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The Catcher In The Rye: Why It Is An American Classic? Essay

This essay was written by a 16 Year Old (2006) in a selective high school (Sydney) in the top English class (later on became Dux of English). Was chosen to be the ‘model’ essay, so I guess its an A+ or 10/10. 2000 words.

*********************The Catcher In The Rye has been renowned as a classic due to a wide range of factors which have been able to garner appeal to the audience throughout the ages. JD Salinger has created a character- Holden Caulfield, which the audience can easily identify and relate to, demonstrated via his wandering style of thought and retelling of events in the book. Similarly, Holdens popular culture and social commentary reveals much of the human condition, which the audience throughout time could relate to, particularly of the universal theme of growing up in an adult world. Thus, it is through Holden which the audience can follow his physical and mental journey through a conservative 1950s society which he constantly rejects and rebels against.

Firstly, perhaps what has made The Catcher In The Rye such a classic is of Salingers portrayal of Holden Caulfield. A teenage boy full of angst and rebelliousness in growing up and accepting the adult world, Holdens character is one which depicts him as an insecure, distrusting and hateful of superficiality type person, making him an antihero throughout his journey. Within the first chapters of the book, Holden impresses upon the reader that he is indeed a black sheep of society. He finds no reason to stay in school, undervaluing education and does not think much of his future.

This is perhaps best exemplified with his scoffing cynicism to Mr Spencers statement of,Life is a game boy, a game one plays accordingly to the rules.To which Holden then speaks in his mind,Game my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then its a game all right- Ill admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there arent any hot-shots, then whats a game about? Nothing. No game.Such a depressing statement provides insight to Holdens mind that he purposely omits himself from participating in the game- that is, of life itself; on the side of where theyre arent any hot-shots.

This is reinforced even further with arguably one of Holdens most famous quips- the words phoney and phoniness. However, these quotes of Holden should not merely be dismissed as just slang a 1950s teen uses, but demonstrating Holdens open disdain for superficiality and societys emphasis on status and social standing. For example, Holden comments on his roommate Stradlater as a kind of a handsome guy that if your parents saw in your Year Book, theyd right away say, Whos this boy?. However, Holden also observes Stradlater as a secret slob shown with his crummy razor which he uses in order to maintain a pleasant appearance in attracting girls, another form of socialising which Holden abhors.

Another form in which Holden rejects society and its debauchery is of its emphasis on money. He buys the hunting cap for only a buck and it quickly establishes itself to become one of Holdens cherished items. His brother Allies baseball mitt, holds sentimental value for him and is the chosen topic he chooses to write a composition about. However, one must also note that despite Holdens opposition towards the materialistic society of America, he also indulges in many of its other vices.

For example, Holden smokes in excess and tries more than once (albeit unsuccessfully) to order alcoholic drinks, although it is unsure whether he does so in order to drown his sorrows or as an attempt to look mature. Such a hypocritical nature of Holden reminds the audience that Holden has a distorted view on society and life in general, quite often classifying social norms into negative light in being phoney as well as presenting absurd ideas to himself, such as abandoning his old life and taking up a new start as a deaf-mute.

Such irrational thinking displayed by Holden reveals another aspect which has made him so popular with the audience throughout time, and that is, of his almost childlike innocence. JD Salinger has although depicted Holden as an antihero, but is quite the protagonist in retaining innocence before the vices and shallowness society encourages. For example, Holden almost seems to deny the present-day Jane Gallagher who is going out with Stradlater, but instead retains the memory of her playing checkers together who liked to keep all her kings in the back row.

His immaturity takes on an almost idiotic level when he decides not to engage in intercourse with Sunny the prostitute, but rather, pay her not to have sex with him and instead starts an uneasy conversation.

Throughout the story Holden tries to maintain the innocence of anything possible. One situation Holden finds himself in is when he is in his dorm in Pencey prep and is ready to leave for the movies and begins to pack a snowball and then admits I didnt throw it at anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car that was parked across the street. But I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didnt throw it at anything. When Holden talks about how nice and white the car and hydrant looks Salinger implies how pure both the car and the hydrant are. Holden decides not to throw it because he attempts to preserve that purity they both have and puts the snowball down.

