Social Class & Conformity in the 1950s
Social class in the 1950s existed to determine a person place in society. People were put into 3 different social classes these were: upper class, middle class lower class. Although each person had the same rights they were expected to conform to the roles & responsibilities of their social class. For example, those who were born into upper class families were expected to do well in school, attend university and then marry someone who belong to the same social class as them. This was a lot different to those who were born into lower class families. They were expected to get a job and support the family financially and not to focus on things like education.
With conformity came rules. There were a lot of rules in the 50s which dictated how people thought and how they interacted with each other. Many of these rules applied mainly to teenagers. These rules included having to obey authority and not disobey it, had to control their emotions, were not allowed to even think about sex and to fit in with the group. Americans valued conformity because of the constant fear of communism and the loss of the `American Way of Life`.
Social Class & Conformity in the Catcher In the Rye
To demonstrate the cultural assumption of conformity & social class in the novel, J.D Salinger uses the language technique of a metaphor to show this. He uses a the metaphor `life is a game and you should play it according to the rules`, this is shown in the following excerpt from the novel:
And how you should play it according to the rules. He was pretty nice about it. I mean he didn't hit the ceiling or anything. He just kept talking about Life being a game and all. You know." "Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules." "Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it." Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right--I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game
This clearly shows the cultural assumption of conformity & social class and in order to be `playing the game of life` correctly you had to be on the ` right team` and `play according to the rules`.
This links back to the novel by showing Holden`s dislike of having to follow the rules and conforming to how others want him to be like.
Challenge of this Cultural Assumption
J.D Salinger challenges this cultural assumption by using the character of Holden Caulfield and his repetition of the word phony to describe those who choose to conform and follow the rules set out by society. Excerpts from the novel that show this include:
One of those stories with a lot of phony, lean-jawed guys named David in it, and a lot of phony girls named Linda or Marcia Pg 29
I'd be a phony if I let them Pg 42
By repeating the word phony throughout the novel, Salinger is questioning the assumption of social class and conformity by saying that those who chose to conform to the rules and social structure are all fake and cant think for themselves.