The Catcher in the Rye Relative to the 1950’sThe Catcher in the Rye can be strongly considered as one of thegreatest novels of all time and Holden Caufield distinguishes himself as oneof the greatest and most diverse characters. His moral system and his sense ofjustice force him to detect horrifying flaws in the society in which he lives.
However, this is not his principle difficulty. His principle difficulty is not thathe is a rebel, or a coward, nor that he hates society, it is that he has had manyexperiences and he remembers everything. Salinger indicates this through Holden’s confusion of time throughoutthe novel. Experiences at Whooten, Pency, and Elkton Hills combine and nolevels of time separate them. This causes Holden to end the novel missingeveryone and every experience. He remembers all the good and bad, untildistinctions between the two disappear. Holden believes throughout the novelthat certain things should stay the same.
Holden becomes a characterportrayed by Salinger that disagrees with things changing. He wants to retaineverything, in short he wants everything to always remain the same, and whenchanges occur; Holden reacts. However the most important aspect of HoldenCaufield’s character can be attributed to his judgment of people. HoldenCaufield, a character who always jumps to conclusions about people and theirphoniness, can be labeled as a hypocrite because he exemplifies a phonyhimself.Wadsworth 2.
During the 1950’s America was recovering from the greatest war in theWorld. There was a cloud of forgetfulness after the war, people didn’t wantto remind themselves of all the bad things. People wanted to celebrateeverything, but some people like Holden Caufield didn’t feel all the phoninessis necessary to live life. The 1950’s is so remanincant of the 1920’s, the world had just finisheda war and it was suppost to be freedom and happiness for all. Everythingseemed to be artificially okay. America’s economy was booming SouthernCalifornia was once again known for its movies rather than a important pieceof the War Effort, Paris was once again the center of world, and even LasVegas started to grow with the help of the mofia.
Everything wasromanticised, they should have called the 1950’s the roaring 50’s. Yet whileall this was goin on America and the Soviet Union started pointing Nuclearbombs at each other, and independent countries formed out of the ColonialEmpires of the British, French, Germany, and Spain. Its possible to see how Holden thought most people were phonies. Itwas a period of “not seeing the visible.” Except for the fact that noteverybody was blind, and that was where Holden lost touch.
Holden Caufield the 16 year old protaginist and main character of TheCatcher in the Rye narrates the story and explains all the events throughoutthree days of his life. A prep school student who has just been kicked out ofhis second school, Holden struggles to find the right path into adulthood. Hedoes not know what road to follow and he uses others as the scapegoat’s forhis puzzlement in life.
Wadsworth 3.His problem is that he wants to retain a child’s innocence, at a timewhen almost everybody tried to retain their innocence. Even though Holdentries to act like an adult at times, he is actually afraid of the adult life and as away to escape life, he creates this character, the catcher in the rye, throughouthis thoughts. He feels that by saving the children from falling off the cliff, hesaves them from falling into the adult world that he disgusts. He feels that thischaracter can prevent the children from becoming adults by remaining in thatchildish world Holden pictured. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game inthis big field of rye and all.
Thousands of little kids, and nobody’saround-nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing on the edge of somecrazy cliff.”(Salinger 173) “What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go overthe cliff. I mean if they’re running and they don’t look we’re they’re going Ihave to come out from somewhere and catch them.” That’s all I have to do allday. I’d just be the Catcher in the Rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s theonly thing I’d really like to be.
I know it’s crazy(Salinger 173).Holden exhibits the madness described before at often timesthroughout the book and in the end it ends up sending him to a sanitarium. Heknows he has become mad and he even tells himself this many times in thebook; but he never really believes it. One time in the book when he displaysthis madness is, Wadsworth 4.
“But I’m crazy I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, Istarted pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old Maurice had plugged me.Now I was on the way to the bathroom to get a good shot of bourbon. Ipictured myself with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering a little bit. I’dwalk down a couple of floors-holding on to my guts, blood leaking all overthe place. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors he’d start screaming atme.
But I’d plug him anyway”(Salinger 103-4).This explains the psychotically disturbing actions Holden takes in thisnovel. Holden becomes obsessed with death and dying, and several times inthe book he wishes he was dead. “Again, Holden can’t stay away from thesubject of the death of family members and the decay of the corpse. Evenwhen he later goes to the Museum of Art, he winds up in the mummy roomexplaining about preserving the dead bodies of two boys and then getting sickand “sort of” passing out.
“He knows that he has become crazy but has aproblem admitting it fully and this shows how he can be considered a phony.Throughout the book he makes remarks on Jesus and the Disciplesmany times. He says that he believes in Jesus but not the disciples, heexplains that his reason feeling this way is because he is an atheist. Howeverthe definition of an atheist is someone who does not believe in God.
