Analyse how one or more ideas challenged your understanding of society.
Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger is a buldinsgrosman novel which evinces the story and development of 17-year-old Holden Caulfield. Catcher in the Rye follows this cynical teenager’s abrupt decision to go to New York after he is expelled from his fourth school, Pencey Prep. Through this journey, the audience sees how he disregards the so-called phoniness of the adult world and only takes interest in the childlike and youthful lifestyle. The author’s purpose of writing this book is to create a realistic character that the viewer can relate and connect with. Salinger does this by giving the characters autobiographical elements from his childhood to show the insatiable account of society today. Throughout the film the ideas of artificial vs authentic, painfulness of growing up, alienation as a form of self protection, challenged my understanding of society today.
Firstly, the idea of artificial vs authentic challenged my understanding of society in many ways. Holden meets this prostitute named Sunny whilst staying at the Edmont Hotel and as they started to make conversation he notices and exclaims to the reader that, “you didn’t expect her to be a big old prostitute with a lot of makeup on her face and all but she just sat cross legged and jiggled her foot”. This quote shows that Holdens stereotypes of ‘one of those cliche prostitutes’ had been broken and someone so pure and young as Sunny was earning money through engaging in sexual activity. The audience could tell from the description of Sunny sitting on the chair that she was noticeably uncomfortable especially as they were both quite young. Her body language and the way she carried herself hindered the nervousness and discomfort she felt in the situation. This ‘jiggling of her foot’ was a sign of anxiousness or irritation due to acting in a contradictory way of her true self. Her true, comfortable self is not like this but she is putting on this artificial mask and hiding behind it as a form of safety.In general many people also bounce their legs but this is significantly more obvious in scary situations like a job interview, before a speech or in a meeting. During these times we may feel the need to act professionally, properly or work adequately, this is similar to what Sunny does. As this work image is very different to the way we behave or act authentically around friends, family or at home. This idea challenged my understanding of society today as I, similar to Holden never thought that someone that seems seems young and likable like Sunny would become a prostitute. Sunny could have been an authentic individual that easily had a stable career if only she had gotten the right education, motivation and help to back her up. Instead she is living artificially behind someone else’s face with a story completely different to her own. It made me see that some people have to do certain things like imitating and putting on fake persona’s to stay alive in society. However, on the other hand I realized that the persona that a person puts on may seem nice and approachable but doesn’t necessarily mean that their personality is a carbon copy of it.
Another example of a character that was artificial rather than authentic was Holden’s date, Sally. During the intermission of their movie, Sally is ignoring and not even acknowledging Holden’s existence. This shows the reader that Sally does not want to be seen around Holden due to embarrassment. To avoid him she even starts a conversation with George from Andover who to the reader seems to be a fellow ‘phony’ (in Holden’s words) just like Sally. According to Holden, George is “a guy she’s probably met once before”. This shows that Sally is putting on an act to get the attention she wants and make the connections she needs. To the audience she seems like a bit of a social climber, talking to George so earnestly about the same interests they supposedly have rather than Holden who is her date. This is in contrast to the way she acts around Holden who receives only very short, sharp replies like “marvelous” and “lovely”. These one world responses don’t seem to be very thought out or empathetic. The author shows how she is simply taking Holden for granted in the situation. She is artificial while seen in public with Holden but acts authentic while in private. The emotions she displays whilst with Holden don’t show any authenticity which is seen by her replies. It feels like Holden is just being pulled along by a string and she is waiting for someone ‘better’ (higher in social status) like George to drop Holden. kind of playing him along a string. This especially challenged me as I personally believe that honesty and empathy are the best policy. It made me realize even further that in society people are not as ‘lovely’ as they perceive to be. Though they dress up nice or put on some make-up their persona of you as well as their personality is not what you make out to be.
The idea of mental illnesses challenged my understanding of society in many ways. “Phony” is a world Holden uses repeatedly in the novel. Holden uses it to describe anyone he doesnt like and also to hint at possible issues in society. While talking to the nuns Holden says that, “I’m always saying ‘Glad to’ve met ya’ when I’m not at all glad to have met. If you want to stay alive you have to say that stuff”. Here Holden refers to staying “alive” and though he may mean it metaphorically he is hinting at the fact that literally (physically) staying alive is also difficult. He refers to ‘alive’ metaphorically, by shows that you have to say ‘that stuff’ to stay current and relevant in society. His use of the word ‘that’ makes it seem like it is not that important and he is not interested in trying to stay relevant to society but rather he is doing it because he almost must. This is further emphasized through the use of colloquial language ''to’ve met ya", this informal slang makes it seem like Holden is up to date with hip culture and trends. This makes the audience feel much closer to Holden as a character even though he is someone that isn’t involved in such culture. While ‘alive; is referred to more realistically by hinting at his weak mental state. He is trying his best to make contact with people, have good relationships and move on from hardships by becoming an adult. However, it isn’t easy and so he may have had instances in life where he has wanted to end his life due to the anxiousness and worry he may feel of growing older and having to gain responsibility for yourself. This shows that though Holden’s stress and anxiety isn’t outwardly shown it is still present. This is the same for many other people as mental illnesses tend to eat individuals up from the inside especially if bottled in. This challenged my understanding of society as it made me realize that there are many people out there which could include people close to me who also have mental illnesses. These people may not have people to rely on or talk to and hence they may be suffering alone. Another example of when Holden showcased his mental ilness was by referring to commitng suicide when talkng about other things in exageration. “It was our last game for the season and you should commit suicide if Pencey Prep didn’t win”. This quote is an example of a hyperbole. Holden uses the ‘comite suicide’ quite freely here as if it holds no depth and value but actually he is exaggerating the emptiness he has about how the other boys on the team feel if they lose. The author shows how it feels like Holden is blaming himself for the loss before it’s actually happened and though many may seem like this is just an over exaggeration it is how Holden truly feels. Holden and the boys have such high expectations and if they are not met then Holden will feel and doubt himself for it. This may include the small and insignificant mistake he made or something he said. These are all symptoms shown by Holden’s mental illness. This has made me realize that high expectations can be difficult to meet. Especially when you have put a lot of effort and hard work into something but it doesn’t work out, it can be hard to grasp a sense of reality. You can come to hate yourself and start taking blame even when it wasn’t your fault. This can lead to increased chances of anxiety and pressures so individuals may choose to completely block and alienate themselves from society. I have been further challenged by understanding of society as when comparing Holden as a character which was written in the 90’s to 2022. It is interesting and scary to think that issues around mental illnesses are similar to this day even after 30 plus years of human development. There are definitely more facilities to help cater people with it but the outlook, perception and prejudiced way of thinking towards people with mental illness hasn’t changed much. Many people still act up not knowing that their friends have a mental illness which leads to damage to both parties.
Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger displayed the ideas of artificial vs authentic and mental illnesses which challenged my understanding of society today. I was able to see that though these are frequently spoken topics many issues still lie around these.