Postmodernism in American Literature

Categories: Catcher In The RyeUsa

The copyright date of the book is July 16th 1951, it falls into the postmodern literary period of American literature under the genre, literary realism. The story was written during the postmodern era when writers focused on mental health, fragmentation, and conceptualized the world as being impossible to strictly understand. Postmodernism also includes hyperreality, inner conflict, and paranoia.

The main conflict in this story is man vs. himself, as the main character Holden struggles against his own psyche. One part of him wants to connect with the people around him on an adult level, while another part of him wants to reject the adult world as he claims it is full of “phonies,” and thus, when faced with conflict, Holden retreats into his own memories of his childhood.

Holden’s eventual mental breakdown, which occurs some time before he begins telling his story, signifies the intensity of his suffering as he faces the inevitabile conflict of growing up and maturing.

The protagonist in this story is Holden Caulfield, however his role as a protagonist does not necessarily mean he’s the hero.

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Holden clearly doesn’t have the chivalrous characteristics that most heroes portray, such as honesty or courage. He irritates people all the time and has anger issues. He worries his parents and often acts depressed. But nonetheless, Holden is known to be one of literature’s favorite characters. He’s noble, for he has an unceasing desire to protect his family and children everywhere and he’s also compassionate as he he sees people for who they are, not for who they pretend to be.

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The antagonist in this story is also Holden, as throughout the entire book, Holden fights with his own mental state and depressive thoughts. In Holden’s opinion, “phony” people are not only his but also the worlds’ antagonists due to the fact that basically everyone he meets is phony in one way or another. Seeing the majority of society and the people within it as an antagonist can be isolating, and seeing everyone in the world as an antagonist is not only degrading—it’s one of Holden’s character flaws. Furthermore, while Holden sees everyone else as the antagonist, the reader can see that it’s actually Holden himself who is the antagonist. He chooses to judge and criticize everyone he meets, he chooses to distance himself from others. Ultimately, Holden is his own worst enemy.

One of the three complications that took place over the time frame of the story are Holden’s inability to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood. His innate cynicism gives him a perspective on the world that prohibits his involvement in it. Additionally, Holden struggles with having a sexual encounter with a woman throughout the entirety of the book. Although he wants to, Holden simply can not bring himself to do so, even though he has many chances to based on the circumstances he finds himself in. Lastly, Holden never comes to terms with his brother’s death and the suicide of one of his classmates. He’s disgusted with the idea that anyone can continue to walk around as though the trauma they have been exposed to did not affect them, and that life can simply continue on. Thus, Holden’s inability to face his emotions and feelings of past events eventually leads to the decline of his mental health, which is the major complication in the story.

The story is narrated in first person, as Holden is the one telling the story. By using Holden as the narrator, Salinger is able to create a solemn tone, which allows Holden’s experiences to be portrayed by emphasizing his own opinions and reflections on the events that take place and the characters that are introduced. Moreover, the mood of the novel becomes cynical and pessimistic as Holden’s hatred towards phonies and unjust circumstances increases as the story progresses. Furthermore, this progression illustrates to the reader that society is corrupted by people who believe they have to lie or be “phony” in order to fit in.

The climax occurs near the very end of the story, when Holden finally understands how to survive living in a postmodern world. After leaving Mr. Antolini’s apartment, Holden begins to question his characteristic mode of judging other people. He then realizes how he made himself feel isolated and that it was up to him to change his outlook on the world and become less pessimistic in order to improve his way of life.

The problem is not completely resolved at the end but Holden is shown to have become less alienated and more open with his feelings. It’s an anti-climatic ending full of regret as Holden explains that he is currently in a rest house trying to better his mental state. Technically, at the end of the story, the reader is back where they started due to the fact that Salinger never fixes the problem nor creates and adequate ending that satisfies the audience.

Holden begins his story in Pennsylvania, at his former school, Pencey. He then recounts his adventures in New York City during a long weekend in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Salinger uses the retelling of Holden’s past experiences and has him talk about his thoughts on the events to show the progression of time that has passed. The beginning of the novel introduces Holden and he alludes to the eventual decline in his mental health and then jumps into telling his story while slowly progressing to his insanity. This helps develop the themes by introducing the topic of not being able to adjust, let go, or acknowledge an inner struggle.

One of the numerous themes in The Catcher in the Rye, is the phoniness of the adult world, which isn’t just one of the most famous phrases from novel, but it is also one of Holden’s favorite concepts, as he describes the superficiality that he encounters regularly in the world around him. Phoniness, to Holden, stands as the embodiment of everything that is wrong in the world around him and provides an excuse for him to withdraw from society into his own cynical isolation. Another theme that is developed throughout the story is judgement, as Holden judges people’s sincerity toward others. He judges the world through a cynical view and ultimately decides what is worthy of his time.

The primary theme in The Catcher in the Rye is an important concept that addresses the painfulness of growing up, as the novel is mainly focused on a young character’s growth into adulthood. Holden Caulfield is an uncommon protagonist because his main goal is to resist the process of maturity itself. Instead of acknowledging that adulthood scares and intimidates him, Holden makes himself believe that adulthood is a world of hypocrisy in order to cope with his inability to mature. This concept is important because it emphasizes the shared fear of growing up and the uncertainties that the future holds. Moreover, It can be applied to life in general because it explains how growing up seems daunting but that overcoming such problems and maturing are healthier choices that, in the end, will only benefit the individual.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a novel that clearly deserves its recognition and praise due to the fact that it establishes how society needs to focus more on the mental health of individuals and that mental health should be recognized and dealt with. He alludes to the fact that if Holden realized he needed mental help sooner, his relationships with his peers wouldn’t have been so toxic and if he would have come to terms with his inner struggles, half of the conflicts he came across would cease to exist. The author’s purpose is to reveal how hard it can be to grow up and let go of past memories and how it can be tough to deal with the stress and anxiety that comes with being an adult. Salinger was successful in demonstrating the purpose, as he uses Holden and his circumstance to depict that letting go is an important step in achieving success, by using Holden’s unwillingness to let go as an example that inability to cope with emotions can alienates oneself from society. With these life lessons it is clear that The Catcher in the Rye is best for younger audiences who have yet to face or are currently facing the conflict of growing up. Salinger wanted to show how young adults need to cope with their struggles and learn to cope with change. Overall, this book is important because it was written to relate to the teens during the time period it was written in, yet, students nowadays are still going through the same issues and are still learning to deal with letting go and maturing.

Proceeding the release of the book in 1952, several literary critics wrote that The Catcher in the Rye was a maladroit, but nonetheless, there can be no question about its popularity or influence. For example, Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post claims that the novel represents an expression of adolescent cynicism and rebellion. Yardley explains how he admires how Salinger writes with innocent sincerity, he says everything that needs to be said and holds nothing back from the reader. Yardley concludes that The Catcher in the Rye is truly from the heart. On the other hand, there were a few reviews that felt the novel did not meet their expectations, such as Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times, who concludes that Holden has lost much of his novelty. Unlike the multitudes of positive remarks, Schuessler and many critics say that since Holden is less popular these days, and that the fault lies with society’s own impatience when it comes to understanding the idea of self-searching for identities and life’s meaning that Holden represents. Ultimately, the reviews further elaborate on the fact that Salinger had an artfulness to his writing unlike any others, all while also displaying that the opinions on his book were controversial between people who liked Holden and what his character represented, and the people who did not comprehend the meaning behind Holden’s character.

Cite this page

Postmodernism in American Literature. (2021, Sep 20). Retrieved from

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