About the Disciples he says, “Take the Disciples for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if youwant to know the truth”(Salinger 99). Wadsworth 5.At that time the Church was very important in peoples lives it was thebasic cornerstone in the average American family, most Families attendedchurch together, even those who didn’t attend church were faith basedfollowers. The role that church played was important because it kept hopealive for the people who weren’t doing as good as they should have beendoing during the positive economic times. I belive that in Holden’s mind everyone was doing well, and the worldwas full of a bunch of phony upper-middle class people who thought theywere all that and a bag of chips.Values during that time is what mostAmerican families prided themselves in having.
What Holden was thinking,some would think was open-spirited but in all fairness it would have been asac-religious comment to most people during that time. To believe in God butnothing that accompanyed in him wasn’t a positive attitude during that time.Holden dislikes many people, places, and events all because of thephoniness surrounding them. It makes him literally ill. He is repulsed not onlyby the insincerity and self promotion of the “phonies,” “hot-shots,” “jerks,””bastards,” and “morons,” but by the phoniness that is excellence corrupted”.Holden realizes all the flaws within others but he can’t see them withinhimself. At the end of the novel he complains heavily about the fowl languagewritten on walls where children can see it.
This proves he is constantlyseeking to appear older than he really is, for he is somewhat a child himself.Wadsworth 6.His profanity is so innately intuned in his personality that he is whollyunaware of how rough his language is”. There were even a few times in thebook that his sister reprimanded him for swearing too much. He also does nottrust that anyone tells the truth. He prefaces his revelations with “If you really want to hear about it,” and “If you want to know thetruth,” because he found few people do want to know the truth.
Holden encounters many different people, and experiences manyadventures throughout the three days that this story occurs. He becomesinvolved with a variety of people, including taxi drivers, two nuns, an elevatorman(pimp), three girls from Seattle, a prostitute, and a former teacher fromwhom Holden thinks he should flee from, in the middle of the night. He cannever hold on to anyone he cares about; so he always finds a way to ruin therelationship by escaping, or destroying it. In Holden’s case, he seems to expect the worst, believing that theresult of getting close to people is pain.
Pain when others reject you or painwhen they leave you, such as when a friend walks off or a beloved brotherdies . He also easily mocks certain people and the way they act. On teachersHolden feels that, “You don’t have to think to too hard when you talk to ateacher”(Salinger 13). I think that Holden was trying to be a realist, with the keyword being”trying”, he was trying to be too different. His instinct that children are thepurest beings are false, he didn’t see things for what they really were worth.
Wadsworth 7.He probably just saw them for their face value, for instance when hedescribed not wanting to be a lawyer like his dad, he replies by saying, “Lawyers are all right, I guess-but it doesn’t appeal to me. All you do ismake a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drinkmartinis and look like a hot-shot”(Salinger 172).
The truth is that not all lawyers are rich and some can do very goodthings for some poeple while others are exactly what he was describing.While most people wanted change and allowed change in the way societyprocessed Holden was trying to hold on, hold on to something not real.Many would think that after all of Holden’s experiences and tragedies,he would go to his parents for help. However he does not, which shows thathe must not have a good relationship with his parents if he can’t talk to them;Yet any many films and tv shows of the 50’s most parent-child relationshipsseemed to be closer than they had ever been in the American household. Ididn’t live in the 50’s, but most of my friends parents who did seem to havehad tight nit relationships with their parents. If Holden had possibly had thishe would have been able to reach out to them but for some reason he couldn’tAccording to Webster’s dictionary, “Phoniness is described as artificial,counterfeit, or hypocritical”.
Phony is one of the words heavily used by Holden. He uses the wordphony several times throughout the course of this book and he uses it todescribe the actions of others and not himself. Before Holden judges others,he should take a look at himself and check his flaws.Wadsworth 8.
Throughout all the encounters with different people in the book, he iseasily the phoniest of all the characters. Holden had a flawed look on life, hedreams of retaining his childhood which had no revelance in the evolvingsociety in 1950’s America. This idealism explains why he is close to his sisterPhoebe and why he was so close to his brother Allie. He does not want anyone to fall off the cliff into adulthood, he wantsthem to remain in the rye and if they go to fall off he will catch them. He feelsas if he is the true protector of innocense, except for the fact that he isn’ttrying to be so innocent himself. Holden does not have any friends and cannotkeep relationships. This is because he finds and exaggerates any negativeaspect of all the people he knows or meet.
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel, which gives us some idea of how anadolescent boy, facing the common experiences and troubles of daily life inthe 1950’s may have felt. Salinger might also be trying to show the reader theconfusion anger and frustration of loosing a loved one and of possibly thetime period, and how it can effect a persons life.