Essay on 1950's Culture Exposed in The Catcher in the Rye

Essay on 1950's Culture Exposed in The Catcher in the Rye

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1950's Culture Exposed in The Catcher in the Rye

  J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a remarkable book that gives readers a unique and perhaps gloomy perspective of the 1950's through Holden Caulfield, a cynical and peculiar teenager. Through The Catcher in the Rye Salinger describes important aspects of the 1950's. Salinger emphasizes several key characteristics of the 50's and criticizes them through Holden. In addition, Holden Caulfield is a very interesting character with several traits that put him at odds with society.


Holden attacks various weaknesses in the 50's society. He criticizes nearly everything that he observes, and refuses to pull punches. Often Holden uses his brilliant talent of observation to discover the true motives behind the people he calls "phony." Through his observations the reader can interpret Salinger's view of the 1950's culture. Holden's perceptions of paranoia, conformity, and the consumer culture convey Salinger's views.


The Catcher in the Rye gives the reader a window into the hidden paranoia of the 1950's. On the first page Holden tells the reader "my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them." (p.1) This demonstrates the standoffish demeanor of the 50's. Holden observers this paranoia but does not attribute it to the nature of his society. During the 1950's people became much less open about their lives mainly because of the Domestic Cold War and McCarthyism. People became nervous that they would become the latest targets of a HUAC investigation. In 1951, when Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye the nation was transfixed with the Rosenberg Trial and could still easily remember the Alg...

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...o be very depressed when they become dominated with fashion and cliques. Holden will never be completely content with the people around him, but in the 60's he would meet many more people he could consider "genuine."


Sources Consulted



Kaplan, Robert B. Cliff's Notes: Catcher In The Rye. Lincoln: Cliff's Notes, Inc., 1999.


Marsden, Malcolm M. If You Really Want To Know: A Catcher Casebook. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1963.


Pinsker, Sanford. The Catcher In The Rye: Innocence Under Pressure. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.


Salinger, J.D. The Catcher In The Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1951.


Wildermuth, April. "Nonconformism in the Works of J.D. Salinger." 1997 Brighton High School. 24 November 2002. <>


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