Free Essays - Individual vs. Society in Catcher in the Rye

Free Essays - Individual vs. Society in Catcher in the Rye

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Individual vs. Society in Catcher in the Rye




In the novel Catcher in the Rye, many differences exist within the plot and between the characters. This makes the book so interesting. But what interest me, is that the main character, Holden, is the most distinctive example of a difference. Usually, societies approve of a level of uniqueness. But when individuality turns into clear differences of attitude and opinion, conflict starts to arise. Because Holden's morals and beliefs are those different from the society in which he lives in, he can't function in that particular society.


Throughout the book, certain values of Holden start to show through. He speaks a lot about how he dislikes "phonies" and tries to separate himself from them. Every time Holden tries to run away from these "phonies," it starts to give you an idea about how he values honesty and his reaction towards people who don't have this particular value. In chapter seventeen, Holden tries to rationalize himself being kicked out of school by saying he wants to accomplish something different and not just be a phony. "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques (Salinger 131)." In life, and as his days go by, he will realize that many people in society and people who run it, are indeed not genuine. The reality angers Holden and he fantasizes about running away, escaping from society, and living in a cabin away from everybody. This is a far-fetched idea that is hardly even an option for him. He decides that if he can't fit in a society where he isn't wanted, then he won't be a part of it. This thought would have never come across Holden's mind if he was like everybody else, but he isn't. Holden obviously can't deal with the environment around him and one day may lash out to the elements of life that aren't in agreement with him.

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Is it that society is so off beam and mistaken, or could it be a problem with Holden?


In chapter twenty-four, Holden visits and plans to stay with Mr. Antolini. After hearing about Holden's expulsion from Pencey, Mr. Antolini approaches the situation with Holden. He tells Holden what he fears will happen if he continues on the path he is taking. As Mr. Antolini said, "I have a feeling that you're riding for some kind of terrible, terrible fall"(187). By this, he means that Holden should learn more about the "human condition" and confront or accept it, not just run away from it. I believe that Holden becomes defensive and starts to argue this idea because, in a way, agrees and doesn't want to accept the truth. The truth is that Holden would rather point fingers at society and every imaginable person, rather then himself. This is typical for a teenager. A teenager is not meant to be open to such a decision that Holden tries to make, whether to ostracize himself from society or not.


Society is a functional community, full of businesses, entertainment, and responsibility. When Holden tries to have a good time with Sally and be entertained, he can't enjoy the performance because the actors annoy him. And he can't have a good time with Sally because she disagrees with him and wears a short skirt just to show off her "cute ass." When he was at the blues club, he couldn't enjoy the music because he was too agitated by the arrogant person creating the music. In all aspects of life, there will be phonies. There will be show-offs and celebrities. But you mustn't be affected. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,


"Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs."


If Holden wants to function suitably in a society, he can either change his morals or beliefs to fit his environment. Or he can lash out at society and change his morals to the extreme opposite and try to live without a social order set in stone.


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