The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Analysis of Chunk 2 (Chapters 3 - 4)

The initial soliloquy is an important one. The statement "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw" begs the question as to whether Holden is telling the truth when he says that. The result is an increased caution on the reader's part to what can be believed in the narration. The next description we get is one of Ossenburger, described as a phony whose every word at a speech is a pathetic attempt to show how he's just a "regular guy." The juxtaposition between Holden's critique of himself as a liar and of Ossenburger as a phony leads the reader to question if there is truly a distinction between who Holden is and what he criticizes. Also in the description of Ossenburger is a slight critique of religion as being a pretense, a theme which will be developed later.

Before the entrance of Ackley, we find Holden reading, a first clue that Holden is no ordinary flunk-out. He protests that "I'm quite illiterate," but clues such as his English teacher's calling him a genius and his knowledge of literature argue otherwise. A particularly insightful quote is the statement that "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish . . . you could call [the author] up on the phone whenever you felt like it." Holden seeks more than simply book knowledge-he seeks human interaction. One has to wonder, though, whether Holden would merely dismiss the authors as phonies if he met them in person.

What in the first part we took as an aversion to falseness in Holden's character seems now to be a part of a deeper trait, a predisposition to interpreting everything as false. Ackley, for example, makes a mess in Holden's room. Holden judges that "he did it on purpose. You could tell." The use of the undefined "you" in that statement demonstrates an unwillingness on Holden's part to acknowledge that this is simply his own point of view. Stradlater serves as a foil for Ackley. Where Ackley is an overt slob, Stradlater is a "secret slob." However, it is important to note that to Holden, they are both slobs-Holden is quick to discover what is to be disliked about each person.

A further criticism of the pair is that they are both surface-thinkers. Stradlater thinks that all writing is about is putting commas in the proper place, and Ackley thinks that baseball is all about having the perfect build. To Holden, there is something deeper.

A different type of surface-thinking is found in Jane Gallagher. The only memory Holden seems to have of her is that she'd line her kings up in the back row whenever they played checkers. "She just liked the way they looked when they were all in the back row," he notes. It is a preoccupation with mere aesthetics, but somehow we get the feeling that Jane is much more honest about what she is doing. On the other hand, Stradlater and Ackley use their opinions to justify deficits in themselves.

Perhaps this explains Holden's seemingly contradictory statement that "I hate the movies like poison, but I get a bang imitating them." He hates movies because a movie is nothing more than a false portrayal of reality on a screen, and yet he can imitate them because in imitation the movie is taken out of context. The imitation, to Holden, is more honest than the portrayal on the screen.

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