Cultural Assumptions in The Catcher in the Rye
In the late 1940s and early 1950s teenagers began to feel marginalized. They were stuck between post-war families and the baby boom. Adults didn't want anything to do with different values or morals that teenagers were starting to have. They felt ignored and disenfranchised by adults so they started to create their own culture. They began hearing music that was like nothing before; about wild parties, high school sweethearts and fast cars. They became heavily influenced by this African-American blues and rock and roll. Teenagers were able to gain access to this influence through the television and radio. Stars like Elvis Presley crossed white culture with blues and rock and roll. It helped to make the music more popular and expand the influence to other teenagers. It was greatly accepted among teenagers and it became entertainment and an identity for teenagers. They began using their own slang, drinking, smoking, dressing differently and worshiping cars. Teenagers began wanting acceptance from their peers instead of adults. Teenagers were acting like they were brand new to society without any idea of the rules that society had. The music they listened to scared adults. It was talking about things that were not meant to be mentioned. It talked about sex and racial mixing. It was a form of freedom for teenagers while it was seen as a nightmare by adults as it threated the rules of society and went against the status quo. The music set them apart from the adults and brought teenagers together.
One element from 'The Catcher in the Rye' that highlights teenage delinquency is character. Holden Caulfield continuously demonstrates teenage delinquency throughout the novel. He swears, gets into fights, drinks, smokes and acts like a teenage delinquent in the 1950s.
An example from the novel that shows Holden demonstrating teenage delinquency is at the start of the book, when he is running to Mr. Spencer's house. On the way there he has to stop and take a break because he needs to get his breath back. "I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I waited a second till I got my breath, I have no wind, if you want to know the truth. I'm quite a heavy smoker-that is, I used to be." What he says here is also proven later in the book when he states, "Then I lit another cigarette - it was my last one. I must've smoked about 3 cartons that day."
J.D. Salinger is questioning the influences that Holden has and how that just makes him lonely. He is doing this through character. It can be seen that Holden's parents don't want him around and ignore him. Holden is sent to boarding school where he doesn't have much influence from his parents. This was the reality for most teenagers in the 1950s has they were stuck between post-war families and the baby boom.
The limited time that Holden does spend with his parents is when he gets kicked out of a school or right after a tragic event like when Allie died. At both these times Holden see hysterical, depressed, smoking, mad and worried. This can be seen in the book when he is talking about his mother; "She's nervous as hell. Half the time she's up all night smoking cigarettes." It can be seen that he is ignored by his parents when his mum buys him something he didn't want. His mother sends him the wrong type of ice-skates and it depresses Holden; "She bought me the wrong type of skates - I wanted racing skates and she bought hockey - but it made me sad anyway. Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.' As a result of this Holden feels very alone and finds himself wanting to ask anybody to be with him. An example for this is when he first arrives in New York and asks the cab driver, that he only just met, to join him; "'Well - take me to the Edmont, then,' I said. 'Would you care to stop on the way and join me a cocktail? On me. I'm loaded.'" Holden feeling this way makes him act like a teenage delinquent. The influences that Holden does have is his peers and things he sees or reads. Most of Holden's peers felt the same way he did, lonely and ignored. An example of this is when Ackley constantly comes into Holden's room; "There was a shower right between every two rooms in our wing, and about eighty-five times a day old Ackley barged in on me." These feelings resulted in teenagers acting out for attention. They wanted the attention of their peers and their parents. This is the reason why Holden smokes, drinks and swears; to make himself feel less lonely. It is also the reason why Stradlater is always taking girls on dates that one; he hardly knows because he just met them and two; that he doesn't really care about; "'What's her name?' I was pretty interested. 'I'm thinking … Uh. Jean Gallagher.' Boy, I nearly dropped dead when he said that. 'Jane Gallagher'. I said." J.D. Salinger is questioning whether teenagers felt ignored and lonely, which caused them to break the rules and try to get attention, rather than them being a teenage delinquent.
J.D. Salinger is challenging societies views of teenage delinquency because he believed that teenagers were disobeying the rules because of the way that society was treating them. Teenagers were lonely people who felt marginalised so they were trying to get societies attention.