of the school. He said the pamphlet and commercials show happy men playing polo etc and he never once saw a horse on the property. 

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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