Teenage delinquency in the 1950s was a term given to teenagers who broke away from the strict social rules that had controlled their lives. Before this breakout teenagers followed the rules and wouldn’t go against their authority. The 1950s saw the birth of rock n roll which led to changes in fashion and social behaviour. Many of the boys started to wear leather jackets and jeans and grew their hair out. Teenagers were starting to live by their own rules. Many of them started to drink, flunk school, smoke, party and have sexual relationships. Many of these actions scared the adults as the teenagers behaviour was unpredictable. The older generations were extremely worried by these teenagers but not for things like drugs or murder but chewing gun in class and arguing with your parents.
J.D. Salinger challenges the cultural assumption of teenage delinquency in the novel. By writing the book from Holden's perspective he addresses the issue from a teenagers point of view. He talks about how phony adults are and how Holden hates how phony they are. By doing this he is stating that it is the adults have misjudged teenagers about being delinquent. Through Holden's narrative we see him as a confused, reclusive teenager who is trying to become an adult but is struggling because of his age.
''One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That's all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody's parents when they drove up to school. He'd be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should've seen the way he did with my roommate's parents. I mean if a boy's mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody's father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Haas would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he'd go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else's parents.''
J.D. Salinger uses this early on in the book. He does this so that right from the start of the novel, we know about Holden's perspective of adults and phonies. By putting this so early in the book we know that it is important that we know about phonies and that Holden hates them so much. J.D. Salinger challenges this assumption about teenage delinquency because he doesn’t just blame teenagers for their behaviour but blames adults for being too strict and 'phony'.
A very powerful theme used by J.D. Salinger is the phoniness of the adult world. This theme is the most recognised element in the novel as Holden makes statements about phonies on nearly every page. He is always making comments about how phony someone is or how phony strangers looked. When Holden is telling us about the time he went to see Hamlet he tells us; ''What I'll have to do is, I'll have to read that play. The trouble with me is, I always have to read that stuff by myself. If an actor acts it out, I hardly listen. I keep worrying about whether he's going to do something phony every minute.'' This tells us that Holden have a blatant disregard for most adult or just anyone that he sees as phony. He is seen as a delinquent because he doesn’t care what adults think of him and he does what he wants. He doesn’t want to be associated with phonies so therefore he acts out.