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Catcher In The Rye
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
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
‘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
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
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J. D. Salinger, Literary realism, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, Holden, Salinger, Phoebe Buffay
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