“You never saw so many phonies in your whole life.”


This is Holden Caulfield complaining about the fake and superficial culture that surrounds him. Caulfield is the unlikely hero of J.D Salinger`s novel “Catcher In The Rye”. This story captured the public imagination when it was published in 1951.


Over the years the novel became ingrained into the consciousness of a nation, and later upon the world. It became a timeless book because the adolescent narrator was so easily recognisable. The adolescent struggling to find meaning to his or her existence is a fundamental part of the human experience. This had never been written quite so evocatively before, at least in the rarefied tradition of American letters.

Caulfield is beset with disappointment and ennui. He is navigating a world which makes little sense to him and he instead daydreams about his youth, that innocent boy in the rye fields catching a hopeful vision of a future where he truly belongs. However as an awkward teen he feels that he has no real identity or purpose, his life is aimless and he has no direction or path to fulfilment. His educational and romantic ambitions are thwarted because he seems combative rather than conciliatory, a common perception attributed to awkward young people.

The adolescent loner is now a familiar trope within our culture. However in the 1950s the misunderstood, angry young man was considered to be an outrageous subject and Salinger`s novel was regarded as dangerous and subversive. The scandalous reputation of the book perpetuated for some twenty or so years. There were numerous schools in America where the book was banned. Salinger retreated from public life partly because of the infamy that was associated with his book.

The novel continues to provoke controversy as it has been widely misquoted and misunderstood and associated with notorious criminals like Mark Chapman. The murder of John Lennon was motivated by his crude interpretation of “phonies” within popular culture.


(Scene is the Dakota Building in the aftermath of John Lennon`s murder).

However the songs of Lennon and McCartney were not meant to be taken as concrete solutions to social and political problems, they were simply artistic interpretations of the world that surrounded them. Both Lennon and McCartney grew up in post-war Liverpool. Their city, like other provincial cities in Britain struggled with the privations of war, and the people were scarred from their experience. It was natural that a mantra of “peace and love” would emanate from their songs. The expression may have seemed naive, but the message was sincere.

The 2020s hold little hope for authenticity or sincerity. There is too much fakery and superficiality emanating from politicians and the media outlets that enable them. These are the real “phonies” in our society, the only truthful people who are left are the ones who want to create art and literature that is meaningful to us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s