Cultural Assumptions in TCITR
1ST POST : TEENAGE DELINQUENCY
1950s teenage delinquency refers to the growing new teenage culture emerging in the 50s. In the late 40s and early 50s, teenagers started to find themselves in an identity crisis. They were stuck between conforming to the society that people like their parents created, or succumbing to the new temptations of the era like rock music, race mixing, fast cars and sex. The teenagers suffered marginalisation and disenfranchising, where they were discriminated against for having new ideas and wanting their own identity, and being forced to be a part of a world order where they did not feel belonging. The sense of belonging that rebellion and fun brought was the reason that teenagers stemmed off to form their own separate culture and hierarchy.
Salinger uses the theme of sadness to emphasise that there were problems that teenagers had real problems that stemmed from their frustration at parents and the isolation that they received from parents' marginalisation. Holden is seen by authority figures in the book as a clear delinquent, and it is assumed that he acts out for the point of acting out, as was the cultural assumption at the time. Whereas, it is clearly shown in the book that Holden is a delinquent, he just doesn't have the same motivation that his teachers, parents, and even strangers he meets along his travels.
The example that shows the cultural assumption of teenage delinquency is :
"He read it anyway, though. You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it. The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere. I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It certainly was a dirty trick.
Holden is clearly resentful of having his failure glorified and is pushing that resent towards his teacher
JD challenges the assumption by making the point that, teenagers aren't sometimes motivated by just wanting their own identity. Holden has genuine mental health issues, and the recurring theme that he ends up alone, all the way throughout the novel, shows that he has plenty of 'emotional ammunition' for acting out and being a rebel. The point that the whole novel is trying to get across is that the assumptions about teenage rebellion and delinquency may not be for the reasons that adults believe, and that the childhood trauma and loneliness that stems from things like boarding schools and shunning can lead to real mental health issues, that can cause the ill effects like rebellion against society that the 1950s saw teens doing.
JD questions the delinquency assumption using this quote :
"After they left, I started getting sorry that I'd only given them ten bucks for their collection. But the thing was, I'd made that date to go to a matinee with old Sally Hayes, and I needed to keep some dough for the tickets and stuff. I was sorry anyway, though. Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell. " In this JD is saying that Holden is not a bad guy because he acts out, he has a heart of gold when he is not being depressed by the consequences of his actions.
I think JD is questioning this assumption based on his own personal experiences in his teenage years. After being sent away to a military school, it is fair to assume that he was scrutinised on many aspects of his behaviour, conscience and personality. I believe that JD is simply putting a premise that all teens aren't bad and need to be punished, as we can assume that even through any misgivings in his teen life he still turned out as one of the world's most controversially famous authors.
2nd Post : MENTAL HEALTH
Mental Health in the 1950's was seen completely differently as it is today. In the 50s, not much was known about neuroscience and the inner workings of the brain, and even less about the diagnosable problems that affect the incredible machine. Anybody exhibiting odd behaviour was simply seen as a 'loon, nutcase, weirdo or vegetable'. Due to this, mental patients were 'swept under the rug' into institutions. The main treatment of the time was lobotomy or electroshock therapy, where either the patient was driven to the line of sentience by a needle in the brain, or by shocking the components of the brain that cause illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar etc.
Holden himself personifies the illness bipolar and depression through his actions and mood swings. His lack of understanding towards his own mental state is also a reference towards the unknown feature that was ever present in medical diagnosis at the time.
One example is shown through this quote of Holden's :"I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing. Her green dress hanging in the closet and all. And besides, I don't think I could ever do it with somebody that sits in a stupid movie all day long. I really don't think I could. "
JD uses references to Holden's rapidly deteriorating mental condition through the use of his theme sadness in the book and the loneliness of the Holden character. His expulsion, rejection and mood swings all add up consecutively in the book to make Holden appear as mental as he feels. JD's use of desperation in the book shows that through all Holden has been through, he just wants to find a sense of belonging, which is a normal symptom of mental patients and usual for teenagers of the time period, who dealt with these issues
"After Old Sunny was gone, I sat in the chair for a while and smoked a couple of cigarettes. It was getting daylight outside. Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can't imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed." Holden is seen to be going so far off the deep end that he talks to his dead brother, in an effort to find belonging. The use of the daylight in that quote also emphasises the severity of his condition. But, Holden still maintains a level of humanity in the book, which was unheard of at the time.
I think JD challenges this because, as a teen of the time, he may have dealt with the apparent loneliness and anxieties that teenagers of the time suffered. Whether the pressures came from a school sense or from the desires to fit in with society, JD expertly questions the assumption that if somebody had an issue, they could be written off as a loon.
3rd post : Addiction (sex, alcohol, tobacco)
Sex addiction, and addiction in general, was very misunderstood in the 1950s. The thought that somebody could be addicted to a superficial substance like sex, drugs or alcohol was unheard of, as the culture at the time was that of a respectful, responsible human being. The understanding of addiction at the time was that people acted out their involvements with drugs or alcohol as just doing the wrong thing, and that the choice to reoffend was all down to the willing participant. The knowledge now is that certain acts or substances cause a need in the body. When somebody is frequently involved in drugs, sex, alcohol or even pornography, the brain has to reconfigure to account for the added endorphins (the things that make us happy). When the body is starved of these chemicals, it craves, causing the effects of addiction.
JD uses repetition when the topic of Holden's memoires comes to sex or chemical addiction. Holden says that he has witnessed and is feeling first-hand the ill effects of illicit substances, such as when he "practically caught TB" from smoking, or when he ordered a prostitute, but was more looking forward to just getting the affair over with. ". I kept hoping she'd be good-looking. I didn't care too much, though. I sort of just wanted to get it over with." Whenever Holden is put in a situation that he can learn from, he makes the same mistakes again, like asking over and over for Sally to run away with him. The public see his action as choice, but a number of factors have led to his addiction to things that were seen as taboo for teens.
JD questions the assumptions of addiction by using Holden's personal thoughts and opinions. There is a significant reoccurring them in many of Holden's personality aspects that have him not knowing much about his own mental standpoint and workings. Holden does not fully understand why he is a sex addict, but he knows he is one ("
I mean that's my big trouble. In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. ). He acts and feels the same way about his mental health issues. Holden finds comfort but also shame in overanalysing every aspect of his opinions, but as not much was known of sex addiction at the time, he doesn't fully know much either
The example I am using is :
" Stradlater kept taking these shadow punches down at my shoulder. He had his toothbrush in his hand, and he put it in his mouth. "What'd you do?" I said. "Give her the time in Ed Banky's goddam car?" My voice was shaking something awful." Jane is one of the only girls who Holden appreciates as a genuine person, so the idea of her hooking up with Stradlater angered him and made him nervous, as there was an unknown aspect for Holden, as he had strictly seen the two as friends. His lack of understanding and real confusion shows his addiction and obsession.
I think JD questions this assumption because he, once again, appreciates that there is more going on in this issue than meets the eye. He knows and understands that teenagers at the time were suffering from things like mental illnesses, addiction and loneliness. The character of Holden, and his challenges along the way, are used to indicate the genuine issues that at the time teenagers couldn't understand and adults were sceptical of to their existence. JD knows their problems from experience, and is challenging society itself using his novel.