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cal, social, or even based on gender roles or the clothes people wear, is overwhelming. Elitism is also rampant in modern American society, and indeed many people conform to the idea that to become rich and successful or to become part of the social "elite" is the ultimate goal in life. J.D. Salinger demonstrates the difficulty and alienation of those who do not comply with the mainstream in a conformist and elitist society, portraying Holden Caufield as a troubled and depressed teenager who struggles to find meaning in his life.
Holden Caufield is an alienated and troubled youth. "Alienated youth in broad perspective include all those who are separated from, outside of, or dissatisfied with the mainstream of life" (Rogers 157). Holden is not satisfied with the conformist society he has lived and grown up in. He believes that the vast majorities who follow the "mainstream" of life are all "phonies" and follow a very shallow, selfish, and meaningless lifestyle. However, because of his different views of society and life, he is somewhat ostracized and does not fit in well with any group of people, nor does he have any close friends outside of his family. His hatred of conformity even leads to him labeling his brother as a prostitute for abandoning his writing in favor of being rich and famous.
"Also contributing to youth's alienation is disillusionment with their elders. Mass media have stripped away the façade of adults' respectabilityâ€¦ (Rogers 159). Holden is disillusioned with the adults around him, as all of them he considers phony. He is instead enchanted with the innocence of children and finally realizes that he wants to protect them when he becomes older. He does not want the innocence of children such as his little sister Phoebe to fade away, and does not realize that such things are inevitable. There is no doubting that Holden is very pure and innocent in some ways. It is his very goodness and openness in some aspects of life that lead him
to his very difficulties in his life. He expects others to be as good as he is and this does not happen always. For example, when he is trying to erase profane vandalism at the school, it shows how he thinks others should be more respectful, Holden does not want people, children especially, to be subject to this impure material. He hates the fact that these children could see this. He knows, however, that is not the case: .".. if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say 'Holden Caulfield' on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say F--- You.' I'm positive, in fact" (Salinger 204). Holden cannot just bear the fact that some people just have no respect for some things. It upsets him even more when it is written in a school where all the children are. This upsets Holden to no end. When Phoebe is on the carousel Holden wants to protect her but restrains himself. Holden wants to protect Phoebe when she grabs for the rings, however realizes he must let her try. When Holden thinks of this his dreams of being the catcher in the rye vanishes.Â He realizes that all children must fall, like he himself did. It is impossible to retain your innocence forever and to attempt to do such a thing to a child would be useless and naÃ¯ve. Essentially, The Catcher in the Rye is a story of a boy falling from innocence to enter adulthood. Today, when somebody holds on to their innocence they are often considered outcasts; and in the persons mind everyone who considers him this, is a phony, like how Holden saw everyone else.
Holden has searched for his identity for his entire life, but does not realize until he is almost an adult what his purpose is. "The search for identity, or the process through which a self-concept emerges, begins very early in life" (Ralston and Thomas 20). Because of his lack of aspiration until later in his life, as a young adult Holden is uncaring and somewhat shallow.
Conformity is the act of matching attitudes or beliefs to a popular standard that is considered to be the norm. Holden believes that the people who follow such lifestyles are
immoral and superficial. He obviously struggles through life, having failed out of four different schools. He seems to have made no lasting connections to people and at first has no real purpose in life. He is constantly critical and judgmental of others and practically everyone he meets is labeled as phony, boring, or insecure. He has essentially lost faith in society and does not have any goals or aspirations. "It is possible that children's understanding and beliefs about other societal institutions, which will be encountered in later life, may be influenced by their early experiences of school" (Barrett and Buchanon-Barrow 5). It is possible that Holden was influenced by the many different schools he went to as a child and believed that because they were filled with phonies and people whom he did not wish to associate himself with, the rest of society and other schools were the same and thus he did not try to achieve anything in either of those aspects.
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden alienates often himself from females. Holden often alienates himself by displaying abrasive behaviors and saying inappropriate comments. Sally Hayes puts up with Holden's actions for a while, but eventually she can't deal with them anymore. Jane on the other hand never even speaks to Holden because he cannot approach her. Holden's immaturity alienates him sometimes too. He often makes a fool out of himself by trying to act cool or older. Every time Holden does this he contradicts himself because he is acting fraudulent, something he despises deeply.
Depression is one of the main causes and effects of alienation. The rate of depression and suicide has increased greatly in the recent years, mainly due to the increase of ideas of conformity in society, and media depictions of such conformity. "In adolescent populations, the prevalence of depression increases markedly" (Clapp 124). Depression is much more common in
adolescent populations. Adolescents are very easily influenced by their peers or the media, and thus are much more susceptible to being ostracized and criticized.
Allie's death took a psychological toll on Holden's ability to grow up. Psychoanalytically, Holden unconsciously fears that he cannot succeed in life, therefore living in Allie's shadow as opposed to creating an individual personality. Cognitively, Holden believes that if he applies himself in life, he will overshadow his deceased brother. As a result, Holden sacrifices his adulthood in order to maintain the remembrance of his brother. The interplay between unconscious and conscious desires creates the underlying conflict of Holden's psyche throughout the novel and causes him great depression throughout his life. "A search for meaning, within young people's accounts of their bereavement experiences, may be understood to refer to broad spiritual or existential issues, such as: beliefs about an afterlife; whether a death had any purposeâ€¦" (McCarthy 87). Allie's death may have also been a turning point in Holden's life and it may have caused him to begin to truly search for meaning in his own life.
In American society, there is often a pressure to conform to mainstream ideas, or to fit in with everyone else, especially on children and young adults. This pressure can often lead to depression and self-pity. There are sometimes exceptions to this, including so-called "resilient children". Resilient children can resist peer-pressure and stress more successfully than the average child. "In the search for resilient children, a correlation that has almost always emerged is a warm and supportive relationship with parents" (Clapp 120). Family seems to be important in developing resistant children. It is important that society develops larger concentrations of resilient children in order to resist childhood depression and alienation. However, some may state that it is important that people experience anxiety and pain at some point in life, as it is an experience to learn from and will condition an individual. Offer states that "anxiety, depression,
shame, guilt, and anger are crucial in any stage of life. Holden seems to be somewhat of a resilient child. Although he is often depressed, suicide is usually far from his mind and even though others claim he will amount to nothing he does not listen to them. However, as the book progresses, he loses more and more of his grip on reality and even begins to question if his life is worth living.
Elitism in American society is very common as well, manifesting itself in the media and in the natural human desire to succeed. Children learn this early on from parents who push them and lecture to them on the importance of getting a good education, being competitive in order to get into a good college, and finally getting a good job and trying to enter the social elite. The social elite consists of the wealthy and influential people in society, and are looked up to and admired. Meanwhile, the poor and less-fortunate are mocked and ridiculed.
Although elitism and conformity can never be eliminated completely, it is important for society to attempt to control their influences. Such powerful ideas, coupled with the like-mindedness of the general populace, can drive the people who believe in their own ideas into depression, ostracism, and ridicule. The growth of such malignant ideas must be stopped before society is transformed into a single-minded entity whose opinions are only decided and governed by a powerful elite class. Creativity is a powerful thing, and with it the human race has achieved unbelievable feats, accomplishments no other known species in the universe has ever achieved. Without creativity, humanity is nothing but a mindless colony of ants, living only for subsistence and self-satisfaction.