"Phonies" is arguably the word most often associated with J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
Sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield has a thirst for authentic experience, and the fake behavior and attitudes he finds among other people sicken him.
The first time the term occurs is when Holden describes the headmaster of Pencey Prep as a "phony slob."
He rejects the school's high-faluting statements about how it molds "splendid, clear-thinking young men" as mere advertising propaganda.
Since school is supposed to be Holden's primary social sphere, this shows how much he is at odds with his peers.
When he travels into New York, he fares no better.
He is put off by the fatuous celebrity-hunting of the girls from Seattle with whom he dances, and positively repulsed when he meets his brother's old girlfriend, Lillian Simmons, who spouts phony platitudes.
When Holden goes out with Sally Hayes, her phony-sounding conversation with an Ivy League acquaintance irks him and contributes to the disastrous ending of the date.
These are just some of the more glaring examples.
In the repressed post-World War II American society, Holden's hatred of phonies and unwillingness to tolerate them sets him apart.
The reader senses that this tendency may either lead Salinger's protagonist to greatness or destroy the young man.
Suspicion Toward Authority Figures
Holden's speech and general deportment show that his suspicion toward authority figures is not just rooted in crude adolescent rebelliousness.
He is sophisticated enough to detect the ring of untruth and will not just accept statements on faith.
For instance, he recalls his disdainful reaction to a religious speech given to the school by a wealthy undertaker named Ossenburger.
Instead of feeling reverent, Holden felt like laughing when the man talked about praying to Jesus while driving his car, as if there was a connection between spirituality and riches.
As well, when his teacher, Mr. Spencer, lectures him about bearing down in his studies and being concerned about his future, Holden recognizes the old man's good intentions but does not simply acquiesce, because he knows the two of them are "too much on opposite sides of the pole."
Perhaps the best validation of Holden's suspicion toward authority figures comes toward the end of the novel when he stays over with his former English teacher.
Mr. Antolini gives Holden articulate, intelligent advice about getting his life back on track.
But then, the entire effect is undercut when Holden wakes that night to the creepy sensation of Mr. Antolini stroking his hair.
The message is clear: don't trust people simply because they occupy respected positions.
Disregard for Conventional Social Roles
John Wayne isn't mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye, but it's a good bet that the movie star would represent aspects of American manhood that Holden despises: the square-jawed, ruggedly handsome macho warrior.
Holden shows contempt for his school's football players: "You were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn't win.“
He also dislikes the good-looking Ward Stradlater, who is his roommate.
Stradlater affects a bluff, hearty manner and casually flaunts his seductions of various girls.
He has no intellectual inclinations (as reflected in the way he asks Holden to write an essay for him), preferring topics like sex and cars.
Holden, who reads authors like Isak Dinesen and Thomas Hardy is thus portrayed as an outsider in contrast to this specimen of normal red-blooded youth.
Holden speaks explicitly about his dislike of cliques toward the end of his date with Sally Hayes.
He sees no use in dividing the world up into Catholics, intellectuals, basketball players, and so on.