The Catcher in the Rye Relative to the 1950s
The Catcher in the Rye can be strongly considered as one of the
greatest novels of all time and Holden Caufield distinguishes himself as one
of the greatest and most diverse characters. His moral system and his sense of
justice 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 that
he is a rebel, or a coward, nor that he hates society, it is that he has had many
experiences and he remembers everything.
Salinger indicates this through Holden’s confusion of time throughout
the novel. Experiences at Whooten, Pency, and Elkton Hills combine and no
levels of time separate them. This causes Holden to end the novel missing
everyone and every experience. He remembers all the good and bad, until
distinctions between the two disappear. Holden believes throughout the novel
that certain things should stay the same. Holden becomes a character
portrayed by Salinger that disagrees with things changing. He wants to retain
everything, in short he wants everything to always remain the same, and when
changes occur; Holden reacts. However the most important aspect of Holden
Caufield’s character can be attributed to his judgment of people. Holden
Caufield, a character who always jumps to conclusions about people and their
phoniness, can be labeled as a hypocrite because he exemplifies a phony
During the 1950s America was recovering from the greatest war in the
World. There was a cloud of forgetfulness after the war, people didnt want
to remind themselves of all the bad things. People wanted to celebrate
everything, but some people like Holden Caufield didnt feel all the phoniness
is necessary to live life.
The 1950s is so remanincant of the 1920s, the world had just finished
a war and it was suppost to be freedom and happiness for all. Everything
seemed to be artificially okay. Americas economy was booming Southern
California was once again known for its movies rather than a important piece
of the War Effort, Paris was once again the center of world, and even Las
Vegas started to grow with the help of the mofia. Everything was
romanticised, they should have called the 1950s the roaring 50s. Yet while
all this was goin on America and the Soviet Union started pointing Nuclear
bombs at each other, and independent countries formed out of the Colonial
Empires of the British, French, Germany, and Spain.
Its possible to see how Holden thought most people were phonies. It
was a period of not seeing the visible. Except for the fact that not
everybody was blind, and that was where Holden lost touch.
Holden Caufield the 16 year old protaginist and main character of The
Catcher in the Rye narrates the story and explains all the events throughout
three days of his life. A prep school student who has just been kicked out of
his second school, Holden struggles to find the right path into adulthood. He
does not know what road to follow and he uses others as the scapegoats for
his puzzlement in life.
His problem is that he wants to retain a child’s innocence, at a time
when almost everybody tried to retain their innocence. Even though Holden
tries to act like an adult at times, he is actually afraid of the adult life and as a
way to escape life, he creates this character, the catcher in the rye, throughout
his thoughts. He feels that by saving the children from falling off the cliff, he
saves them from falling into the adult world that he disgusts. He feels that this
character can prevent the children from becoming adults by remaining in that
childish world Holden pictured.
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in
this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s
around-nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some
crazy cliff.(Salinger 173)
What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over
the cliff. I mean if they’re running and they don’t look we’re they’re going I
have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I have to do all
day. I’d just be the Catcher in the Rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the
only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy(Salinger 173).
Holden exhibits the madness described before at often times
throughout the book and in the end it ends up sending him to a sanitarium. He
knows he has become mad and he even tells himself this many times in the
book; but he never really believes it. One time in the book when he displays
this madness is,
But I’m crazy I swear to God I am. About halfway to the bathroom, I
started 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. I
pictured myself with my automatic in my pocket, and staggering a little bit. I’d
walk down a couple of floors-holding on to my guts, blood leaking all over
the place. As soon as old Maurice opened the doors he’d start screaming at
me. But I’d plug him anyway(Salinger 103-4).
This explains the psychotically disturbing actions Holden takes in this
novel. Holden becomes obsessed with death and dying, and several times in
the book he wishes he was dead. “Again, Holden can’t stay away from the
subject of the death of family members and the decay of the corpse. Even
when he later goes to the Museum of Art, he winds up in the mummy room
explaining about preserving the dead bodies of two boys and then getting sick
and “sort of” passing out.”He knows that he has become crazy but has a
problem admitting it fully and this shows how he can be considered a phony.
