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Essay/Term paper: Catcher in the rye

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Catcher in the Rye

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Holden and His "Phony" Family

The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, interacts with many people

throughout J.D. Salinger"s novel The Catcher in the Rye, but probably

none have as much impact on him as certain members of his immediate

family. The ways Holden acts around or reacts to the various members of

his family give the reader a direct view of Holden"s philosophy

surrounding each member. How do Holden"s different opinions of his

family compare and do his views constitute enough merit to be deemed


Holden makes reference to the word "phony" forty-four separate times

throughout the novel (Corbett 68-73). Each time he seems to be

referring to the subject of this metaphor as -- someone who

discriminates against others, is a hypocrite about something, or has

manifestations of conformity (Corbett 71). Throughout The Catcher in

the Rye, Holden describes and interacts with various members of his

family. The way he talks about or to each gives you some idea of

whether he thinks they are "phony" or normal. A few of his accounts

make it more obvious than others to discover how he classifies each

family member.

From the very first page of the novel, Holden begins to refer to his

parents as distant and generalizes both his father and mother frequently

throughout his chronicle. One example is: "…my parents would have

about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything personal about them.

They"re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father.

They"re nice and all – I"m not saying that – but they"re also touchy as

hell" (Salinger 1). Holden"s father is a lawyer and therefore he

considers him "phony" because he views his father"s occupation

unswervingly as a parallel of his father"s personality. For example,

when Holden is talking to Phoebe about what he wants to be when he grows

up, he cannot answer her question and proceeds to give her his opinion

about their father"s occupation..

"Lawyers are all right, I guess – but it doesn"t appeal to me," I

said. "I mean they"re all right if they go around saving innocent

guys" lives all the time, and like that, but you don"t do that kind of

stuff if you"re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play

golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a

hot-shot. How would you know you weren"t being a phony? The trouble

is, you wouldn"t" (Salinger 172).

When Holden describes his mom, he always seems to do so with a sense of

compassion yet also with a jeering tone. Holden makes his mom sound

predictable and insincere. These phony qualities are shown in two

different examples when Holden is hiding in the closet of D.B."s room as

his mom walks in to tuck in Phoebe:

"Hello!" I heard old Phoebe say. "I couldn"t sleep. Did you have a

good time?"

"Marvelous," my mother said, but you could tell she didn"t mean it.

She doesn"t enjoy herself much when she goes out.

…"Good night. Go to sleep now. I have a splitting headache," my

mother said. She gets headaches quite frequently. She really does

(Salinger 177-178).

The first two examples are excellent illustrations of how Holden

classifies people as phonies. However, when it comes to Holden"s older

brother, D.B., more analysis is needed to derive Holden"s true feelings

about his brother. Holden seems to respect his older brother somewhat

but cannot tolerate the imposed false image brought on by D.B."s career

choice as a screen-play writer. For example, this sense of respect is

shown when D.B. takes Holden and Phoebe to see Hamlet: "He treated us

to lunch first, and then he took us. He"d already seen it, and the way

he talked about it at lunch, I was anxious as hell to see it, too"

(Salinger 117). Holden feels that all movies and shows are false,

absurdly exaggerated portrayals of reality and subsequently because his

brother takes part in these perversions of realism, he is a "phony."

He"s in Hollywood. That"s isn"t too far from this crumby place, and he

comes over and visits me practically every week end…He"s got a lot of

dough, now. He didn"t use to. He used to be just a regular writer,

when he was home (Salinger 1). Now he"s out in Hollywood, D.B., being

a prostitute. If there"s one thing I hate, it"s the movies. Don"t even

mention them to me (Salinger 2).

The way that Holden interacts with his sister, Phoebe, and the way

Allie"s death still affects Holden are two direct examples of the

effects sibling relationships create. The relationships people share

with siblings are often the longest-lasting they will ever have

(Crispell 1). This idea, multiplied with the fact that Allie and Phoebe

are young and innocent, is perhaps why Holden has respect for his

younger siblings and considers them the only wholesome members of his

family. Whenever Holden seems depressed (which is quite often) he tends

to turn to his younger siblings for comfort and support. Even though

Allie is no longer available for actual physical comfort, thinking of

him makes Holden feel better. These ideas are shown in numerous

examples throughout the novel. When Holden checks into the hotel and,

while starting to feel depressed, the first person he wants to call is

Phoebe but he decides not to because it is so late. "But I certainly

wouldn"t have minded shooting the old crap with Phoebe for a while"

(Salinger 67). Holden"s thoughts of Allie are shown with the fact that

Holden wrote Stradlater"s composition on "Old Allie"s baseball mitt"

(Salinger 38-39). When Holden is talking to Phoebe about what he likes

is a third example of his close younger sibling relations.

"You can"t even think of one thing."

"Yes, I can. Yes, I can."

"Well, do it, then."

"I like Allie," I said. "And I like doing what I"m doing right now.

Sitting here with you, and talking, and thinking about stuff"

(Salinger 171).

From Holden"s account, it is obvious that he views the older members of

his family as phonies and the younger members as icons of truth and

innocence. Yet trying to completely analyze how Holden truly thinks and

feels about each member of his family is a task that may not even be

entirely possible. Holden is the storyteller in Salinger"s novel.

Therefore, to what extent can his version be trusted or deemed as fact?

This idea is addressed through Corbett"s elucidation:

"Holden is himself a phony. He is an inveterate liar; he frequently

masquerades as someone he is not; he fulminates against foibles of which

he himself is guilty; he frequently vents his spleen about his friends,

despite the fact that he seems to be advocating the need for charity"


If Holden is a liar and a phony, perhaps his portrayal of each family

member is totally false. However, his consistent and repetitive accounts

at least give the reader some idea of how an adolescent boy, facing the

common experiences and troubles of daily life, views each member of his


Works Cited

Corbett, Edward P.J. "Raise High the Barriers, Censors." America, the

National Catholic Weekly Review 7 Jan. 1961. Rpt. in If You Really Want

to Know: A "Catcher" Casebook. Ed. Malcolm M. Marsden. Chicago: Scott,

Foresman, 1963. 68-73.

Crispell, Diane. "The Sibling Syndrome." American Demographics. Aug.

1996. Online. 7 Oct. 1996. Available


Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. 

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