After being expelled from Pencey Prep School, Holden Caulfield is on his way to Mr. Spencer’s place, a teacher who failed him. This first scene introduces Holden’s aversion for phoniness, illustrates Holden’s silent disregard for adults, and presents Holden’s flawed personality.
Mr. Spencer starts by asking Holden how his talk with the headmaster went, then goes on to ask about his future. Holden ‘shoots the crap’ and easily lies, making up stories about learning a lesson. As he talks, he only sees flaws with Mr. Spencer and constantly criticises him. Holden also often assumes that adults are less knowledgeable and aware than young people.
Spencer then lectures Holden about life being but a game that a person must play according to the rules. Holden expresses his hatred for what he perceives as phoniness: “Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game” (11)
Holden is also quite lonely but in a unique way. Most lonely people want to avoid human interaction, hiding away from the world. Holden couldn’t be more different; he makes it clear that he is lonely by openly making plans with people any chance he gets. He then wishes that he hadn’t made any plans after finding flaws he in people. He says “All of a sudden then, I wanted to get the hell out of the room. I could feel a terrific lecture coming on. I didn’t mind the idea so much, but I didn’t feel like being lectured to and smell Vicks Nose Drops and look at old Spencer in his pajamas and bathrobe all at the same time. I really didn’t.” (13) He inflicts loneliness upon himself and is unable to build any relationships.
Like Holden, I see the flaws in others, but I don’t make it a point to disassociate myself due to those with imperfections. I am more open to them because I’m not worried about hiding my flaws.
Holden’s characterization demonstrates that he is an unreliable narrator; he claims to be a great liar, only gives his opinion, and sees everyone as the same, all phonies. Ironically, Holden hates phonies but has no problem lying to others.