Academic journal article Asian Social Science

A Discourse of the Alienated Youth in the American Culture: Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

A Discourse of the Alienated Youth in the American Culture: Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye

Article excerpt

Abstract

The post-war American society has been depicted in numerous literary works of the American authors among which, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is of significance due to its depiction of one of the most dominant discourses of the period and onward, the alienated youth. The Wars inflicted upon the members of the society an intrinsic wound, the indelible sense of alienation in relation with the world around. The vulnerable youth in particular is a population exposed to such a dangerous phenomenon. Employing Kenneth Keniston's theory of alienation presented in his influential book, The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society (1965), this paper focuses on Salinger's timeless novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) to excavate the symptoms of the alienated youth in Holden Caulfield, the protagonist. In so doing, specific elements would be detected in the American youth; namely: the distrust of commitment, pessimistic existentialism, the feeling of contempt for the self and the people around, aesthetic quest, the fragmentation of identity, the refusal of adulthood and socialization, facing different social problems, the fear of death and having experienced traumatic incidents early in life. The results would show the inevitable probability of any single adolescent suffering from alienation. That is to say no matter what cultural background the youth come from, he or she would eventually inflate with the osmosis of realities of the world around and would resort to the destructive bubble of alienation just as Holden did in The Catcher in the Rye.

Keywords: post-war America, alienated youth, Holden Caulfield, Kenneth Keniston

1. Introduction

Taking into account the 1950s and the post-world-war traumatic effects on the American society, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye could be of significance due to its circulating one of the most dominant discourses of the period in which it was written that is the discourse of the alienated youth. From 1929 to 1939, the latter being the beginning of the Second World War, America had been going through the Great Depression. The war was an antidote to this social state and as Graham (2007) puts it this way, "It left the post-war America in an atmosphere of self-doubt and fear which all lead to a materialistic, consumerist life-style in specially the middle-class" (11).

Apart from Salinger, numerous authors such as Bellow, Heller, and Lee were highly influenced by the aftermath of the war. This paper is inspired by Salinger's famous work and one of the most controversial novels of the post-war era, The Catcher in the Rye, which was composed in 1951. As long as the excavation of the symptoms in the alienated youth is concerned in the novel's protagonist, the paper's main source of backdrop theory would be that of Kenneth Keniston's presented in 1965 book, The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society.

In so doing, specific features in detecting the alienated youth will be treated; namely: the distrust of commitment, pessimistic existentialism, the feeling of contempt for the self and the people around, aesthetic quest, the fragmentation of identity, the refusal of adulthood and socialization, facing different social problems, the fear of death and having experienced traumatic incidents early in life.

The significance of the study is not in the well-known fact of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, being considered as an alienated boy, but the application of Keniston's theories in particular to portray the hidden elements of alienation in the character for the first time and finally reaching the conclusion that such socio-psychological issues can as well be detected in a more universal scale rather than merely in the American society and in the ones who have the eyes to see the phoniness of the world around. Adding to the importance of the issue, Chen (2009) in his article probing the adolescent problems in the Catcher in the Rye concludes that:

Holden represents a social type of adolescents growing up in a corrupt and decadent world and serves a mirror for his peers. …

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