The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old teenager growing up in 1950s New York. After being expelled from Pencey High, Holden goes off on what seems to be a three-day journey to New York City. During this time he goes through an emotional roller coaster. Holdens feelings about society, conformity and sexuality are clearly exposed throughout the novel. Its a novel that deals with complex issues that almost every adolescent experiences in their life; issues of identity, sexuality, belonging, and alienation. At the time the book was published adults looked it down upon, even though it was originally written for adults, not adolescents. Due to its profanity, sexual subject matter and rejections of traditional American ideals, Catcher in the Rye has been banned from several high schools throughout the U.S. But not all of the novels themes are looked down upon. Although many disliked Holdens character because of his self-centeredness, critics began to praise Salinger for creating a character that truly related to teens and the struggles that adolescence go through while growing into adults.
This novel related perfectly to the adolescence and time that it was written in. Post WWII America had an increasing number of delinquent teens. It wasnt until the war that parents began to slowly drift from their childs life. Fathers were off at war and mothers were too busy helping the war effort. You know what they say, when the cats are away, the mice will play, and thats exactly what teens began to do. They got a taste of true freedom and they loved it. The advent of World War II created discipline problems for the thousands of suddenly less-supervised youth on the home front, problems leading to a national outbreak of juvenile delinquency, (Barson, Heller, 22). Adolescents began to rebel. Whether it was at home or out on the streets, teens began to realize that they too had a voice and they were free to do as they pleased, even if it meant rebelling against their own parents. This is seen in Catcher in the Rye many times. Between the emotional incapability of Holdens mother, the neglectful consumerism of his father, and the couples reliance on the third party institutions such as boarding schools and psychiatrists to raise their child, the Caulfields embody the failing of parenting at large during the postwar period, (Kirkwood, 23). The first sign of delinquency was when he tells the reader that he has been kicked out of school, for the third time. This clearly shows how Holden could care less about his education and lacks motivation to aspire to do better.
Catcher in the Rye has many instances where Holden criticizes those who conform to society. For instance, Now hes out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute, (2). Here Holden is telling us about his older brother, D.B., his full name is unknown throughout the novel. D.B., used to write short stories that Holden found intriguing until he decided to sell out and go to Hollywood. He says that his brother used to be a regular writer, when he was home, up until he joined the movie industry. Holden is an idealist clinging desperately to the idea that basic human kindness is more vital to a happy existence rather than material wealth. At the time that this novel was released, teens were branching away from their parents and as I mentioned before, were beginning to rebel. The media played a big role in the transition from good to bad teens. Seventeen magazines issues included articles directed towards teenage girls, about what the latest fashion was. They created a character called the Kleen Teen. This teen was the perfect son/daughter. The child that respected both parents equally was ideal. The Archie Andrews Comic Strip was a way that magazines tried to allure teens to be a kleen teen. But in the masterful display of bifurcated vision, the mass media were able to both acknowledge (and often sensationalize) Americans new crisis with wayward youth while finding ways to cover, celebrate, and serve its Kleen Teen constituency, (Barson, Heller, 22)
One of the big issues in Catcher is Holdens desire to belong somewhere. He himself knows hes an outcast because of his refusal to conform to society. An example of him refusing to conform is when he doesnt support Penceys football team at the game and also when he finds it funny that he lost the fencing equipment on the bus. Many times Holden finds his peers angered with him because he always chooses to do his own thing whether they like it or not. Hes an outcast and sadly by the end of the novel it appears as though this main characteristic of refusal to conform has not changed and will most likely continue his downfall. The main reason Holden refuses to conform is because of his fear of growing up. Being a child was so much easier and care free than being an adult. For Holden, growing older brings pain, pain that he is clearly not ready for and paralyzes him to move forward.
If I had to lecture a class about post world war two and adolescence, I would have my students read articles on J.D. Salingers life before reading the novel. I feel like having some prior knowledge on his life would help the readers understand why he chose to write about a particular character like Holden. I would have my readers compare the similarities and differences between Holden and Salinger. From reading some background information on Salinger, I found out that most of his work is essentially autobiographical and is based his real life experiences. This helped me relate to the novel more because it made me realize that this was partially true with the author. It would be easier for a person to relate to the character and author. Im the type of person that believes that the more you can relate to something the more you can understand it. Because of this, I would have my students keep a journal about Catcher. Each week I would have specific topics to write about related to the novel. The students would have to reflect on the chapter that was read in order to get a better understanding of the book.
A lot of the research that I did was at the library. With the list of books that was provided to us, I was able to have a broader idea of what specific words to look up in the library catalog. I will admit that at the beginning of this assignment I was completely stumped, and I still somewhat am, but nonetheless I did attempt to do as much research as possible so the assignment would go as smoothly as possible. I used two of the books that were recommended to us and both were extremely helpful. Teenage Confidential An Illustrated History of the American Teen, was the first that I checked out and it was the one that gave me the most information about the media and how much it really influenced teenage delinquency and rebellion. One specific online article that I found the most helpful was Holdens Lousy Childhood: Poor Parenting and the Rise of Post War Delinquency. This article went into depth with Catcher in the Rye and compared it to everyday things that were going in life. For example, Kirkwood states, The difficulty Holdens mother experiences in accepting the death of her son Allie, sets her up as an example of parents of the postwar period struggling to readjust themselves to the new conditions they must face.