Salinger's admirers have responded in a variety of ways to The Catcher in the Rye, but most have something in common: they idealize Holden. In order to do so, they play down the seriousness of his ambivalence, exhibitionism, and voyeurism and assign the blame for his severe depression entirely to society, to the world of perverts and bums and phonies. Failing to respond to the first-person narrator as ironic, they assume that Holden should be taken at his word; that he is right and the world wrong; that there is a sharp dichotomy between Holden and the world he loathes. Charles H. Kegel, for example, refers to Holden's "absolute hatred of phoniness." 1 Carl F. Strauch cites "the violent contrast between... society and Holden's world." 2 Ihab Hassan views Holden's "retreat to childhood" as "an affirmation of values." 3 What these writers ignore is that Holden shares in the phoniness he loathes; that he lives by his unconscious needs and not the values he espouses; that he withdraws from rather than faces the challenge of personal relationships.
It's not difficult to understand why readers have ignored, or have failed to perceive, Holden's grave deficiencies as a person. After all, he is very appealing—on the surface. He genuinely appreciates brief and isolated instances of kindness and accurately pinpoints phoniness in both high and low places; he is witty and his love for Phoebe is touching. But he himself is a phony at times, and he has virtually no self-awareness. Furthermore, he has no intention of gaining self-awareness. Offered good advice by the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel (through Mr. Antolini), he becomes "so damned tired all of a sudden" and is unable to concentrate (188.) 4 Confronted with the charge that he cannot name one "thing" he likes "a lot," he again cannot "concentrate too hot" (169). Of course he can't; he's too busy repressing the truth. So he rambles on about two nuns he met briefly and will never see again, and he tries to convince Phoebe—and himself—that he likes James Castle, a boy who is dead. But he cannot name one living person, or even one occupation, that he likes. Nevertheless, he believes he is a lover of people in general because he wants to be the catcher in the rye.____________________