Perhaps the most curious however, is the fact that almost everything Holden judges others for, he himself is equally if not more guilty of. This tendency for hypocrisy is pervasive throughout the book and characterizes Holden, revealing a lot about the workings of his mind. He often refers to people as “phonies”, which ironically seems to refer to anyone who maintains conformity, discriminates towards others, or is a hypocrite. Despite his loathing for hypocrisy and conformity, Holden Caulfield takes both traits to an extreme.
Holden’s expectations in people tend to be unreasonably high. He complains about the most trivial things, for example how his roommate has “one of those very piercing that are practically never in tune” and how he selects “some song that is hard to whistle even if you’re a good whistler. ” (27) He even had high expectations for the prostitute he hired. In his mind, everyone else is held to utopian standards, while it would seem he isn’t held to any. Obviously this leads to a lot of disappointment for Holden.
Whenever everyone fails to meet your standards then everyone seems lacking, something he isn’t opposed to saying. If a single word could describe Holden, that word would be hypocrite. Almost everything he says, his beliefs, his ideals, and his morals, directly contradict with his actions throughout the novel. When he wears his red hunting cap he claims he “doesn’t care how he looks” (89) despite the fact he takes it off often saying “I didn’t want to look like a screwball or anything. ” (60) His hypocrisy is most obvious when one views his integrity.
Holden claims that what he cannot stand is dishonesty, while he is perhaps the least honest character in the novel. This clumsy disregard for what he has previously stated allows his contradictory nature to be glaringly obvious. While it is easy to recognize the flaws in Holden, the areas where he truly stands by his previous word should not be ignored. Interactions with children, especially his younger sister Phoebe reveal a lot about the true Holden Caulfield. He obviously values the innocence of childhood very much, a sharp contrast to his vehement dislike of the adult world.
Holden has psychological issues that greatly affect his handling of situations, specifically of a social nature. He has a Narcissistic-inferiority complex to start, meaning he thinks very highly of himself and sees others as being beneath him. Bipolar Manic Depression tendencies are often displayed with his various mood swings, but Paranoid Schizophrenia seems just as likely. Salinger claims that this novel is somewhat autobiographical which may allow the reader to get an idea at his psyche as well.
Despite all of this, Holden Caulfield has become a symbol for teenage rebellion and angst, and is one of the most enduring and adored characters in 20th century literature. He is compared to influential people like Jesus Christ regularly, and is described as being born not only in love with beauty, but hopelessly impaled by it. Who is to say we do not all contain a little Holden in us, it would certainly explain why so many before have found him a very relatable character.