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The Themes Of The Catcher In The Rye

1043 words - 5 pages

Considered one of the best novels of the 20th century, The Catcher in the Rye has affected readers around the globe since its publication in 1951. Its contemporary critics, however, gave the novel mixed reviews. Compared to the ideals of 1950s America, Holden Caulfield, the emotionally immature, extremely judgmental, teen-aged main character of “Catcher,” embodies the antithesis. Holden was an affront to the new social order, which demanded conformity and propagated the “father knows best” mentality. Americans, however, despite the postwar economic boom, remained suspicious of authority. In idyllic suburban neighborhoods across the country, while families huddled around their new ...view middle of the document...

To Holden, the children in the rye are representative of innocence and purity, a state he wishes he could return to, to avoid growing up and becoming an adult—going off the symbolic cliff. Americans of the 1950s identified with this nostalgia for the ignorant bliss of children, for a time before the disillusionment of the Cold War. The themes of childhood innocence and the death of its purity in adulthood that Holden’s sentimental dream symbolizes reflect the struggle that young Americans growing up during the Cold War had faced when trying to reconcile their burgeoning sense of morality with their fear of what adults were capable of doing to the world.
The paranoia that surrounded the crusade against communism, coupled with near-insatiable materialism, made Americans cynical and suspicious of outward appearances. This social sentiment manifests itself in the theme of phoniness. “Phony” is Holden’s catch-all phrase for all that is wrong with the world, especially in the realm of adults, and he repeats the word so often that it becomes a mantra. It is the term he uses to describe the hypocrisy and superficiality he sees in those around him. For example, when Holden decides to kill some time and watch a movie at Radio City, there is a woman sitting nearby who cries throughout the movie whom he labels as a phony (Salinger 75). He calls her a phony because he expects the reason why the woman cries at the movie is because she is “kindhearted,” but the woman had a child with her that she kept shushing and refused to take to the bathroom, which is not kindhearted at all. Adults, in Holden’s opinion, were all “phonies,” whose hypocritical natures exposed them for what they were, yet the fact that Holden is blind to his own “phoniness” reveals the uncertainty with which he sees himself.
Throughout the novel, Holden expresses a sense of alienation from the expectations of society, a concept that the youth of America during the 1950s experienced first-hand. Why would one want to become something one considers to be fake? Young Americans during this time were struggling with the expectation to grow up and...

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