As Schuessler addresses in her article, “Get a Life, Holden Caulfield”, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is not as relatable with teenagers today as he was when the novel came out, but this only makes the importance of reading this book greater as it allows young adults today to wrestle with their own self identity in a society that often pushes for uniformity and a quick transition to adulthood. Holden’s speech, actions, and the world around him differ greatly from life today. Schuessler spoke to both students and teachers in Manhattan’s upper east side and all seemed to agree the Holden and his journey of self discovery are both not relatable and unrealistic in society today.
Holden Caulfield is a character that would not exist in today’s social climate, causing teenagers to alienate him. From the way he speaks to his actual actions, it is all very specific to the time period and region that The Catcher in the Rye is based in. The entire book is written as a first person narrative guided solely by how Holden perceives the world, causing everything that the reader sees to be very one sided and unique. In many novels there is a detached narrator making sure that no one character skews the story too much one way or the other. This is not the case in The Catcher in the Rye. Because of the style of the narrative, even if the reader does not enjoy certain aspects of Holden Caulfield’s character, they still have to endure two hundred pages of the world through his eyes. In her article “Get a life, Holden Caulfield” Jennifer Schuessler talks about how people are aggravated by and can’t relate to the speech patterns and word choice of Holden. A teacher that Schuessler spoke to said that “Holden Caulfield is supposed to be this paradigmatic teenager we can all relate to, but we don’t really speak this way or talk about these things”. Holden constantly calls people “phonies” and talks about how things “killed him”. This creates an unrelatable experience for the reader because even if they appreciate what Holden is doing, the way it is delivered is dated.
For students reading The Catcher in the Rye today, Holden’s actions seem just as obscure as his words. His journey, starting with failing out of his prep school and ending with him telling us his story from a mental ward, can be seen by many to simply be a series of irresponsible decisions coupled with incessant complaining. Salinger presents the reader with a troubled antihero that shared many frustrations of young adults in the 1950’s and 60’s, but would be near impossible to find in today’s social climate. Unlike Holden, teenagers today tend to try and find out where they fit into society rather than trying to change society itself. Not only would he not exist in reality but he would also not be the fictional protagonist. Students in Schuessler’s article often said, “I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.” All of this leads back to the point that Holden Caulfield is not relatable to young adults of today’s generation.
The 1950’s culture allows for young adults to try and find themselves much more than today’s competitive and homogenized society. Just as Holden would not appear in society today, neither would the plot of The Catcher in the Rye. The idea of a young privileged teenager failing out of prep school only to wander around New York City without responsibility on a journey of self discovery is unfathomable to many modern students. Perhaps when it was originally published, this idea wouldn’t have been entirely alien due to an increase in counter culture and self discovery especially through art and literature throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Other novels in the 1950’s such as “On the Road”, written by Jack Kerouac, also tell the tale of young troubled teenagers taking a journey of self discovery. Similarly both novels are written from the perspective of the main characters while recounting the story in order to inform the reader what they experienced. Yes, novels similar to these exist today but there are some key differences. Generally the protagonist is more “heroic” and has some sort of specific opponent or antagonist whereas in The Catcher in the Rye Holden is fighting society, an abstract ideal rather than a tangible human or organization. In society today there is no such thing as a counter culture. Being a rebellious teenager has become so cliche that even media, art, and literature look down upon it. Music has always been a very good indicator of how young people view the world. The Catcher in the Rye marks the start of mass movement of counter culture throughout all facets of society. If one looks at the music of the generation that would have read Catcher in the Rye it is more rebellious, barrier pushing, and unique than any piece of music one would hear today. Bands that came immediately after the Beat Generation include The Beatles, The Doors, and The Grateful Dead. All of these band sing about self discovering, rebellion, and were willing to push away from society in the actual music that they were creating. Today artists like Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and Justin Bieber all sing about light subjects and use the same production and writing styles. The Music industry in a key indicator of how homogenized society and popular culture has become, creating an atmosphere that alienates the idea of a journey of self discovery.
A journey of self discovery, such as Holden’s, is necessary in order to grow up and mature. In a society where this is not allowed as easily it is important to learn about someone else’s, even if it is fictional, so that we today can find smaller ways of doing the same. Today’s society consists of conformity and uniformity and the youth of today are not trying to push away from this. Holden’s speech, actions, and the society that he exists in vastly differ from the social climate today causing modern readers to be unable to relate to him.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1951. Print.
Schuessler, Jennifer. “Get a Life, Holden Caulfield.” The New York Times 20 June 2009: n. pag. The New York Times. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/weekinreview/21schuessler.html?ref=books&_r=0>.