“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger


Most people experience problems in their daily life. However, it does not mean that we have as individuals have the capacity and right to judge others and say that all do have no purpose. Holden, the main character in the book The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, has cut himself an image of one person who criticizes everything others do. This puts him into a lot of problems with other people he encounters throughout all his aspect of life.

Holden has troubles with schooling, arts (movies), other people’s ideas and many other issues in the society. Holden “feel some kind of good-by” some moments before he decides to leave Pencey (Salinger 16). Holden does not trust anyone in his dealings and live in a world of imaginations and lies.

In fact, Holden wants to make use of his imaginations and lies to be part of the community he lives in. He defines this through his own emotions and personal feelings to impose his ideas on how things should be done. And in most cases, this makes him go at loggerheads with the rest of the people he encounters throughout his life.

Lies and Imagination

In his attempts to use his personal imaginations and lies to maneuver his life in the world, Holden has failed to succeed in his attempts to think differently from the rest of the society. According to Rohrer (2), Holden is unable to stay enrolled in school as he has too much imagination about what and how school should be. Although it has not been directly illustrated that he has imagines too much about school, we can easily assume and predict it from the way he perform in the essay test about Egypt. In this case, he loses patience with all those activities and events that fail to stimulate is somewhat weird imaginations.

In the view of Scruton (1), it is the view and feeling of imagination that gives a central and intelligible ability to create things in the mind out of nothing. This judgment is also what entails appreciation of nature. Through imagination, one is also able to develop a critical analysis of his or her surrounding. However, when the imagination goes beyond the surrounding and one starts to think of what does exists be yond the horizon, the mind deviates from the natural setting and becomes exclusively out of what people expect. Probably this kind of imagination is what Holden is going.

According to Austin (72), taste is an ‘isolated and inexplicable segment of human psychology”, and it is simply a curious but philosophical fact about interests that makes humans enjoy particular things. It’s an issue of sentimental value that a particular things presents to an individual. For example, Holden seem not to like movies. That he is in trouble with movies is shown when he tries to act like certain characters in a move he has just watched. When Holden sets his imagination to think about war after watching war movie, he illustrates that he can imagine and explore particular issues he has never encountered.

Holden’s imaginations and telling lies are some of his survival techniques in the world. However, he also imagines how to make things better than they seem. But this does not conform to his perception on other people and what they do. It is noted that one individual cannot change everything by himself or herself, particularly when everyone sees them as not part of the larger community’s vision.

This practically makes the entire community weary of him. He is also weary of the people around him as he does imagine what really entails life in entirety. When Mr. Antolini touched Holden’s head in the nights, his imaginations drives him to think that he had ‘poverty’ intentions against him (Katrina 7). This kind of behavior makes it difficult to accomplish any responsibility as people always avoid doing anything good to help him out.

The Alienation from the Society

Holden’s behaviors make him get alienated from the rest of the society. Brooks (12) observes that Holden’s negative attitudes do not change whatsoever till the end of the story. This implies lack of maturation even as he learns about the ways of the world the hard way. For example, his intention “to go to the West to become a deaf-mute gas station attendant” suggests how his imagination is not in reality with the real world and that this causes the negative perception other people have on him. Another view of himself as different makes it difficult even for his teachers to understand his intentions and what vision he has in life.

For instance, Holden’s history teacher, Mr. Spencer is suffering from bad cold. This forces him to take a rest in the bedroom. When he advises Holden about the fact that his being sent away from Pencey will affect his future in many ways, he does not take it kindly and he shows very little attention to his teacher’s lecture that life is a game in itself and has rules to play it a long with. To amend the Clichés that have been tossed at him by his teacher, he retorts: “Game, my ass. Some game. 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 a game about it? Nothing. No game.” (Salinger 8).

Although the little ‘boy’, Holden apologizes as he realizes that his teacher, Spencer, tries to make more sense on the gravity he faces out of his conducts through loud-reading of his history exam. He admits that his life is more distressful like never before.

Unfortunately, he consoles himself that he’s just going through a phase that everybody goes through at least once in a lifetime (Salinger 15). In reality, Holden likes to have his way in everything but this makes him more of a problem to the authority. Even though he shows some sympathy to the teacher as a person and feels sorry for not doing what he recommends, his overall attitude suggests that he has a lot of difficulty when it comes to handling authority in every aspects of his life.

The ‘Phonies’ in Holden’s Life

In everyday life, it is easy to come across difficult people and those who are out to make life difficult and unbearable to you in many aspects (Menand 31). However, it is said that how you treat them is as important as how you want them to relate to you. In other words, accepting others views, actions and attitudes are some of the many ways of achieving better relationship with them. This does not happen with Holden. Holden frequently mentions the word ‘phony’ when he describes those he perceives as dishonest and insincere. For example, he always sees his fellow students as just people who want to look good in doing things yet they do little or nothing.

According to him, every action of many people he meets is as a result of dishonesty. When he encounters Ossenburger, a businessman who operates discount funeral parlors, he has a different perception of the person and his business. According to him, the funeral parlor business is not a right business because the proprietor, Ossenburger is just taking advantage of grieving families. He justifies his perception because the businessman is pretending to be virtuous by stressing to the students that they should adopt integrity as a virtue and devoutly pray in their day to day operations. This phoniness is even extended to school authorities and their dealings.

In fact, the hypocrisy practiced by the school is what makes Holden hate the school authority. For ex ample, he does not understand the business dealings between Ossenburger and the school authority. That is, no speech would occur unless Ossenburger gave Pencey money to purchase new dorm.

