The Catcher in the Rye can be strongly considered as one of the greatest novels of all time and Holden Caufield distinguishes himself as one of the greatest and most diverse characters. His moral system and his sense of justice force him to detect horrifying flaws in the society in which he lives. However, this is not his principle difficulty. His principle difficulty is not that he is a rebel, or a coward, nor that he hates society, it is that he has had many experiences and he remembers everything. Salinger indicates this through Holden’s confusion of time throughout the novel. Experiences at Whooten, Pency, and Elkton Hills combine and no levels of time separate them. This causes Holden to end the novel missing everyone and every experience. He remembers all the good and bad, until distinctions between the two disappear. Holden believes throughout the novel that certain things should stay the same. Holden becomes a character portrayed by Salinger that disagrees with things changing. He wants to retain everything, in short he wants everything to always remain the same, and when changes occur; Holden reacts. However the most important aspect of Holden Caufield’s character can be attributed to his judgment of people. Holden Caufield, a character who always jumps to conclusions about people and their phoniness, can be labeled as a hypocrite because he exemplifies a phony himself.
Holden Caufield the 16 year old protagonist and main character of The Catcher in the Rye narrates the story and explains all the events throughout three influential days of
his life. A prep school student who has just been kicked out of his second school, Holden struggles to find the right path into adulthood. He does not know what road to follow and he uses others as the scapegoat for his puzzlement in life. Harold Bloom explains,
His central dilemma is that he wants to retain a child’s innocence., but because of biology he must move either into adulthood or madness. As a sort of compromise Holden imagines himself as “the catcher in the rye,” a protector of childhood innocence exempt from movement into adulthood, which is neither possible nor sane.” (Bloom’s Notes 22)
Even Gerald Rosen states that, “It is important to note here that Holden’s rejection of an adult role is not a case of sour grapes. He believes he will succeed and it is the successful life he fears”(101). Even though Holden tries to act like an adult at times, he is actually extremely afraid of the adult life and as a way to escape life, he creates this character, the catcher in the rye, throughout his thoughts. He feels that by saving the children from falling off the cliff, he saves them from falling into the adult world that he disgusts. He feels that this character can prevent the children from becoming adults and remaining in that childish world. Holden pictured it this way,
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around-nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.
What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff. I mean if they’re running and they don’t look we’re they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I have to do all day. I’d just be the Catcher in the Rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy(Salinger 173).
Holden exhibits the madness described before at often times throughout the book and in the end it ends up sending him to a sanitarium. He knows he has become mad and he even tells himself this many times in the book; but he never really believes it. One time in the book when he displays this madness is,
But I’m crazy I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, I started pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old Maurice had plugged me. Now I was on the way to the bathroom to get a good shot of bourbon. I pictured myself with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering a little bit. I’d walk down a couple of floors-holding on to my guts, blood leaking all over the place. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors he’d start screaming at me. But I’d plug him anyway(Salinger 103-4).
This explains the psychotically disturbing actions Holden makes in this novel. Holden becomes obsessed with death and dying, and several times in the book he wishes he was dead. “Again, Holden can’t stay away from the subject of the death of family members and the decay of the corpse. Even when he later goes to the Museum of Art, he winds up in the mummy room explaining about preserving the dead to two boys and then getting sick and “sort of” passing out”(Rosen 100). He knows that he has become crazy but has a problem admitting it fully and this shows why can be considered a phony.
Holden Caufield constantly criticizes religion and many different aspects of it. Throughout the book he makes remarks on Jesus and the Disciples many times. About the Disciples he says, “Take the Disciples for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth”(Salinger 99). He explains that his reason feeling this way is because he is an atheist. However he also says that he believes in Jesus but not the disciples. However the definition of an atheist is someone who does not believe in God. Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner explain, “Jesus and Holden Caufield truly love their neighbors, especially the poor in goods, appearance and spirit. Holden not only gives $10 to the nuns in the station but is also depressed by their meager breakfast and the fact that they will never be going anywhere swanky for lunch”(29). Holden and Jesus have many similarities, but Holden feels he is totally opposite from Jesus. Just one more example of Holden’s total disregard of what is going on.
