The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, is arguably too much the antihero to appeal to conservative English teachers. Perhaps this is because of his attitude towards schooling; the fact the novel has been banned by numerous schools and colleges for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality; or his self-absorbed and depressed like.
Teachers may think he is a poor example because he is malcontent, angry, flunks classes such as history, sneaks around without his parents’ approval and so forth. Over the years, Holden has notably become an icon for teenage rebellion; his abuse of drugs and alcohol which occurs in the Wicker bar in New York, violence towards his companions such as when he lashed out at his roommate Stradlater shortly before his dismissal at Pencey Prep and his flirting with criminal behaviour all resonate with many teens.
He is far too much the student whom teachers dislike because of his truancy, lack of application to studies, he breaks too many rules and is emotionally unsettled, (apparent when he locks himself inside Phoebe’s wardrobe). Possibly teachers do not want students to get ideas about acting out, encouraging them to go against authority and take the world head-on, on their own, as Holden does. To me, that makes him the ultimate hero. But society, (and teachers are a part of that) see this as the wrong way to live- therefore dubbing him the antihero.
It is no surprise Holden is considered an antihero: he is commonly seen to lack the traditional qualities that a hero would possess, such as intrepidity, altruism, idealism, self-sacrifice and the desire to succeed at everything with best effort. “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.” That is but one example of his disturbed nature. He is perceived to have a generally negative outlook towards life, caring only for his own well-being thus being identified as an antihero.
Although, Holden is seen as a hero by some, such as Phoebe. He has this brutally honest perspective, he is not afraid to see things for what they are. He expresses innermost thoughts and opinions we rarely allow ourselves to admit; despising authority, confessing that most people are hypocritical and that life pretty much disappoints us all. So in a sense, Holden is admirable for this trait because not a lot of us possess the audacity to live our lives outside the parameters of acceptable society.
Salinger creates Holden Caulfield’s idiolect with all the colloquialisms and swearing which resulted in the novel being banned and challenged in a multitude of schools and colleges for fear that is glorifies delinquency and a deranged personality. It was originally barred due to its obscene language, sexual exploits and it was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for adolescents. It was the most frequently banned novel in schools between 1966-1975. It was removed from ‘mandatory reading’ in many schools because it is centered around negative activity, contained vulgar words and was considered immoral. Catcher In The Rye has been highly criticized for its cynical tone, “un-American” content and use of linguistics.
Holden’s teenage life is riddled with contradiction. He is self-centered, cynical and judgmental yet he is sympathetic, lonely and yearning for earnest communication and relationships in the adult world. The only person he appears to be able to communicate with on a somewhat civil, understanding level is his ten-year-old diarist sister, Phoebe. Holden praises his younger sister Phoebe to no end. He assures us “she’s the smartest kid ever, a great dancer, emotional, funny.” “She always knows what you’re talking about. She can tell the difference between a good movie and a bad one. She listens.” Upon meeting Phoebe, she is all of what Holden makes her out to be, yet very much a ten-year-old. It is his sincere relationship with Phoebe which highlights that, while Holden Caulfield may appear self-absorbed and depressed, he is capable of sensitivity towards others.
Holden Caulfield is an interesting, troubled, realistic adolescent, however, many English teachers could object to his attitude to school, his language and his self-absorbtion. Despite this, Catcher in The Rye is still an American classic.
Courtney from Study Moose
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