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Holden Caulfield: An Unreliable Narrator

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Elizabeth Salem

on 19 February 2014

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Transcript of Holden Caulfield: An Unreliable Narrator

Holden Caulfield: An Unreliable Narrator
He wants the truth but always lies.
Holden refuses to look past the outside appearance of a person. But like all teenagers, he wants to know the truth about everyone, and, as he mentions, lies constantly and admits that he has become very good at lying. Holden's problem is that he does not want to work to get to know a person, so he pulls assumptions about a person's character by their outward appearance and outward personality, telling us something that could either be correct, a misguided opinion, or a blatant lie covering up something he does not want to share or admit.
He only writes about his opinions.
In the book, we only get Holden's side the story. Everything is based on what he sees and experiences, not what others in the story see and experience. We are forced to form conclusions just based on his thoughts, opinions and ideas.
Written by Susan K. Mitchell
Teaches at Texas Tech University
Critic Robert Barthes influenced main points in article
Claims people see the word in a "writerly" or a "readerly" way
Writerly--exploring a story deeper than what is on the surface level
Readerly--refusing to see past the surface level of a story
Argues that Holden sees the world in a "readerly" way, making him untrustworthy as a narrator
The author approaches the subject with an extremely critical mindset, but remains optimistic for Holden's character.
He sees everyone as the same and he is the only one that is different.
Because Holden does not want to work to see what is underneath of a person's outward self, he sees no difference in anyone but himself. He believes that in society, he is the only one that stands out and is not a "phony." This is why he has flunked out of so many schools. He was surrounded by too many phonies that he felt suffocated and felt the need to escape to somewhere quiet where he can be alone, which he finds impossible to do. Little does he know that if he just looked beneath the surface of everyone around him, he would find that everyone really is different and there is no one that is the same as the person next to them.
He gives a one-sided view of his parents.
The author feels Holden is untrustworthy. He constantly talks about his great ability to lie, so how are we able to know for sure that what he says about certain people, especially his parents, is true? However, the author's attitude towards the novel is that it is Holden's journey to discover his own phoniness and changing his ways and outlooks on life.
From what Holden told us about his parents in the novel, we gather that Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield are irresponsible, careless, nervous, and isolated parents. He has a very low opinion and respect for what his parents do; his mother has smoked constantly and been a nervous wreck since Allie's death and his father is a phony corporation lawyer. Maybe these descriptions are true, but how much of it is true? It is very possible that Holden is simply telling the negatives about his parents, not caring to share what is good about them. They are both working adults, making money to support a family, and one can see that Holden may not appreciate what they do for him or he just focuses on the negative parts of his parents when sharing about them.
He becomes aware of his own writerliness.
By the end of the book, Holden starts to see he can't save children. They have to make mistakes and even fall. He also starts to see life for more than just a game that he believes he has lost. He is able to really see his surroundings for what they are. He comes back down to earth.
The Main Idea
Holden is a phony most of the time even though he does not realize it until the end.
I disagree with this author. Although all of her points are true, The Catcher and the Rye is not a book about every person's thoughts. This book was written with the purpose of portraying Holden Caulfield's thoughts, not Ackley's, not Mr. Antolini's, not Phoebe's. It is written in the stream of consciousness of Holden. As the reader, we go on this journey with him and watch him change and grow so it really doesn't matter if he is phony or not. That is for the reader to decide.
I started to see that Holden does lie a lot more often than I had originally picked up on. I also learned what it means to be readerly and writerly. It is also true like in the article that we don't really meet his parents. He just seems to skim over them and make them seem bad. A lot of teens talk bad about their parents because it makes them look cool, so for Holden, focusing on the negative aspects of his parents and exaggerating them to make them look really bad may be a form of his wanting to fit in with his peers and into society.
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