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What does phony mean to you? Do you consider it something that is not what it really seems? Or even something or someone that isn’t normal in all ways or just in some? Phony is one of the words in the English literature that can have an endless amount of interpretations. Can be being phony possibly hinder an attempt to accomplish a task to fully function mentally? Can phony delay an individuals maturing period? In J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s “phony phobia” restricts him from becoming a fully matured adult. In Holden’s attempted journey in becoming a fully matured adult, he encounters many scenarios involving friendships, personal opinions, and his love of children. His journey is an unpleasant and difficult one with many lessons learned along the way.
Holden possesses abnormal relationships with some of the characters in Catcher in the Rye. Many of his friends and those he talks highly about are young children. He does not make any negative comments about these companions, and there is no mention whatsoever of phony. Holden has a strong relationship with Phoebee, his younger sister. Holden vocalizes about the fact Phoebee can visit him anytime in the summer, “What I’d do, I’d let old Phoebee came out and visit me in the summertime and on Christmas vacation and Easter vacation” (205). Holden shows a solid liking to his sister and is always wanting her by his side. He finds a hard time associating with older, mature individuals. Also, a strong relationship with Allie his deceased younger brother, is apparent due to the twenty references in the novel. In fact, most of Holden’s fondest memories are of those times with his younger siblings. His comments of innocence help establish this connection. Someone who is trying to learn the stages of developing into a mature adult would not develop as soon, or as fully when spending their time solely with those who are five to seven years of age. They would not experience the guidance from older adults to correct wrong behaviour. The guidance of an elder isn’t present and they need to learn by themselves.
Harrison Smith has defined Holden’s friendships quite clearly “What was wrong with Holden was his moral revulsion against anything that was ugly, evil, cruel, or what he called ?phony’ and his acute responsiveness to beauty and innocence, especially the innocence of the very young.” (Smith 1). Holden sees the world as a evil, cruel place where everyone is out to get him. He reacts to the people of the world as the ones creating these feelings of grief for him so he distances himself from these characters. As he shuts himself away from these people he suffers from loneliness. He sadly continually paralyses his cooperation with real friends.
His school experiences also tie into his friendships with others . Especially his infamous roommate Stradlater, and a loser of a next door neighbour Ackley. Holden’s phony addiction gets him into trouble with Stradlater, only leading to his “down fall”….that is to the dorm floor when he loses the fist fight match against Stradlater. Holden looks for the flaw in everyone and tries to eliminate that person that he sees as a threat. So, Holden decides to face off against the phony Stradlater to take out revenge for Stradlater apparently giving Jane Gallagher – an old next door neighbour when Holden was a child – the time of her life in the back of Ed Banks’ car.
Holden also thinks every teacher is a phony who pretends to be helpful to students. Sadly If Holden has trouble in school he does not seek help from peers because he believes that they are phony, and we must remember, he does not associate with these types of individuals. Hence this point is tied into one of the reasons he is being kicked out of Pencey, failing 4 out of 5 courses. T. Morris puts it best by saying “Holden Caulfield is so super-sensitive to other’s faults that he has no friends, among boys at least” (Morris 1).
His avoidance of things phony is very strong, yet he lies to the mother of a schoolmate. Holden feels that the schoolmate is nothing great and still says that her son is a great kid! Throughout the whole novel Holden explains how if he were in a movie or when he becomes an adult how unphony he would be. The funny thing is Holden at one point is holding his stomach like he has been shot in a movie, when he has just talked about how phony actors are. A typical phony quote from Holden “If anybody tries to do anything phony, they couldn’t stay” (205). He is making reference to when he has his own house in a secluded dream home and how people can’t do phony things there. This phony idea is causing his mind to think like a child and making him impossible to work with; it’s like saying you can come for a walk with me but if you don’t buy me candy you can’t stay with me! Holden has a one track mind. It’s either his way or the highway. This is another example of how Holden’s phony problem hinders his chance at full maturity. The thought of phony is constantly on Holden’s mind. On average there are about forty references towards phony. Holden is so scared of becoming what he considers wrong – a phony – that he does not to even want to experience new events, encounters, or new people. Holden comments, if he could star in a movie short how phony he would seem. Thus he would turn down the offer if it arose “I’d be a phony if I let them stick me in a movie short” (72). Holden does not like to open himself to others and shies away from interaction.
Holden’s actions toward Mr. Spencer’s – his history teacher- speech is that he feels Mr. Spencer is a phony, someone of no importance. The advice that is given to him by Spencer is considered to be phony and so he tunes out. “Old Spencer” – as Holden refers to him – was asking why Holden flunked from Elkton Hills, so Holden explains his experiences at the school. Only problem is after Holden gives his answer his mind goes off track, “I didn’t like going into the whole thing with him. He wouldn’t have understood it anyway…One of the big reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies…For instance, the headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life!” (13-14). Holden is a prisoner of his own mind, he wanders aimlessly through his thoughts and blocks out all distractions. He continues to brush off advice given to him throughout the novel, and most likely through his whole life. Then, of course, if his “future’ boss – of a unphony company that Holden works for – wanted to encourage better work habits on him, Holden would not listen, and the boss would have to let Holden go. If any future unphony “friends” wanted to help him with his life problems would go unheard by Holden, and they will no longer want to even be near him. If his unphony “wife” tries to talk about their marriage – in which she will at one time or another! – she will be understandable upset by the fact that he does not listen. Holden always has an excuse for every action he produces and stands by it strongly. He will and I quote, will become impossible to work with, be friends with, and even in a marriage. As you see, just by simply not listening and blocking out “phony” advice Holden will cause himself a life time of trouble.
Holden has a long way to go before he can be rightfully be called a fully matured adult. His reactions to experiences, due to his “phony phobia”, cause him to be lonely and to get himself into trouble. The whole novel is so congested with these phony related incidences that his life is non stop trouble. Holden is not going to fully mature in the same time period as his peers. Unfortunately Holden will continue to lag behind because of his character, which he cannot change.
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