Throughout the book he makes remarks on Jesus and the Disciples
many times. He says that he believes in Jesus but not the disciples, he
explains that his reason feeling this way is because he is an atheist. However
the 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 you
want to know the truth”(Salinger 99).
At that time the Church was very important in peoples lives it was the
basic cornerstone in the average American family, most Families attended
church together, even those who didnt attend church were faith based
followers. The role that church played was important because it kept hope
alive for the people who werent doing as good as they should have been
doing during the positive economic times.
I belive that in Holdens mind everyone was doing well, and the world
was full of a bunch of phony upper-middle class people who thought they
were all that and a bag of chips.Values during that time is what most
American families prided themselves in having. What Holden was thinking,
some would think was open-spirited but in all fairness it would have been a
sac-religious comment to most people during that time. To believe in God but
nothing that accompanyed in him wasnt a positive attitude during that time.
Holden dislikes many people, places, and events all because of the
phoniness surrounding them. It makes him literally ill. He is repulsed not only
by 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 cant see them within
At the end of the novel he complains heavily about the fowl language
written on walls where children can see it. This proves he is constantly
seeking to appear older than he really is, for he is somewhat a child himself.
His profanity is so innately intuned in his personality that he is wholly
unaware of how rough his language is”. There were even a few times in the
book that his sister reprimanded him for swearing too much. He also does not
trust that anyone tells the truth. He prefaces his revelations with
“If you really want to hear about it,” and “If you want to know the
truth,” because he found few people do want to know the truth.
Holden encounters many different people, and experiences many
adventures throughout the three days that this story occurs. He becomes
involved with a variety of people, including taxi drivers, two nuns, an elevator
man(pimp), three girls from Seattle, a prostitute, and a former teacher from
whom Holden thinks he should flee from, in the middle of the night. He can
never hold on to anyone he cares about; so he always finds a way to ruin the
relationship by escaping, or destroying it.
In Holden’s case, he seems to expect the worst, believing that the
result of getting close to people is pain. Pain when others reject you or pain
when they leave you, such as when a friend walks off or a beloved brother
dies . He also easily mocks certain people and the way they act. On teachers
Holden feels that,
“You don’t have to think to too hard when you talk to a
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 the
purest beings are false, he didnt see things for what they really were worth.
He probably just saw them for their face value, for instance when he
described 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 is
make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink
martinis and look like a hot-shot”(Salinger 172).
The truth is that not all lawyers are rich and some can do very good
things for some poeple while others are exactly what he was describing.
While most people wanted change and allowed change in the way society
processed 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 that
he must not have a good relationship with his parents if he cant talk to them;
Yet any many films and tv shows of the 50s most parent-child relationships
seemed to be closer than they had ever been in the American household. I
didnt live in the 50s, but most of my friends parents who did seem to have
had tight nit relationships with their parents. If Holden had possibly had this
he would have been able to reach out to them but for some reason he couldnt
According 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 word
phony several times throughout the course of this book and he uses it to
describe the actions of others and not himself. Before Holden judges others,
he should take a look at himself and check his flaws.
Throughout all the encounters with different people in the book, he is
easily the phoniest of all the characters. Holden had a flawed look on life, he
dreams of retaining his childhood which had no revelance in the evolving
society in 1950s America. This idealism explains why he is close to his sister
Phoebe and why he was so close to his brother Allie.
He does not want anyone to fall off the cliff into adulthood, he wants
them to remain in the rye and if they go to fall off he will catch them. He feels
as if he is the true protector of innocense, except for the fact that he isnt
trying to be so innocent himself. Holden does not have any friends and cannot
keep relationships. This is because he finds and exaggerates any negative
aspect of all the people he knows or meet.
The Catcher in the Rye is a novel, which gives us some idea of how an
adolescent boy, facing the common experiences and troubles of daily life in
the 1950s may have felt. Salinger might also be trying to show the reader the
confusion anger and frustration of loosing a loved one and of possibly the
time period, and how it can effect a persons life. Words
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