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In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, the main character, Holden Caulfield demonstrates his life struggles between being a “phony” and a good person. The story begins when Holden is watching the football game from the top of the hill at his high school, Pencey Prep. Just like other schools Holden has attended, he is being kicked out because he is failing four of his subjects. Holden is at a constant battle with himself and his character and often describes himself as sad and depressed. Holden is so critical of phonies throughout the novel but is nothing but a phony himself, which portrays hypocrisy and many important things about his character. He doesn’t live up to the standards he has for others and is not as perfect as he wants to be.
To begin, Holden is critical of many things, but they cause him to contradict himself and become a hypocrite. He is very critical of the high school he goes to, Pencey and also of the “phonies” that are there. He talks about the advertisements shown in magazines about Pencey and says, “They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time” (Salinger 2). Everything about the stereotypes of students at Pencey bothers Holden, and he is critical of them because he feels as if they are all phonies trying too hard to be better than everyone else. Holden is also critical of the discrepancy between what appears on the surface and what really exists. One of the people Holden thinks is a perfect example of this discrepancy is his roommate, Stradlater. Holden says, “I mean he was mostly a Year Book kind of handsome guy” (Salinger 27). Holden thinks that Stradlater appears to be what everyone thinks he is but really he isn’t any better than the rest of the boys at Pencey. Holden is critical of the way society and everyone else around him acts and assumes that what they see is what they get. However, while Holden is busy making judgments about others, he quickly places himself in the same category as those he dislikes. These things he is critical of revel hypocrisy along with the kind of person Holden is and the characteristics that he obtains.
Gradually throughout the story, Holden talks about his childhood friend Jane Gallagher who brings out the best in Holden’s character. Jane brings Holden back to his childhood and he is very protective of things he cares about. As Holden begins thinking of Jane again, he remembers a time at the movies when they were holding hands. As he begins thinking his mood changes and he says, “You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.” (Salinger ). Holden constantly finds himself thinking about Jane and how happy she made him when they were children. He is still holding onto the relationship they shared while growing up because of how much he knew about her and all the time they spent together. Holden continues to talk about Jane and everything they share as he says, “She was the only one, outside my family, that I ever showed Allie’s baseball mitt to, with all the poems written on it” (Salinger 77). Holden trusts Jane so much that he is willing to open up to her and share something important to him. This shows a more caring side of Holden’s character because of how he is opening up to Jane. Holden’s relationship with Jane brings him back to being a kid again and reveals a side of Holden no one has ever seen before.
In the end, Holden is not as perfect as he wants to be and is challenged with some psychological problems. From the definition given by Holden’s former school professor, Mr. Antolini, Holden is immature because he is always lying to people about things in his life and lying is a sign of immaturity. Holden is in his hotel room after leaving Pencey and is with a prostitute but doesn’t want to have sex with her. He explains, “She made me feel so nervous, I just kept on lying my head off. I’m still recuperating, I told her” (Salinger 97). As Holden begins getting nervous and feeling depressed, he feels the need to lie to her. He tells her he has just had an operation done and doesn’t want to have sex but will still pay her for coming. Holden’s lying continues to show immaturity and makes him just as much a phony as the rest of the people he knows. Also, while Holden is on the subway a mother of a former classmate he had sits next to him. Mrs. Marrow was her name, and she beings talking to Holden about her son Ernest and their plans for winder break. Holden tells her, “No, everybody’s fine at home, I said. It’s me, I have to have this operation” (Salinger 58). Holden lies so much that what he is saying to Mrs. Marrow doesn’t even seem like a big deal to him. His immaturity and lying are such frequent habits for him and are both things that are causing him to not be as perfect as he wants to be.
In conclusion, Holden struggles with the burden of his psychological problems to get through his depressing years at Pencey Prep and maintain a good character. At first, his childhood memories are the only thing bringing out the good in Holden. But then, Holden is critical of the “phonies” and liars around him. Finally, this shows hypocrisy when he lies his way through a number of things throughout the story and does not live up to the perfect way he wishes to be. Ultimately, Holden is placed in a rest home to help him cope with his psychological problems and hopefully help his character and ambitions.
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