The Theme of Phoniness in Catcher in the Rye Phoniness is a reoccurring theme used in J. D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by the main character Holden Caufield. Throughout the entire novel, the word “phony” is used many times by Holden, making phoniness appear to be one of the most dominant reoccurring themes. He describes numerous characters’ “fake” attitudes as phony. It seems to be the way Holden rationalizes that the world is a bad place and thus making him want to protect adolescence and keep them from being exposed to adults and this phoniness.
But Holden actually appears to be a hypocrite. Holden Caufield believes all adults are phony, but as the novel shows, Holden is not immune from phoniness himself. Holden is constantly referring to people and situations as phony. One being shallow, fake, or superficial qualifies them as a phony according to Holden. Holden sees this “phoniness” everywhere in the adult world. Many of the characters in the novel are indeed often phony to keep up their appearance, so yes, people are phony and Holden is right, but he himself is guilty of the same things.
The first time Holden mentions the phonies he brings up Mr. Spencer. He had disagreed with Mr. Spencer when he had told him about “life being a game”, and simply responded by saying, “If you get on the side where all the hot shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot shots, then what’s the game about? Nothing. No Game” (Salinger 8). Phonies, like his fellow students, are more interested in looking good than actually doing anything good. Holden often develops sarcastic phoniness, either out of his anger or as a complete joke.
After Holden got in a fight with his roommate, Stradlater, he goes into his neighbor Ackley’s room. When Ackley does not let him sleep in his empty roommate’s bed Holden says, “You’re a real prince. You’re a gentleman and a scholar, kid” (Salinger 47-8). This is a perfect example of Holden’s sarcasm and phoniness, especially since he had earlier admitted to how much he disliked Ackley. Throughout the novel Holden tell pointless lies, talks to girls he does not like, or agrees with things he in reality does not match his beliefs at all.
For example, after Holden gives three women, whom he refers to as “witches” they eye at the table next to him he says, “That annoyed the hell out of me—you’d’ve thought I wanted to marry them or something. I should’ve given them the freeze, after they did that, but the trouble was, I really felt like dancing” (Salinger 70). These women are exactly the type of women Holden sees as phony as they were interested in movie stars and material things, and yet he still wants to dance with them, and also precedes to buy their drinks.
Furthermore, in chapter 13, Holden accepts a prostitute for five dollars, he says, “It was against my principles and all, but I was feeling so depressed I didn’t even think” (Salinger 91). Holden even says right then and there it was against his “principals”, but he shows that he himself is superficial as well. Although he does not end up doing anything with Sunny, the prostitute, he accepted in the first place only to show that he is not a coward.
Holden believes women like men who assert power–and if these men with power were anybody else but himself he would refer to them as phony. In summary, Holden Caufield is not exempt from phoniness himself. Phoniness to Holden is his way of describing someone who is fake, superficial, shallow, or a hypocrite, judged by his encounters with others. Holden shows throughout the novel that he, himself, is a hypocrite too. He lies to people, cheats people, judges people, and does things that he would not agree with if it were somebody else doing it. Holden is his own counterevidence.