The 1950s are typically viewed as an easy-going and comfortable decade. More properly it was a transitional era seeing revolutionary changes in the home, the workplace and attitudes toward sex and age groups. Conformity is an expectation that society places on you, they have an idea that you must have a family, buy a car, get married, begin working at a young age etc. this was known as the “American mold”.
Conformity was prevalent in the time of 1950s when J.D Salinger was writing the “Catcher in the Rye”. The concept of conformity can be shown throughout the book when Holden Caulfield refers to certain people as phonies, rude, snobbish and how everyone is all the same and do the same thing.
“Then I watched the phonies for a while. Some guy next to me was snowing hell out of the babe he was with. He kept telling her she had aristocratic hands. This killed me.”
In this quote Caulfield presents an example of how phony older people are. He finds it ridiculous that the guy is telling his date she had ‘aristocratic hands’, he also finds it hilarious that the adjective of aristocratic is being used to describe somebodies hands. This then leader Caulfield to question as to why society is even referencing aristocratic expectations.
J.D Salinger challenges conformity in the book by showing that not everyone wants the same thing and has the same future planned out for themselves. Caulfield is portrayed as an outsider and he makes the wrong decisions because he doesn’t want to conform and doesn’t want to do what society wants. For example, Teenagers are expected to attend school and get good grades. However Holden attends a school and is then expelled because he flunked 4 subjects. His teacher tries explaining to him he needs to apply by the rules and do as expected.
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."
J.D Salinger challenges the cultural assumption conformity through Caulfield’s agreement to his teacher, Mr Spencer’s, advice about life and how it’s a game.