Holden Caulfield persistently analyzes his world of personas who are simultaneously tragic and humorous, despicable and admirable, phony and genuine, while his messages, wrapped up in the simplistic, though effective language of a rebellious youth, resound powerfully with the reader. It is through his constant negative criticism of the world around him and the people in it that the reader actually discovers how weird and asocial Holden really is.
The passage this essay analyzes is the perfect portrayal of the distorted vision of the world in Holden’s mind. In this teenage Odyssey of his, he finds himself in a bar, where as he says there “were very few people around looking [his] age in the place” (Salinger 91). This is indicative of how he feels in society in general: as an outcast, a misfit who is searching for someone to connect to on a more profound level, in this world crawling with “phonies.” He continues that all the people there “were mostly old, show-offy-looking guys with their dates,” except for the table next to him where there were three women who were “pretty ugly, and they all had on the kind of hats that you knew they didn’t really live in New York” (Salinger 91). The hats are symbolic of masks that the people wear in public, for the purposes of presenting themselves as better, richer, prettier people. This is exactly what Holden refers to when he calls them “phonies.” The fact that the human contact has reached the depths of superficiality, where even friends are strangers to each other and everyone is afraid to strip their soul bare and expose themselves for who they really are. Even Holden, in his desire to appear older and more mature, orders alcohol, while Salinger uses a metaphor in referring to it as “intoxicating liquor” (Salinger 91). By stripping alcohol of its name and adorning it with a nicer sounding one, the narrator makes another reference to the outside and inner appearance of things. Because, one can refer to alcohol as an intoxicating substance, a term reminiscent of blissful states of the blurry mind and inspiration, but in the end, the essence is the same: it is only alcohol.
The simplistic language only seems to emphasize the strength of Holden Caulfield’s troublesome, immature and unreliable narration, but the readers have found him to be a true postmodern hero.
The band was putrid. Buddy Singer. Very brassy, but not good brassy–corny brassy. Also, there were very few people around my age in the place. In fact, nobody was around my age. They were mostly old, show-offy-looking guys with their dates. Except at the table right next to me. At the table right next to me, there were these three girls around thirty or so. The whole three of them were pretty ugly, and they all had on the kind of hats that you knew they didn’t really live in New York, but one of them, the blonde one, wasn’t too bad. She was sort of cute, the blonde one, and I started giving her the old eye a little bit, but just then the waiter came up for my order. I ordered a Scotch and soda, and told him not to mix it–I said it fast as hell, because if you hem and haw, they think you’re under twenty-one and won’t sell you any intoxicating liquor. I had trouble with him anyway, though. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but do you have some verification of your age? Your driver’s license, perhaps? (Salinger 91)
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.