Notes on The Catcher in the Rye Themes

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The Catcher in the Rye Topic Tracking: Phonies

Chapter 2

Phonies 1: Holden's first mention of phonies is with Mr. Spencer. "Phony" is a word Holden uses to characterize insincere people and their language (like Spencer's word "grand"). Phonies, like his fellow students, are more interested in playing a part or looking good than in doing or saying anything honest.


Chapter 3

Phonies 2: Ossenburger is the first "phony" Holden goes into detail about. Everything we hear about him reveals hypocrisy. In his profession, for example, Ossenburger runs discount funeral parlors that take advantage of grieving families, though he stresses to the students that they should have integrity and pray devoutly. More disturbing to Holden than Ossenburger's phoniness, though, is the school's hypocrisy. None of the parading or speeches would occur if Ossenburger hadn't given Pencey money to buy a new dorm.

Chapter 4

Phonies 3: Movies are one of Holden's big pet peeves because of their fake emotions and stereotyped roles. Holden's not completely spiteful, though. He says, "I hate the movies like a poison, but I get a bang imitating them." (pg. 29)

Chapter 7

Phonies 4: Holden himself often acquires a strained, sarcastic phoniness, either as a joke or when he is upset with someone. When Ackley refuses to let the beat-up Holden sleep in his roommate's empty bed, Holden calls him "a real prince" and gives him a big phony handshake.

Chapter 11

Phonies 5: Although Holden doesn't directly call Ernie, the piano player, a phony, he senses phoniness and insincerity in his flashy piano-playing style. Holden thinks Ernie is too fine a piano player but no longer plays his music with heart.

Chapter 13

Phonies 6: When Holden sees the faces of boys he fights and of Sunny, the prostitute, both are disturbing. So in a way, he's in a tough spot. He can't deal with the phoniness that masks humanity, but he can't deal with looking at this humanity straight on, either.

Chapter 15

Phonies 7: Holden's summary of his conversation with Sally Hayes indicates that he might find her a bit of a phony, too. He shows himself as willing to overlook this a bit, however, by asking her out for a date. When it comes down to it, Holden would rather take the chance at having a genuine interaction with someone than dismiss him or her as a phony.

Chapter 17

Phonies 8: The date with Sally Hayes is drenched in phoniness. The actors in the play strike Holden as phony and Sally's phony friend monopolizes her during both intermissions.

Chapter 22

Phonies 9: When Holden is explaining the ways of Pencey Prep to his sister Phoebe, his judgments indicate his thoughts about such schools - they're phony places and their main goal is to prepare students to become adequately phony to survive in the adult world.

Chapter 25

Phonies 10: In later chapters of the novel, Holden backs off of criticizing everything as phony a bit. His focus seems to shift to a concern over how to keep the world of children innocent. This indicates a character change in Holden that has resulted from his experiences. He now sees that there's less to be gained in criticizing phonies than there is to be in saving and developing innocence.

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