Analytical Essay Sample on “The Catcher in the Rye”: Holden’s Attitude to Life

Posted on December 15, 2008

Holden’s attitude to life in general is a very confusing and indecisive one. His constant criticism and dislike for “phonies” joint with his strange ideas about life and the way in which it should be lived creates an image of a confused, uncorrupted and socially unstable youth of the time. He seems to think that he is the only person who can see, or who can be bothered to stop and see, that people are becoming mechanical in their following of the same old path of life that they know as the only way to live. He argues throughout the novel that these people are all fake and do not have any original ideas of their own. Throughout the novel Holden weaves a complex web of different feelings, attitudes and thoughts that can only be described as naively cynical.

Holden’s attitude is negative towards all people who manage to enjoy the “phony” pleasures of life and live pleased that they have achieved the necessary. He feels this because he himself does not manage to fulfill the credentials needed to live this life both at school and outside. He does not contain any of the necessary qualities such as being an able sportsman, apt student or deadly womaniser. His attitude to society in general is a mixed one. He criticises everyone and not one person he writes of in the novel, other than his sister Phoebe, Allie and Jane, passes his approval. His attitude to society is actually quite realistic and normal for someone who takes the time to stop and see what’s actually happening. His views are consolidated from the experience he receives by living both the teenager at a respectable private school and the rich boy living almost on the streets. He experiences the dirty scheming mind of downtown New York as well as the uptown posh life of a well-raised prep school boy. He criticises everyone he meets on his pub-crawls around the New York bars and nightclubs. This is ironic in itself because he’s the young man with prospects drowning himself in his own misery and doing the best (unintentionally) to ruin his own life that could be perfect. Yet Holden knows that his life could be perfect but he is so persistent in not being the same as everyone else that he tries his hardest to ignore the opportunities for a perfect life given to him.

His attitude towards women is a strange slightly old-fashioned one. He has the utmost respect for women and has difficulty acknowledging the maltreatment of them by other males. He tries to be friendly with most of the women he meets in the novel but often, as he always fears, he is rejected by them either on the account of his age or his strange behaviour. He attempts to get along with most of the males in the novel but finds it difficult at times as his super-critical assessment of people makes it difficult for him to get along with anyone. He befriends people that he feels sorry for such as Ackley, the pimply boy ostracized for being different. He does this because he can relate to him, as Holden knows well the feeling of rejection and loneliness. Holden’s mind is susceptible to change as whenever anyone makes him feel stupid, rejected or frustrated he immediately dismisses any good qualities he earlier graced them with. Everyone Holden talks about, other than Allie, Jane and Phoebe, has at least one flaw. In Holden’s eyes this makes them different to him, which translates to inferior at times. Whenever Holden is made to feel different, rejected or strange by anyone he becomes angry and frustrated.

Holden feels strongly about certain identities that the people around him tend to assume. He indirectly creates an image of consumerism as an extremely negative part of the average American life, this is represented by his dislike of American status symbols (of prosperity) like the Cadillac, he believes that they should not represent a goal in ones life His ideas are not always right as he believes only what he wants and is not open to outside opinion and help. He generalises ideas about people; he says that people just want to take the easy and thoughtless option of following the ordinary cycle of life, he assumes that anyone who strives to own a Cadillac must be just another ordinary American with no original and thoughtful prospects in life.. It really displeases him when all people wish to achieve out of life are the material rewards, such as money, cars, houses and luxury goods. At times Holden makes it plain that he himself would like to enjoy this lifestyle and in some instances does. But I believe he only wants it because he knows he cannot achieve it and that really he feels no need to be the same as everyone else. This need grows from the way he has been made to feel that he is different in a bad way. He contradicts himself a few times in the novel but the main instance was when he wished everything to just stop and not become any worse that it was. His main reason for wanting the world to stop was driven by his protective feelings for his sister who he does not want to be corrupted by the evils in life. Holden really wants for her to retain the childish innocence that he loves so much. This wish for life to stop contradicts his beliefs that people should change the phony lives that they lead.

Holden is an easy person to please. It seems Holden needs only small inexpensive things to please him. An example is the red hunting- cap he purchases when in New York. He buys the cap at a shop outside the station in New York directly after he loses all the fencing equipment on the subway. He does this because he believes even a small thing such as the hat can change him. It is a method of hiding from the humiliation or embarrassment he feels at any point in the novel. He uses it simply to hide when he gets into any situation he doesn’t like. This proves a weak point in Holden’s nature. He is actually very influenced by what people think of him and tries to hide when any negative views of him arise. This red hunting-cap manages to transport him from the mess of a life he leads to a different, better one. Another example of a significant item he owns is the mitt of his deceased brother Allie. This mitt that contains poems written by his little brother has a very significant value to Holden. It is a sentimental item that Holden even uses as inspiration for an essay he writes for the ungrateful Stradlater. The mitt is very valuable to Holden as it contains all the memories of his much-loved brother Allie. Holden places only real importance to things that have sentimental value.

While Holden insists that he places no importance on items of luxury he does seem to enjoy quite a luxurious life which in turn contradicts his basic beliefs. What Holden tries to prove to us in this novel is the importance of following ones own path of identity and being original. He, though, takes this to ridiculous lengths which remove all sense of sympathy we might have had for our protagonist, he is quick to speak, but much slower, he in fact ignores thinking when he can. From this we gather that thinking could prove fatal to Holden’s strong-hearted ideology.

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