“She’s super annoying. ” “He is literally the dumbest person ! know. ” “She’s a fake. ” The problem with most of these high- school judgments regarding other people is that they lack evidence, and rely on others’ preconceived notions, that may not be accurate. I admit, even I may judge a person solely based on what I hear from my friends or just because I do not like him, without any actual concrete proof of his actions. But not Holden. Even though Holden is judgmental and critical, often calling people phony or unintelligent, he “never lets anything stand by itself.
Holden doesn’t care if he’s criticizing his best friend or worst enemy, as long as he has the appropriate evidence to back it up. That is the key to his authority. Holden is able to dismiss any relationship he may have with those he is criticizing and only focus on their actions to justify his claims, which therefore gives him power to make those claims. Unless you are a completely non-judgmental, unfeeling, accepting person, there are always those people who you simply just do not like.
It’s easy to call them annoying, rude, mean, or foolish, just because you don’t like them, but not many will believe you because you’re biased. For Holden, Ackley is one of those people who Holden “wasn’t too crazy about” (19). Ackley “could get on [Holden’s] nerves sometimes,” because “he always put [Holden’s picture] in the wrong place… on purpose,” “always [told] Holden [he] was a goddam kid,” and “didn’t care if [Holden had] packed something or not and had it way in the top of the closet” (22-23). Holden did not just make a claim, he also provided examples to illustrate what he said, based on his own experiences.
Holden doesn’t just belittle Ackley because Holden doesn’t like him, Holden has actual proof of Ackley’s actions. He shows, not tells, much “like a novelist” to paint Ackley’s character. Even though Stradlater is the closest thing Holden has to a friend at Pencey, Holden still thinks of Stradlater as a, “goddam stupid moron” (44). Stradlater “thinks he’s a real hot-shot… [and everyone’s] crazy about [him],” so he is “always asking [Holden] to do him a favor” because he thinks that “[Holden’s] just dying to do [him] a favor” (27-28). Holden “sees through [Stradlater’s facade] quickly… learly… [and] unforgivingly” (Menand) and is not so easily influenced by others’ opinions of Stradlater as the “handsomest guy in the Western hemisphere” (27).
Living in such close proximity to Stradlater, Holden has seen the true Stradlater, the one that is only interested in “very sexy stuff” and “madly in love with himselt” (32, 27). Because we see Stradlater through Holden’s eyes, we, in turn, see Stradlater for a womanizing, superficial, conceited, phony. We wholeheartedly believe Holden because for everything he states about Stradlater, he shows it.
Holden doesn’t care that Stradlater “[isn’t] too bad,” which is almost a compliment to Holden, because it’s what Stradlater does and thinks that determines Holden’s view about Stradlater. Mr. Antolini seems to be the only adult that understands Holden and earns his respect. Holden doesn’t call Mr. Antolini “old Antolini,” like he calls Mr. Spencer, “old Spencer” (3). Nor does Holden make snarky comments, like “you never knew if he was nodding… because he was thinking… or because he… didn’t know his ass from his elbow” about Mr. Antolini (8).
Holden even listens to Mr. Antolini’s comments, without judging or disregarding what he has to say, not something Holden does very often. But, once Holden falls asleep and realizes that Mr. Antolini “was sort of petting [him] or patting [him)” on his head, Holden is quick to perceive it as a “perverty” action (191-192). Even though Mr. Antolini is one of the few that isn’t labeled a phony and doesn’t alienate Holden, once he made a mistake, he cannot escape Holden’s criticism.
Despite Holden and Mr. Antolini’s relationship, Holden bluntly and candidly condemns Mr. Antolini and begins to question Mr. Antolini’s thoughts. He begins to have snide thoughts about Mr. Antolini, when he thinks “strange, my ass” in response to Mr. Antolini calling him a “very, very strange boy” (193). Only Mr. Antolini’s actions matter to Holden! We enjoy and, more importantly, agree with Holden’s extremely cynical assessments of others. But why? Holden is a sixteen-year old boy who has been kicked out of four private schools, who isn’t mentally stable, and who cannot connect with anyone. How can we trust him?
He tells us about his direct observations and experiences with Ackley, Stradlater, and Mr. Antolini, which then lead him to his opinions about them. Since we know that Holden is able to disregard his relations with Ackley, Stradlater, and Mr. Antolini, we know that he is not biased and gets his claims from what they do. Holden shows that in order to have any authority in this world, for every statement we make, we must explain it. So even though Holden’s character isn’t the most reliable, it’s his evidence that makes his perceptions reliable.