The Catcher in the Rye

Why does Holden think that Mr. Ossenburger is a phony?

 chapter 3

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At Pencey, Holden lives in the Ossenburger Memorial Wing of the new dorms. Ossenburger, a wealthy undertaker, graduated from the school, and Holden relates how “phony” Ossenburger seemed when he gave a speech exalting faith in Jesus.

Overall, Holden is an unreliable narrator whose conceptions of the characters reveal his particular point of view. These descriptions must be taken with some skepticism, for they reveal Holden’s skewed perspective on others. This also can be seen in Holden’s description of Ossenburger. Holden can view his contribution to the school only in cynical terms: He thinks that Ossenburger prays to Jesus “to send him a few more stiffs.” Holden is inherently suspicious of all around him, particularly authority figures. His view that adults serve only their self-interest is aggressively cynical, and his disillusionment with reality has crystallized into a jaded naïveté.