In the modern world of business, the popular meaning of corruption is the misuse of public office for personal gain at the expense of other stakeholders (Rajivan 1). Because there are many players in the business of corruption, particularly the authorities of public sectors as well as private business, openly criticizing such a group is a sure way of becoming their enemy. This is largely true considering Holden’s age. He is basically young and considered a minor, yet he does not see any sense in such hypocrisy expressed by both the school authority and individuals in business like Ossenburger.

Holden also has issues with movies and the characters who play in them. He describes them as fake. In fact, movies are one of his biggest pet peeves since they express fake emotional and stereotypical behaviors as they carry on with their roles. However, behind the backdrop of his criticism of the movies, he admires imitating what he watches in them. For example, he says, “I hate the movies like a poison, but I get a bang imitating them” (Salinger 29).

While this may appear to be double standard when dealing with his peers and issues about movies, he manages to gather enough enemies in friends and this does not make things easy for him in his daily relationships with others. He even extends his description of everything phony including schools and their roles.

However, as Holden said earlier that he is feels he is just in particular phase of life; he tends to change tact to justify this earlier observation. That is, he lessens his criticism of everything he considered phony. Subsequently, he focuses on his new initiative: an effort on how to keep the world of children “innocent”. This is a clear indication that he has changed in terms of character, presumably as s result of experiences throughout his life of criticism of those he considered phony.

Criticism and social Life

Holden’s social life is in shambles, not because he finds it fun to criticize anything humanity but because he finds nothing appealing among the people he encounters. The only person he seems to appreciate is his late brother, whose baseball skills he profoundly admired. It is acknowledged that people are never the same, but Holden’s perceived standards of how people should live are somewhat ridiculous and unattainable.

According to him, every person he encounters is not genuine and is not worth his attention. For example, he decides to walk a long distance to his hotel room instead of taking a taxi cab. This is because he’s tired of them and would not want to bother them. How individual relates to his peers defines his or her attitude towards life. Holden’s view of social life is one that makes him feel odd at every social joint he goes to. For instance, when he goes to Ernie’s, he finds the place unbearable and full of “prep school jerks and college jerks” (Salinger 83). While the jerks enjoy the piano playing at Ernie’s, Holden seem to hate and live in despair about what happens in his surrounding.

He isolates himself by staying put at the worst table within the joint. This makes him separated from the rest of the people, mostly his peers, with whom he would have shared with the social issues that matters to them. In fact, Holden ignores any contact with the girls in his age, tries to present an innocent character every time he encounters girls. When he leaves the bar to his room, the elevator man is curious to know whether he is interested in a lady to spend a night with, which he says yes, but later regrets his answer and steers clear of any possibility.

People normally get it easy to associate with those they share same feelings and visions in life. However, when an individual does show little interest in what majority of his or her peers like or are interested in, he or she is likely to be alienated and separated from the rest socially (Menand 4). Holden’s negative opinions about girls make him pay prostitutes, so that they can stop bothering him. Holden also has issues with movies and the characters who play in them. He describes them as fake. From here, he is passionately hated by the girls even though he did not intend to have enemies.

Breaking the Rules

There are people who would rather break the rules than abide by them. There are also those who would hate rules but just keep working within their confines. Even though Sally is ever complaining of what is happening within the school environment, she would rather keep the rules than break them. This is shown when Holden asks her whether she has ever been fed up with what is happening around her.

Holden finds it right to offer his criticism of boy’s school, even though Sally is a little bit uncomfortable with how the conversation goes. He says, “It’s full of phonies….all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day….” (Salinger 131). He does not obey the rules and wants to flee away. He feels the rules are just there for someone to keep studying with hope that some day he or she will buy some Cadillac. To him, this does not make any sense and feels the rules are too subjective.

Display of Innocence and Sensitiveness

In the modern society, it has become a phenomenon for young people to practice a hyper lifestyle that involves early dating, frequent night-outs, and sex life (Austin, 19). In this scenario, Holden has shown a lot of innocence in sexual matters and dating game. His innocent reactions towards sexual matters perplex his peers, especially boys (Menand 1). When Holden later saw a little boy sing and walk with the parents, he longs for this type of innocence he sees in the boy, apart from being protected. This childhood innocence makes him feel completely attached to the belief that he can nurture such innocence in other children.


It is ordinary to have different opinions of what happens in the society, how people should behave, what they are should deal with issues in the social, economic and political environment. However, Holden does not seem to feel what the rest of the society feels. His imagination of what world should entail is rather ideal. He displays extreme cases of ideal situation and will find anything to criticize in the society, from school environment to his life outside schooling. This kind of behavior puts him at loggerheads with everybody he encounters, from school authority, his teachers, peers, and any other member of the society.

The life of Holden may be seen in the dimension of transition as he later lessens his criticism habits and adopts more friendly behaviors towards other members of the society. If it is in the light of developing one’s mind, Holden has learnt through hard way that it is important to be accommodative of other’s opinions, ideas, and thoughts in order to survive.

Works Cited

Austin, Michael. Explorations in Art, Theology and Imagination. Chicago. Equinox Publishing Ltd, 2005.

Brooks, Bruce. “Holden at sixteen”. Horn Book Magazine, 2004.

Katrina Onstad. Beholden to Holden. CBC News, 2008. Web.

Menand, Louis. “Holden at fifty”. The New Yorker, 2001. Web.

Rajivan, Anuradha. The Business of Corruption. The UN-Business Focal Points- UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Center in Colombo, 2008. Web.

Rohrer, Finlo. “The Why of the Rye”. BBC News Magazine (BBC), 2009. Web.

Salinger, Jerome. The Catcher in the Rye. New York. Raider Publishing, 1951.

Scruton, Roger. Art and Imagination: Study in the Philosophy of Mind. New York. Routledge, 1974.