The Most Terrific Liar: Catcher in the Rye


How do you know what you’re going to do until you do it?

Warning: This post may contain politically incorrect language and expletives. They exist for the purpose of example and edification; they are not intended to disparage or defame any particular person, race, creed, color, or religion. If you feel you may be offended by such language, stop reading now. You have been warned.

From the Back Cover

This is one of the most remarkable books published in years. It is the story of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, who wants desperately to find himself, but who goes underground in New York for forty-eight hours when he is overwhelmed by the perplexing circumstances of his life. Read the first page – and you will not be able to stop until you have completed this wild and magic adventure with him.

~ New American Library Edition

Why the Book was Banned

1. Profanity

2. Advocating Rebellion


Set in the 1950s, Catcher in the Rye is the story told by the central character, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, of how he came to be at a sanatorium in California.

Saturday: Expelled from a prep school in Pennsylvania and annoyed by his professors, neighbors and roommates, Holden makes an early return his Manhattan home. Rather than face his parents, he checks into a hotel; there he spies on his neighbors, smokes cigarettes, attempts to find a stripper, and connives to get drunk. Holden ends up flirting with women twice his age and paying their tab.  Undefeated, Holden makes his way to a jazz club in Greenwich Village,  where he watches the other patrons and ignores a family acquaintance. When he returns to the hotel, Holden is swindled out of $10 by the elevator operator and a prostitute.

Sunday: Holden arranges a date with his old friend, Sally.  He eats breakfast with 2 nuns while discussing Romeo and Juliet. He starts to look for his sister, Phoebe, but instead heads to the Biltmore Hotel for his date. The date fails: Sally spends her time talking to someone else and she and Holden fail at ice skating. When Sally refuses to run away with him, Holden calls her a “pain in the ass” and she leaves.  After driving off another acquaintance with talk of homosexuals and foreigners, Holden drunk-calls Sally, visits the frozen lagoon in Central park, and breaks into his own apartment. Here he reveals to Phoebe his fantasy of being “the catcher in the rye.” His parents return, Holden creeps out and calls up an old English teacher, who in turn offers him a pace to sleep. When he perceives the man making homosexual advances, Holden instead spends the night in Grand Central Station. Later, Holden decides to run away for good, but he tells Phoebe, who tries to go with him. To make up for refusing her, Holden takes Phoebe to the carousel, where he is overcome with emotion and moved to tears. The story abruptly ends here with Holden declaring that he’s not going to tell anything else.

My Thoughts

Without a doubt two of Catcher‘s themes are alienation and adolescence. However, phoniness outshines all other contenders. On nearly every page Holden finds something hypocritical to complain about: a headmaster’s favoritism, a teacher’s mannerisms, jocks, nerds, football, his Dorm Mother, tabloids, taxis, magazines, and night trains. All this and more in the first 52 pages.

It is ironic, therefore, that Holden is the biggest phony in the book.

He considers magazine discussions phony, yet continues to buy them.

He can’t stand emotional girls; yet will do anything to keep his sister from crying.

He hates jocks who get it on in the back of cars, yet tries at least twice to hire a stripper.

He hates people who use other people, but he uses his brother to meet girls and old friends to get drunk.

He despises people who arbitrarily judge others, yet he constantly does the same.

He lies multiple times about who he is and why he is leaving Pencey.

He thinks people should work for their money when he hasn’t had to work a day in his life.

He wants people to act the same all the time, yet he act different every time he meets someone new.

He wishes people would be better than they are, yet he refuses to better himself.

In short, he is the exact definition of a hypocrite.

I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on the way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.

Holden Caulfield thinks Philosoraptor is a phony.
Holden Caulfield thinks Philosoraptor is a phony.

In my opinion, this quote throws the entire story into question. If Caulfield is such a terrific liar, what’s to keep him from inventing a story about how he came to the sanatorium? We’ve seen from his story that, above all else, he craves sympathetic attention. Perhaps we’ve spent several hours with Holden for nothing; the whole thing was an elaborate ruse to gain some sympathetic human contact. Challenge: read it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. Otherwise, Holden Caulfiend might think you’re a phony.


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