A Critique of Society? J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951)

Hausarbeit, 2013

11 Seiten, Note: 3,0



Table Of Content


Preparatory Schools


How Pencey Prep is being portrayed

Why prep school?

Dishonesty of Adulthood

What is “phony” to Holden?

Is Holden right?

Important Characters

Sally Hayes

Phoebe Caulfield

Museum of Natural History




Having read The Catcher in the Rye one really feels like understanding the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. It seems like J.D. Salinger succeeds in depicting the problems of a 16-year-old boy in a post-World War II setting. He captures “the pressures and tensions of prep school life, the confusions of late adolescence, the quest for a vaguely defined religious purity, or the contradictions that result when its protagonist too neatly divides the world into phonies […] and the pure spirit.” (Pinsker XV)

It is one of the best selling books of all time selling “more than 60million copies worldwide and has remained a stalwart on school curricula since it was published in 1951.“ (Longbottom) I think the reasons for its success are clear; adolescents from today still can identify with Holden’s confusion with the adult world and his angst of growing up and changing.

The novel was a highly controversial book from the day it was first published in 1951. It was banned in many countries and taken of the reading list from many schools. People who tried to ban the book often argued with the books language and said that its message was “trash” (Pinsker 35) as the following excerpt of a letter Edward B. Jenkinson, a teacher and book author, received from an upset parent shows: “’You call yourself a Christian, but you’re an atheist, a communist, and a smut peddler. Why do you insist on having children read four-letter words in school? Why do you want to fill their minds with trash? Why do you want to destroy America’s children?’” (Pinsker 35)

Is Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye a critique of the society surrounding Holden? That is the subject matter of this paper concerning preparatory schools, the dishonesty of adulthood, some important characters and the Museum of Natural History as depicted in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Preparatory Schools


A preparatory school like the one Holden is visiting is “usually a private one, that prepares students for college.” (Wehmeier preparatory school)

How Pencey Prep is being portrayed

What Holden thinks of these kind of schools is made pretty clear at the beginning of the book when Holden talks about the advertisement of Pencey Prep: “’Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.’ Strictly for the birds.” (Salinger 2) Holden doesn’t seem to think that prep schools are any superior to normal schools: “They don’t do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school.” (Salinger 2)

Salinger said in 1953: “My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book [….] [I]t was a great relief telling people about it." (Crawford 4) From that statement we can deduce that he drew from his own experiences at Valley Forge Military Academy. (qtd. in Pinsker 99) I think Salinger is trying to show that all that glitters is not gold. Preparatory schools in general divide people: The ones that can afford to go to that kind of private school are even more unlikely to get in contact with people who do not have much money. Later they will attend a college – at least that is what preparatory school is aiming at - where also only the ‘haves’ are able to pay for because of the high enrollment fees, unless the ‘have-nots’ are willing to get into debt or are blessed with a scholarship. That way the gap between the rich and the poor gets bigger.

Although Pencey “has a very good academic rating” (Salinger 4) the way of teaching does not bear fruits with Holden. He flunks four of his five subjects with the exception being English. But I do not think it is the educational system’s fault, it is Holden’s totally lack of interest and drive to do something with his life as the exam paper he wrote in Mr. Spencer’s history class shows: “That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can’t seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me”. (Salinger 12) Holden does not care about being expelled from school again. He thinks there is no place for him in society and that it does not make any difference if he tries or not because he is on the wrong side in life and his situation cannot be changed: “If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right – I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it?” (Salinger 8)

Why prep school?

Why has Salinger chosen the American prep school as the setting for Holden? I think he wants to denunciate the changing role of the family in society. As Brookeman in his essay states: “As modern society developed [….] the family began to cede power and responsibility for educating and controlling children to others.” (Brookeman 59) ‘Others’ meaning private schools and colleges. Maybe if Holden had attended a public school or at least a school near his family he would not have revolted against the system by being unteachable and not willing to put effort in anything really. He does not want to belong to this kind of people and he makes that pretty clear when he enters Ernie’s bar: “Even though it was so late, old Ernie’s was jam-packed. Mostly with prep school jerks and college jerks.” (Salinger 83)


Ende der Leseprobe aus 11 Seiten


A Critique of Society? J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951)
Bayerische Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
ISBN (eBook)
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critique, society, salinger, catcher
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Anonym, 2013, A Critique of Society? J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951), München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/295468


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