Everything is Phony
Almost everything has some degree of superficiality. Everyone is selfish and most behaviors are calculated. The path to adulthood involves understanding that the pristine, carefree life of childhood is gone. The feelings of loneliness and fright are normal in this journey, but not everybody know how to deal with the confusion as seen in the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield is teetering on the bridge to adulthood, unwilling to take the few steps forward, but knows he cannot turn back. Being perceptive for his age, Holden witnesses the insincerity that pertains to being an adult. He struggles to comprehend why anyone would want live in such a world. He has reacted to the maelstrom of emotions by creating this a viewpoint of the world, which he labels phoniness. Phoniness is a superficial excuse Holden creates in order to not grow up.
He notices all the lies and deceptions which often come with sex in the modern world. Holden in standing in his hotel room staring out the window at a couple squirting water at each others faces in a separate hotel room when he starts reminiscing about sex. ???I spent the whole night necking with a terrible phony named Anne Louise Sherman. Sex is something I just don??™t understand. I swear to God I don??™t??? (63). Sex frightens Holden because it is what adults occupy themselves with, yet he does not want to admit it. Anne is phony because she allows him to kiss her. Those who engage in sexual acts readily confuse him. These superficial encounters strengthen his cynical viewpoint that most of adult life is shallow.
Sally Hayes is another girl who Holden views as phony. His disgust with the adult world is apparent in his emotionally strung conversation with Sally. He wants escapism from his impending life in the phony world of adulthood by moving away from New York. ???I said no, there wouldnt be marvelous places to go after I went to college and all. Open your ears. Itd be entirely different… Id be working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers, and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies and seeing a lot of stupid shorts and coming attractions and newsreels??? (133). Holden does not want to become the typical phony he views in the adult world, but he knows he will have no choice if he keeps on living in New York City. For the moment, Holden is too scared to drop his cynicism. Holden uses phoniness as a crutch to which he can still be a child as the world around him is growing up.
Holden feels the need to save children from experiencing what he is going through. He is talking to his little sister, Phoebe, about his perspective of a poem which he thought was named If a body catch a body coming through the rye. ???I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobodys around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And Im standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff-I mean if theyre running and they dont look where theyre going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them??? (173). Metaphorically, Holden himself lies on the edge of adulthood. He wants to stop the kids from becoming phonies before it is too late. He sees himself as the protector of pureness which only children can exhibit.
Anything which annoys, frustrates, or causes Holden to feel a loss of confidence he blames on adulthood. Children do not worry about the superficiality around them. With Holdens perception comes a greater responsibility which he is unwilling to undertake. Until he drops his obsession over the phoniness of the adult world, he will never be happy.