Illustration of a man smoking a cigarette

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

Start Free Trial

In The Catcher in the Rye, what makes Holden a hypocrite?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Despite the fact that Holden labels nearly everyone he meets a "phony," he is one of the foremost hypocrites in the story and continually contradicts himself. For example, Holden continually criticizes the American entertainment industry yet pretends that he is an actor several times, alludes to various movies, and even takes Sally Hayes to a show. Holden is continually criticizing adults for pretending to be people they are not in order to manipulate others but tells Mrs. Morrow that his name is Rudolf Schmidt and the girls he meets at the Lavender Room that his name is Jim Steele.

Holden also tells the reader that he looks much older than he really is and is constantly mistaken as an older man because of his gray hair. However, Holden finds it difficult to purchase an alcoholic drink and the girls at the Lavender Room make fun of him for being so young. Holden also refers to himself as "quite sexy" but is an inexperienced virgin who refuses to engage in intercourse with a willing prostitute. Holden tells the reader that he is a pacifist, yet takes a swing at Stradlater and talks about violently murdering people with an ax. Holden also says that he is not loud, but Carl Luce and Sally Hayes disagree. Holden also mentions that he hates the Wicker Bar but chooses to meet Carl Luce there for a drink.

Holden also criticizes the fact that his parents are wealthy without recognizing that their wealth and professional success has afforded him the opportunity to attend various private schools and spend money freely around New York City. Holden also talks about how much he hates everyone but refuses to acknowledge that his impulsiveness and immaturity also make him rather unlikable to others.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Holden accuses everyone of being a phony, particularly adults, who he finds impossible to understand, which makes him even more terrified to become one.  As Holden attempts to hold onto his childhood, struggling to deal with depression, grief and his continual failures in school after school, he is able to see everyone else's flaws, but not his own.

Holden critizies his parents for their phony lifestyle, the same lifestyle that provides for him to go to one fancy school after another.  He has no respect for the financial support that he receives from his parents and particularly for his grandmother, who he says sends him birthday money four times a year.  He thinks that she is senile of something, instead of recognizing that she is being kind to him, wanting to help him by sending him money.

At the same time he is criticizing adults for making money and being phony and false in their lives in order to earn a living, he puts the money his grandmother send him into his pocket.  If it were not for that money, he would not have been able to leave Pencey Prep on his own. 

Holden looks at his roommate, Stradlater and finds fault with his messy toiletries, Holden says that Stradlater is a secret slob, going out looking all spiffy, while not taking care of his stuff in the dorm room.    Holden is simply envious of Stradlater for his popularity, especially when he dates Jane Gallagher, a girl Holden holds on a pedestal as if she were some marble statue instead of a real girl.  Although he says that he cares for her, he never calls her and then get mad when Stradlater goes out with her.

He can't have it both ways, he either likes Jane enough to call her or he doesn't and then he has no say in who she goes out with.  Holden also complains about Ackley, saying that he is pathetic, yet Ackley has found a way to be successful academically, something that has alluded Holden. 

Even though Ackley may not be super popular, he is still maintaining his average and expected to graduate from Pencey Prep.  Holden has failed out. 

Holden goes to NYC and immediately feels both exhilarated and terrfied at being alone without parental supervision.  He longs to go home, but suppresses this desire until he can't take it anymore and sneaks into his apartment to see his little sister.

Holden spends a great deal of time judging others while ignoring his own problems.  He does not take responsibility for his faults and fails to own up when he is wrong.  He is misguided and prone to excuse making, yet wants to be given the benefit of the doubt.  He is a magnet for trouble, especially with regard to the incident with Maurice.  Holden brings trouble onto himself and then wants the reader to feel sorry for him.

He won't admit that he is unable to deal with the loss of his brother, he belongs in the mental institution, he is in need of psychological help.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Catcher in the Rye, what are examples of Holden being phony or a hypocrite and going back on what he said?

In The Catcher in the Rye, narrator Holden Caulfield often discusses his disdain for "phonies," but also states that he enjoys lying. He describes himself as "the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life," and recounts times when he lied about going to the opera when he was walking to the store, and lied to Spencer about going to the gym when he needed an excuse to leave the room. Although Holden declares a hatred for insincerity and dishonesty, his confession of this habit shows he is guilty of being a "phony," too. Another example of Holden being "phony" is his frequent complaints about the falseness of movies and D.B.'s decision to "prostitute himself" as a screenplay writer, despite the fact that Holden frequently attends movies and says he enjoys them, especially with his younger sister. He says, "if there's one thing I hate, it's the movies," but later describes several instances of enjoying movies with Phoebe, concluding that many of the movies they watched were "pretty good." Holden contradicts his own stated hatred for dishonesty and movies throughout the novel, showing the hypocrisy of his worldview.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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

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.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is often hypocritical. How is this shown?

One of the aspects of Holden's character that it is almost impossible to ignore is the way that he endlessly rants and raves about characters who he feels are insecure, boring and "phony." Being "phony," for Holden, is a catch-all description that is shown to refer to both those who are deliberately fake and superficial, but also those who are too conventional and typical. However, the biggest example of Holden's own hypocrisy is that his use of the term "phony" reveals ironically only his own superficial nature in terms of the judgements he makes about people. Throughout the novel, Holden is repeatedly shown to choose simple, black and white judgements over more complex and nuanced readings of situations and characters. Note how his judgemental attitude of those around him is expressed when he meets the mother of one of his classmates on the train. When he tells the reader about what her son is really like, he expresses an attitude that shows he is ignoring the more complex realities of his character:


Her son was doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey, in the whole crumby history of the school. He was always going down the corridor, after he'd had a shower, snapping his soggy old wet towel at people's asses. That's exactly the kind of a guy he was.

In this quote he condenses an entire person's character into the description of somebody who flicks his towel at other boys, ignoring the different aspects of this boy's personality. Holden simultaneously wants to be recognised for the complex human being that he is whilst judging those around him to be "phony" without getting to know them. He blames people for their superficiality whilst relying on superficial judgements to inform his views and attitudes to those around him. Holden, therefore, shows himself to be hypocritical and the biggest "phony" in the entire book.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on