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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Phoniness

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 13

...If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet. Something always happens. For instance, if you’re at a girl’s house, her parents always come home at the wrong time—or you’re afraid they will. Or if you’re in the back seat of somebody’s car, there’s always somebody’s date in the front seat—some girl, I mean—that always wants to know what’s going on all over the whole goddam car. I mean some girl in front keeps turning around to see what the hell’s going on. Anyway, something always happens. I came quite close to doing it a couple of times, though. One time in particular, I remember. Something went wrong, though—I don’t even remember what any more. The thing is, most of the time when you’re coming pretty close to doing it with a girl—a girl that isn’t a prostitute or anything, I mean—she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don’t. I can’t help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they’re just scared as hell, or whether they’re just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame’ll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping. The trouble is, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean most girls are so dumb and all. After you neck them for a while, you can really watch them losing their brains. You take a girl when she really gets passionate, she just hasn’t any brains. I don’t know. They tell me to stop, so I stop. I always wish I hadn’t, after I take them home, but I keep doing it anyway.

Summary Instead of going home, Holden decides to spend the night in a cheap hotel. On the way up to his room, the elevator operator offers to acquire for him the services of a prostitute. He agrees, and prepares for her arrival. He confesses to the reader that he is a virgin. He makes several excuses for this personal “deficiency,” claiming that there is always a flaw in the circumstances in which an opportunity arose. In a moment of revelation, Holden states that he always stops his advances if the girls asks him to. Unlike the other boys he knows, who always brag about how much they have “done it,” Holden cannot bring himself to question the girl’s words enough to push past them in order to actually make love. Holden is honest and genuine with the reader, yet once again he complains about the “phoniness” of others, in this case the girls who tell him to stop. He is not sure that they genuinely want him to stop or are in fact setting him up to take the blame should something happen. Although he often wishes that he could ignore their pleas for him to stop, Holden shows himself to be willing to take their requests at face value, rather than assume that their cries are “phony.”

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 15

While I was eating my eggs, these two nuns with suitcases and all—I guessed they were moving to another convent or something and were waiting for a train—came in and sat down next to me at the counter. They didn’t seem to know what the hell to do with their suitcases, so I gave them a hand. They were these very inexpensive-looking suitcases—the ones that...

(This entire section contains 1703 words.)

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aren’t genuine leather or anything. It isn’t important, I know, but I hate it when somebody has cheap suitcases. It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, justlooking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them....

Summary Holden has left the hotel after the encounter with Maurice the elevator boy and Sunny the prostitute and gone to Grand Central Station as a place to hang out. He goes into a sandwich bar for some breakfast. While he is there, two nuns come in to eat as well. He notices their cheap suitcases and comments on them. He admits to a strong snobbishness when it comes to people’s luggage. He demands genuine leather suitcases of others, at the risk of suffering rejection by him. He then tells a story of one of his roommates, Dick Slagle, at a former school, Elkton Hills, who had cheap suitcases. Slagle put Holden’s suitcases on the exposed luggage rack and his own luggage he hid under his bed, hoping that people would think that Holden’s leather bags were his. Yet Slagle also poked fun at Holden’s luggage, calling it “bourgeois.” It was for this reason that both Holden and Slagle eventually requested a change in roommates.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 17

“You ought to go to a boys’ school sometime. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick together, the goddam intellectuals stick together, the guys that play bridge stick together. Even the guys that belong to the goddam Book-of-the-Month stick together....”

Summary Holden meets Sally Hayes, an old girlfriend, to go to a play. After the performance (which Holden says he hated), Sally says that she wants to go ice skating. Despite the fact that both of them are less than adequate as skaters, Sally enjoys herself until her ankles hurt. The two then go to a bar attached to the skating rink. Holden becomes increasingly depressed and asks Sally if she ever gets fed up with everything. He then goes on a tirade in which Sally begs him to stop screaming and Holden claims he is not. Holden centers on his favorite topic: phoniness. He deplores the car as a symbol of manhood and the lengths that men go to keep them in tip-top condition. Holden then holds up boys’ schools as the pinnacle of phoniness. He points out the phoniness of the cliques, of people who join only with those who are similar to themselves. Sally protests that schools are more than that, but Holden insists that this is all he gets out of them.

Analysis of Essential Passages The identification and condemnation of phoniness is Holden Caulfield’s reason for living, judging from the amount of time he discusses it. His journey through life, and specifically to New York, can be described as a quest to label the phonies of the world. He does not claim to search for the genuine with which to replace the phoniness. His focus on the negative leads him into ever darker moods, until he sees everyone around him (though never himself) as phonies.

Holden considers boys’ schools to be temples to this phoniness. To him, the sole purpose of a private school education is to train boys in methods of phoniness, to acquire the symbols that hide the genuine in their lives. A school is a place for the phonies to congregate and feed off of each other’s phoniness, and thus with each generation more and more phoniness is created. It is for this reason that Holden expresses his contempt for the adults in his life. To be an adult, according to Holden, is to be a master of phoniness. He despises his classmates who are fast approaching adulthood and the less-than-genuine world. It is only the children in his life that he holds up as models of goodness. For Holden, a child is someone who must be protected from the phoniness acquired in growing up. He states that he wants to protect childhood by becoming, in his words, a “catcher in the rye.”

However, even as Holden condemns the phoniness of others, he is not above being phony himself. Symbolic of his phoniness is his snobbery concerning luggage. He unabashedly states that luggage is a symbol of one’s worth as a human being. He seems oblivious to the shallowness of such a blanket statement. In many ways throughout the novel, Holden reveals such phoniness, which is why his endeavoring to escape school will prove fruitless: he does not realize that the phoniness he is trying to escape from is embedded in his own life.

Yet in a way, Holden’s phoniness can stray into a devaluation of himself as a genuine, compassionate human being. His respect for others, especially girls, is revealed unintentionally in his explanation of his virginity. He cannot bring himself to portray himself in the macho role, overcoming girls’ objections and forcing himself on them. He subconsciously rejects this most negative of the male stereotype of the time and is willing to be a gentleman in this matter, despite the opinions of others.

The paradox of Holden’s crusade against phoniness has no resolution, nor is he seriously interested that it should have one. He will identify phoniness, but not endeavor in any serious manner to correct anyone. Nor will he identify the phoniness in himself as identical to that of others. This concentration on others, rather than on his own need for self-improvement, leads him to self-negation. The implication that Holden has had a nervous breakdown indicates that he has not been able to accept the world as it is and rise above it, nor has he been able to move past the insincerity in his own personality. His proclamation that everything is phony has helped him not to change the reality of his world, but instead to create an unrealistic world that is cast in a most negative light.


Essential Quotes by Character: Holden Caulfield