Another situation where Holden is irritated by the way society is marred with impurities is when he notices a Fuck You on a wall. In disgust, after trying to rub it off the wall, he claims, If you had a million years to do it in, you couldnt rub out even half the “Fuck You” signs in the world. The “Fuck You”s on the wall represents something much more than just a profanity on a wall. To Holden they represent the things that remove the innocence of people like his sister Phoebe. Holden believes that society will never get better, and it will always have some sort of flaw.

In such a way, Holden sets himself as the Catcher who catches anyone comin thro the rye, that is, one who protects others from crossing the line between youthful innocence and into the supposedly evil adult world full of superficiality and impiety. Ironically, the title of the book, The Catcher In The Rye, taken from a song by Robert Burns, actually has sexual connotations within it, corrupting the very ideal and notion Holden sets down as being a protector from societys ugliness.

Secondly, another aspect which has made Salingers novel such a classic is due to its universal themes which involve the human condition. The coming-of-age which Holden progresses throughout his journey in the book reveals much on what a teenager faces in growing up and ultimately, fitting into the mould society forces itself to conform into. Holden on the other hand, actively resists change, showing his immaturity in running away from Pencey and refusing to accept responsibility in his own education for the future, such as agreeing to fail himself in history. Holden, however, seems to validate his reasons in being sceptical of growing up due to some clever observation he has made into the adult world.

For example, he notices that at the hotel room he is staying at, a respectable old man is seen cross dressing as well as,Then, in the window almost right over his, I saw a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at each other. It was probably highballs, not water, but I couldnt see what was in their glasses. Anyway, first hed take a swallow and squirt it all over her, then she did it to him- they took turns for Gods sake. You shouldve seen them. They were in hysterics the whole time, like it was the funniest thing that ever happened. Im not kidding, that hotel was lousy with perverts. I was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place- and that isnt saying much.

Such a statement from Holden validates his doubts of growing up, after seeing what the supposed mature adults get up to, who similarly escape from societys judgemental eyes by doing bizarre acts behind closed doors. Thus, Holden takes on a narrow stance against his elders, with the exception of Mr Antolini, but later on discovering him acting a flit- is knocked back even more in trusting adults.

The human condition of resisting change is further shown in Holdens revelation of finding solace within the museum, which he quotes,-in that museum… everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds will still be on their way south, the deer would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be waving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly.

You’d just be different, that’s all.”With this quote, Holden displays to the audience that the main fault with society can be pinpointed to not external factors, but of society itself and the individuals who comprise of it, here Holden identifies his fear of changing into becoming a part of this society, and thus believes that he must do everything he can to escape it; running away from Pencey which boasts of moulding boys into fine, young men, contemplating becoming a recluse and deaf-mute, being fiercely protective of Phoebes innocence, and so on.

However, nearing the end of the book, Holden begins to realise of the changes he has to accept coming into his life which are inevitable, epitomised by Mr Antolinis statement,The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the marks of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.Holden begins to realise that instead of being the victim of a selfish and outward society and dying nobly by refusing to have his life unsoiled by it, he must instead accept the reality that part of becoming an adult is taking the step from childhood to adulthood and keeping ones morals intact, even if society encourages superficiality. However, Holden learns that this is not nearly the case, shown in the final pages where rather than being protective of Phoebe riding on the carousel, states,-I was sort of afraid shed fall off the goddamn horse, but I didnt say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything.

If they fall off, they fall off, but its bad if you say anything to them.This quote from Holden epitomises his acceptance of how change cannot be altered nor be escaped from, and that while society can be the point of where innocence is abandoned, it is impossible to be the Catcher. The gold rings are ironically not gold but really brass-plated iron. The gold rings are symbols of the corrupted world which always “wears” a shiny surface to hide its evil. It is at this point that Holden sees that he can not stop children from growing up and therefore losing their innocence. They will fall if they fall; there is nothing that can be done. Similarly, escaping the corruption within society is impossible, wherein it is Phoebe who challenges his plan to escape out west. As he is telling Phoebe that she can not run away, he discovers that he too can not run away,You can’t ever find a place that is nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any.To conclude, with universal themes embodying the human condition, the unique character of Holden Caulfield and his journey in which he realises that he must live life by the moment and for a humble cause, not by the unattainable ideals which he sets out for himself in the beginning of the book; they provide a relevant and identifiable outlook on society and morals for the audience to enjoy and continue to read throughout time.


SALINGER, JD, THE CACTHER IN THE RYE, PENGUIN CLASSICS 1990www.sparknotes.com/lit/catcher

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