Holden dislikes many people, places, and events all because of the phoniness surrounding them. Mollie Sandock says that “He feels a scathing, harrowing disgust for the “phoniness” he senses so acutely all around him. It makes him literally ill. He is repulsed not only by the insincerity and self promotion of the “phonies,” “hot-shots,” “jerks,” “bastards,” and “morons,” but by the phoniness that is excellence corrupted”(966). Holden realizes all the flaws within others but he can not see them within himself. At the end of the novel he complains heavily about the fowl language written on walls where children can see it. Yet as Edward Corbett explains, “Holden’s swearing is so habitual, so unintentional, so ritualistic that it takes on a quality of innocence. He is constantly seeking to appear older than he really is. His profanity is so much ingrained by habit. that he is wholly unaware of how rough his language is”(442). There were even a few times in the book that his sister reprimanded him for swearing too much. He also does not trust that anyone tells the truth. Sandock replies by saying,
He repeatedly insists that he is telling the truth because in his experience and by his rigorous standards, most people do not speak the truth. He prefaces his revelations with “If you really want to hear about it,” and “If you want to know the truth,” because he found few people do want to know the truth(966).
Holden encounters many different people, and experiences many adventures throughout the three days that this story occurs. He becomes involved with a variety of people, including taxi drivers, two nuns, an elevator man(pimp), three girls from Seattle, a prostitute, and a former teacher from whom Holden thinks he should flee from, in the middle of the night. He can never hold on to anyone he cares about; so he always finds a way to ruin the relationship by escaping, or destroying it. Nash Burger says that, “Holden’s mercurial changes of mood, his stubborn refusal to admit his own sensitiveness and emotions, his cheerful disregard of what is sometimes known as reality are typically and heart breakingly adolescent”(New York Times 14). He also easily mocks certain people and the way they act. On teachers Holden feels that, “You don’t have to think to too hard when you talk to a teacher”(Salinger 13). When his sister asks him if he would want to become a lawyer like his dad, he replies by saying, “Lawyers are all right, I guess-but it doesn’t appeal to me. 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”(Salinger 172). Many would think that after all of Holden’s experiences and tragedies, he would go to his parents for help. However he does not, which shows that he must not have a good relationship with his parents if he can not talk to them. It seems as if he wants to reach out to them but for some reason he can not. Gerald Rosen gives examples of being shut out, he says,
Holden sorely misses being able to turn to his parents in his time of trouble. He doesn’t say this, but he reveals it obliquely in his movie fantasies of being shot by the mob. He first pulls the peak of his hunting cap over his eyes and shouts about being blind. Then Holden shouts, ” Mother darling, give me your hand. Why won’t you give me your hand?” This seems like clowning, but in fact it is a revelation of his terrible anguished isolation from his family(100).
According to Webster’s dictionary, “Phoniness is described as artificial, counterfeit, or hypocritical”(362). These are all actions displayed by Holden at several times throughout the novel. 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. Throughout all the encounters with different people in the book, he is easily the phoniest of all the characters. Perhaps Holden can be explained better by Corbett, “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 too be advocating the need for charity”(443). Holden has a dreamy look on life, he dreams of retaining his childhood and remaining the way he used to be. This idealism explains why he is close to his sister Phoebe and why he was so close to his brother Allie. He does not want anyone to fall off the cliff into adulthood, he wants them to remain in the rye and if they go to fall off he will catch them. He is displayed as a true Peter Pan. Not wanting to grow up was Peter’s main reason for living and so was Holden’s. Holden was Peter Pan in his own sense, but he stands out from Peter Pan in many ways, and that is why he is The Catcher in the Rye.