Catcher In The Rye
by J. D. Salinger
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 way Holden
acts around or reacts to the various members of his family,
gives the reader a direct view of Holden's philosophy about
each member. 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
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 alot 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 meanit. 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
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" (71).
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 family.
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.
Crispell, Diane. "The Sibling Syndrome." American
Demographics. Aug.1996. Online. 7 Oct. 1996. Available
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little,
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