Holden Caulfield Unreliable Narrator Essay Sample
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Holden Caulfield Unreliable Narrator Essay Sample
In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the narrator, Holden Caulfield, is an unreliable narrator. Discuss and analyze the text to support your argument.
“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life” (Salinger 14). JD Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield admits himself that he is unreliable. The author portrays Holden as a teenage boy that brobdingnagianly lies to people that he doesn’t know. This makes the reader question if he lying to us? Holden does lie on many occasions, but usually it is to protect others and himself from pain and disappointment, yet one cannot disclude the fact, that when Holden lies, the reader also learns more about the nature of Salinger’s character.
JD Salinger shows Holden in the light of a teenage boy with problems who lies in order to protect himself from others. Holden states that “I have this tiny little tumor on the brain” (Salinger 51) as he talks to Mrs. Morrow on the train station before heading off in separate directions. Salinger purposefully made Holden state the blunt lie, as it shows how Holden is trying to protect himself, and even his family, from feeling ashamed. Holden does not want to explain how he got kicked out of his former school, and hence he is ‘on vacation’ a few days earlier than the rest of his classmates. In addition, Salinger’s character Holden “decided I’d take a room in a hotel in New York (…) till Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, I’d go home all rested up and feeling swell. I figured my parents probably wouldn’t even get old Thurmer’s letter saying I’d been given the ax till maybe Tuesday or Wednesday” (Salinger 45).
The author’s character creates a plan in which he would purposefully delay his arrival at home in order not to see his parents earlier than Wednesday. Through this scene, the author demonstrates how Holden does not like disappointing people he cares about, and hence makes up lies and plans so that his beloved ones would not find out the truth about him. Furthermore, approaching the end of Salinger’s novel, the author makes Holden lie once again, this time, though, in order to sneak into his house unnoticed by anyone who might have known him. Holden looks at the elevator boy and “I told him, in this very casual voice, to take me up to the Dicksteins’s” (Salinger 142). The author deliberately portrays Holden as a liar in the scene with the elevator boy, with the aim to show how Holden wants to be extremely careful so that he will not be discovered. Holden does not want to cause more disgrace to his parents. He is protecting himself from both them and the society as he does not want to be seen as the “unsuccessful” and “slacking” son. Through the use of lies, Salinger’s character tries to protect himself from causing disappointment and hurt.
Salinger purposefully makes his character unreliable, yet it is not without a cause, as the author’s character most often lies in order to protect others. In the second chapter of “The Catcher in the Rye” the main character and narrator goes to meet his teacher, Mr. Spencer, and as they discuss the issue of Holden’s failure in the exams, Holden exclaims that he must leave, because “thing is, I have to get going. I have to go right to the gym Thanks, though. Thanks a lot sir” (Salinger 13). Holden naturally lied when he told his teacher that he must go. The character could not bear the feeling of extreme disappointment that he caused Mr. Spencer to undergo, as Holden cared about him. The author portrays Holden as a boy who hates disappointing the people that he loves and cares about, hence the character lies in order to spare them from feeling ashamed or as if they failed. In addition, Holden also lies to Mrs. Morrow, the mother of one of his former classmates. He tells Mrs. Morrow that the students wanted “old Ernie to be president of the class.
I mean he was the unanimous choice. I mean, he was the only boy that could really handle the job (…) but Ernie wouldn’t let us nominate him. Because he’s so darn shy and modest and all. He refused” (Salinger 50). Holden does not lie to Mrs. Morrow because of careless or cruel reasons. The author meant for Holden to be a character who lies because he hates when people hurt, or when they are ashamed of an issue. In Mrs. Morrow’s case, Holden really liked her because she reminded him of his own mother and he knew that she would have been saddened if he told her the truth, that her son is a plain bully. Furthermore, as Salinger’s character Holden discovers that his mother bought him the wrong ice-skates, Holden does not have the heart to tell her about her mistake as “I could see my mother going in Spaulding’s asking the salesman a million dopey questions ‘ and here I was getting the ax again.
It made me feel pretty sad. She bought me the wrong skates (…) but it made me sad anyway” (Salinger 46). Holden knows that his mother tried hard to get him the skates he wanted, and he knew that if he didn’t act happy, or if he told his mum that she bought the wrong skates, she would only feel bad. That is something that Holden did not wish upon his mother, for he cared too much about her. He hence decided to pretend that nothing was wrong with the skates. These examples show how Holden does not lie just for the fun of lying, yet because he actually cares about people and does not like disappointing them. Holden does not like seeing people hurt.
Although Salinger portrays Holden as an unreliable character, Holden’s lies and thoughts give out implications based on which the reader discovers the true, trustworthy Holden. As the reader reads and analyzes the book, the author implies through the use of language and tone that Holden is a lonely person who has absolutely no friends. This, however, is a lie, a hyperbole, as Holden is not alone. Holden admits that he “was the goddam manager of the fencing team” (Salinger 3) which after longer thought makes the reader realize that Holden must therefore be a popular kid in his school. Usually is someone is the manager of a specific team, it means that he was chosen by the teams members, which hence shows that the nominee is liked.
In addition, Salinger’s character believes that “I’m the only really dumb one” (Salinger 60). Holden lies to the reader as he states this ‘fact’, as not all academics show whether one is intelligent or not. Holden is a talented writer who knows a lot about literature. He also has opinions and views that challenge the common views of others. Furthermore, the author exposes Holden as a character who hates phoniness, yet what the character does not realize is that he himself is also a phony, to a certain extent. Holden affirms that “I’m always saying ‘Glad to’ve met you’ to somebody I’m not at all glad I’ve met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say stuff like that, though” (Salinger 79). The author purposefully includes this element in his novel in order to show how the society influences one’s character and nature. Holden, in some ways does lie to the reader as he keeps saying that he hates phoniness and shows himself as an individual not carrying about what the rest of the world thinks of him. However, truthfully there are some elements of phoniness in Holden’s character also.
In conclusion, Salinger’s character Holden is unreliable, yet his lies cause the reader to figure out the true Holden, whose lies are meant to protect others and himself from unnecessary hurt. The character is unreliable when asked about why he is out of school earlier, or why he is going to the Dicksteins. Holden lies as he does not want to get caught on the issue of getting kicked out of school. Holden wants to protect himself from unnecessary feelings of shame. In addition, the character lies in order to protect others from pain and hurt. He lies to Mrs. Morrow about her son, just as he lies to Mr. Spencer and his mother. He does not want them to feel disappointed or embarrassed. Furthermore, when Holden lies, he tells the reader a certain truth about his character and nature. Holden is a teenage boy who uses many hyperboles without realizing it. Holden states that he has no friends, that he is dumb, and that he hates anything phony, while still being phony himself. Overall, the lies that Holden spreads were done for moral purposes, or because he didn’t even realize he was truly lying.
Salinger, J D. The Cather in the Rye. London: Penguin Books, 1956. 1-192.