People go through depressing periods in their lives as teenagers, and some experience it more severely or for longer periods of time than others. In The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger expresses this time of dejection through the protagonist Holden’s thoughts and personal feelings.
Holden’s tone reinforces a theme of suicide and depression. He is sarcastic, biter, and occasionally upbeat. Holden’s skepticism and sarcasm stem from his belief that many people are fake. He believes that many people are insincere in their attitudes, and in what they express publicly, like when Ernie the piano player shows off, “Anyway, when he was finished, and everybody was clapping their heads off, old Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow” (84). Holden knew that Ernie thought highly of himself so he thought it very fake for him to give a seemingly humble bow.
Holden seems to act one way and feel another, because he always involves himself with people that make him feel depressed, and then feels bad about it.He cynically evaluates mannerisms of people including their word choice. He comments on a word Sally selected, and says “Grand. If there’s one word I hate, It’s grand. It’s so phony” (106).
Certain words cause Holden to repel people, based on the deceit that he thinks the word carries along. Feeling as if he is drowning in a sea of falsehood, Holden constantly find himself feeling depressed because nothing is what it is trying to be. When Holden feels as if some sort of purity is threatened he assumes a bitter, angry tone. When Stradlater, someone he knows as very sexually intimate, went on a date with Jane, Holden’s childhood friend, Holden became so angry that he reacted physically: “I got off from the bed… and then I tried to sock him, with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddamn throat open” (43). This shows that Holden feels it his responsibility to preserve all innocence, to prevent people or things from becoming phony. His failure to do so results in uncontrollable bouts of rage.
When he reads swear words in the bathroom of his sister’s school, he says “I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it” (201). He was thinking about all the children who would see the words, and felt powerless to stop.