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STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES:

CLASSIC LITERATURE ANALYSIS

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PHONINESS IN EVERYDAY LIFE:

AN ISSUE FOR US

AS IT WAS FOR HOLDEN CAULFIED

An issue for us today as it was for Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in The Rye, is recognizing what is "phony" and what is not. The word "phony" is used many times by Holden. In fact, the book is full of this word usage which really touches upon a deeper meaning than is first seen. On one level, we see a young boy, Holden Caulfield, confused about life and cutting down things that exist around him. But on a deeper level we find that we are really reading a story about a boy’s struggle with adolescence and his transition into adulthood. Holden is a very perceptive boy. He is almost beyond his years in his ability to recognize what he sees around him – but he is still just a boy. So his thoughts on life are simple. Either something is good or bad; true or false; real or "phony". When Holden uses the word "phony", he seems to be describing people that are prejudice, hypocrites or insincere. It seems to be a way for Holden to justify how the world is a bad place and to grow up and leave adolescents behind is a very bad thing. By the end of the book, however, Holden changes this view about growing up.

Phoniness exists in our society today just as it does in the book. When someone wears expensive clothes to school or drives a really fancy car they can be called phony. If a person talks with a made up accent, as Faith Cavendish did when Holden calls her on the phone once he arrives in New York, they can sound phony. We live today in a world of materialism and when someone tries to make this search for expensive things important they are acting superficial and "phony".

In the book Holden talked about Mr. Ossenburger who was the man that his dorm was named after. Holden says that this man "came up to school in this big goddam Cadillac, and we all had to stand up in the grandstand and give him a locomotive – that’s a cheer." Holden calls him a "phony" because Ossenburger seems obsessed with making money by burying people with cheap funerals.

For Holden, phoniness seems to be a characteristic of mostly adults around him. In the beginning of the book, he refers to the headmaster of his school as being "phony". His brother who works in Hollywood is, to some degree, also considered "phony". Just as in the book, in real life Hollywood is a very pretentious place. It is the lack of sincerity in our society that Holden is sensitive to and this bothers him very much. Childhood seems to be pure but adulthood seems to be full of bad things such as insincerity, or phoniness.

Holden struggles with the passage from one stage of his life into another. In the middle of the book, his sister asks him what would make him happy. Holden says that he would want to be a catcher in the rye. He wants to stand in a rye field while the kids play and make sure that they do not run into trouble. Symbolically, Holden wants to keep kids from getting into the trouble that comes with growing up and exploring new things. But by the end of the book Holden begins to realize that he cannot be a catcher in the rye because life has to move forward. For example, when Holden shows two boys where the Egyptian section in the museum is located, he finds that he is walking down a dark hallway. The two boys are afraid and run back but Holden continues forward. This represents how Holden is moving forward from childhood into adulthood but the two little boys are not yet ready to make such a move.

When the transition for Holden is complete, when he realizes that he cannot hold onto adolescence forever, the use of the world "phony" is clearly gone. This is seen in the last chapter of the book. It is here that we realize that Holden has had a nervous breakdown but somehow now seems to be able to deal with his problems. This is because he is viewing the world with more substance that when he was using the word "phony". For example, in the last chapter, the woman with the English accent sounds "affected" but not "phony". This can be contrasted with Holden’s view of Miss Cavendish earlier in the book. Holden is growing up and is viewing things in a different light. He knows that he cannot change the world in which he lives but it is possible for him to find his own place within it.

The world we live in is a mixed with all sorts of people: ones that we seem to identify with and others that we do not like. Depending upon how sensitive we are to phoniness determines how we choose our friends. It is not as easy for us to do what Holden does in the book and just paint one big bad picture of our society at large. We must search hard within our daily lives and find the good that exists as we grow as people. To be a catcher in the rye would only hurt the progression of youth into adulthood and this is not what life is all about. People are "phony", yes, but many are also good and the only way to find this is to explore living with each new day that tomorrow brings.

 

 

 



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