Mark Jason S. SoMarch 1999
A ‘Phony’ Family
Each and every action the children performed in school and in any place is a reflection of the quality of life they have in their own homes. Parents have a responsibility of taking care of their children and parents have the influence and impact that creates the primary personality of an individual. This influence can mold a certain individual into a responsible citizen or a rebellious delinquent as perceived in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”.
The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, interacts with many people throughout novel, 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 and would likely explain his actions in the story. Holden makes reference to the word “phony” forty-four separate times throughout the novel (Corbett, 1997). 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, 1997). 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. 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. 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.
“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, 1945).
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 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 (Salinger, 1945). 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 1945). 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.”
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, 1992). 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, 1945). Holden’s thoughts of Allie are shown with the fact that Holden wrote Stradlater’s composition on “Old Allie’s baseball mitt” (Salinger, 1945). 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. He tends to have rebellious manner as reflected his isolation and solitude from society. Holden does not have any friends and cannot keep relationships. These is because he finds and exaggerates any negative aspect of all the people he knows or meet. These venerable characteristics of Holden were a direct reflection of what’s his life in their home. The experiences he has at home where forever be embedded in his mind, setting a wrong mindset for the feeble understanding of the narrator. These influences from home had determined Holden’s own personality and his view of life and has molded what he is today. If Holden is a rebellious delinquent, it is because of the devastating experiences and conditions he has in their home.
“The Catcher in the Rye” is a novel, which gives us some idea of how an adolescent boy, facing the common experiences and troubles of daily life, has been influenced by each member of his family.
Corbett, Edward P.J. “Raise High the Barriers, Censors.” 1997
Crispell, Diane. “The Sibling Syndrome”.1992
Salinger, J.D. “The Catcher in the Rye”. Little Brown and Company, Boston, USA. 1945
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