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Catcher in the Rye: Close Reading

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Jason Chernenko Lit 219W, Sec.1 Essay #2 Is it Holden or the World Around Him that is Phony? J. D. Salinger tells the story of The Catcher in the Rye in the first person perspective through the main character Holden Caulfield. Holden tells the reader the events that he is going through, trying to explain his world view, dominated by unreal, two-dimensional people with "phony" intentions. Webster's Dictionary defines a "phony" as, "a person who is not what he pretends to be" (Webster 952). The entire story consists of Holden's narrative, as he develops his stream of thoughts about the world and his own role in it. Near the middle of the story, in chapter thirteen, Holden narrates about his encounter with a prostitute. Prior to the scene with the prostitute, Holden spends time in a Greenwich Village nightclub, as he drinks scotch and soda, unintentionally listening to the conversations that surround him, which Holden views as depressing and "phony." The scene begins as Holden checks into a hotel after a long walk back to his hotel after leaving the nightclub. In the scene Holden encounters Maurice the elevator operator, and pimp. Maurice offers Holden a prostitute. Holden agrees to the offer, but soon regrets his decision to allow the prostitute in his room. During this time Holden is nervous and anxious of his soon encounter with a prostitute. ...read more.


Holden is not wholly reliable in his understanding and reporting the events he encounters with the prostitute. First he is a youth, a young boy of sixteen who does not have much experience in living. Often during the scene with the prostitute Holden admits he is extremely down, and his mood colors everything. As Holden tells his story through flashbacks, his memory is never perfect. Because of these things, the reader has to make some assumptions and perform some interpretations on the story. As Holden narrates, he inadvertently shows his real side throughout the scene. In the scene with the prostitute, Holden's fumbling halting language adds authenticity to his character. Holden's immaturity leads to his lies during the scene with the prostitute. Holden's willingness to lie is exceptional; he is "the most terrific liar you ever saw" (Salinger 16). Holden lies selfishly and often uncontrollably. When speaking with the prostitute Holden lies about his actual name and age. Holden says, "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jim Steele" (Salinger 123). As the scene continues to unfold Holden again lies to the prostitute saying that he is twenty-two years old (Salinger 123), when the reader knows the truth; Holden is only sixteen years young. Holden is unreliable and impulsive, occasionally being insensitive of others feelings, and is often unable to control himself in their company. Just like a typical teenager Holden withholds the truth for several reasons; one to avoid the possibility of getting into trouble, due to his ...read more.


Prior to the prostitute leaving his room, Holden says, "She was a pretty spooky kid. Even with that little bitty voice she had, she could have scared you a little bit. If she'd had been a big old prostitute, with a lot of makeup on her face, she wouldn't have been half as spooky" (Salinger 127). This causes Holden to hold to his opinion that the adult world is "phony". When Holden says things like this, he is sinking to the level of phoniness of everyone else around him. Through Salinger's strong diction in the scene, he clearly shows Holden as being judgemental of others, though, Holden he is just like the characters he is criticizing. Indeed, Salinger's development of Holden's character, use of irony, creative style, sympathetic figurative language, informal and loose word choice, and strong diction in the scene not only show Holden how Holden thinks the world is nothing but full of phonies, but due to Holden's thought, words, and actions in the scene makes Holden possibly the biggest "phony" of them all. "Phony" is one of the words heavily used by Holden. He uses the word "phony" several times throughout the course of this book and he uses it to describe the actions of others and not himself. Before Holden judges others, he should take a look at himself and see his faults. Holden Caulfield is a very intriguing young man. Holden does not know how to express himself, therefore is constantly contradicting himself and often becoming physical. ...read more.

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