Cultural Assumptions in
The Catcher in The Rye
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Cultural Assumption 1:
Teenage delinquency is the committing of minor crimes by young people. It was how the actions of the teenage generations of the 1950s were defined. Therefore a teenage delinquent is a person of youth that tends to break the rules and commit crime, particularly minor crime. For example, smoking and drinking alcohol while underage.
In 1950's, teenagers were starting to break away from following society standards of conformity, they way they behave. The older generations didn't know how to react or relate to or understand the youth. The older generations were also quite intimidated by teenagers as they didn't know how they were going to react if they tried to discipline them. This lead to misunderstanding and made teenagers feel as though they were left out. Rules became stricter, and more was expected of teenagers. This lead to them breaking even more rules, rebelling. This was the beginning of teenage of delinquency.
Example of a 1950s gang.
in The Catcher in the Rye
In the novel Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger uses the cultural assumption of teenage delinquency as a main point of the story. Salinger demonstrates this cultural assumption by the use of character. The character he uses to show teenage delinquency is the main character, Holden Caulfield.
Holden Caulfield is shown as a teenage delinquent in many ways. One major way that Holden is shown as a delinquent is the fact that he is constantly smoking. In the book Holden also recognises that he smokes to much and that he doesn't have very good lungs .'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' (page 3). It was not socially acceptable for teenagers to smoke in the 1950s and this behaviour was considered to be that of a delinquent.
While teenage delinquency was present in the 1950s, JD Salinger challenges the idea that every teenager was a delinquent. JD Salinger presents the idea that maybe they were just lonely and misunderstood. He makes the reader think that maybe teenagers only misbehaved because they wanted attention, as they felt they were being left out and lonely. He does through the use of character and theme of isolation.
JD Salinger shows Holden Caulfield as a delinquent through the way he acts. He is constantly smoking and he swears in almost every sentence, '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.' (chapter 2).
Also throughout the whole novel he is trying to buy alcohol and he has dropped out of or been expelled from many schools. Also, he flunks out of all his classes, except for English. 'They kicked me out. I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas vacation on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all.' (chapter 1). Also, he flunks out of all his classes, except for English. The novel is even based on him running away from the latest school he has been expelled from. However, certain scenarios in the book that make the reader believe that maybe Holden was just lonely.
In the book, Holden always ends up alone. He meets with people and visits people but in the end is always by himself looking for company. Also he talks about being lonely and how he doesn't like the company of most people, because he thinks that they are phonies. This leads to him misbehaving because he is lonely and has no one to talk to 'The first thing I did when I got off at Penn Station, I went into this phone booth. I felt like giving somebody a buzz […] but as soon as I was inside, I couldn't think of anybody to call up. My brother D.B. was in Hollywood. My kid sister Phoebe […] was out. Then I thought of giving Jane Gallagher's mother a buzz […]. Then I thought of calling this girl […] Sally Hayes. […] I thought of calling […] Carl Luce. […] So I ended up not calling anybody. I came out of the booth, after about twenty minutes or so.' (chapter 9). In this quote Holden thinks of people he can call but then remembers reasons why he cant call anyone of them, so he doesn't call anyone, leaving him all alone.
'Then I went over and laid down on Ely's bed. Boy, did I feel rotten. I felt so damn lonesome.' (chapter 7). This quote also shows that Holden is lonely.
'When I finally got down off the radiator and went out to the hat-check room, I was crying and all. I don't know why, but I was. I guess it was because I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome. Then, when I went out to the checkroom […] the hat-check girl was very nice. […] I sort of tried to make a date with her. […] She said she was old enough to be my mother and all'. (chapter 20). In this quote Holden explains that he is lonesome, that being the reason why he tried to make a date with the girl.
A reason for his loneliness is the fact that he isolates himself from everyone else. Isolating himself means excluding himself from others, 'Anyway, it was the Saturday of the football game. […] I remember around three o'clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen Hill. […] You could see the whole field from there, and you could see the two teams bashing each other all over the place. […] You could hear them all yelling' (chapter 1). This quote immediately tells us that Holden isolates himself by the fact that he is not at the game where everyone else is.
I believe that JD Salinger is challenging the idea of teenage delinquency because he believes that it is inaccurate to call teenagers that break the rules delinquents. While some teenagers in the 1950s did misbehave just for the fun of it, most of them didn't. He wanted to show the audience that teenage delinquents weren't all that bad and that maybe they just needed a little bit of attention.