毕 业 论 文
论文题目Holden Caulfield: A Rebellious Hero against
Mainstream Culture in The Catcher in the Rye
专 业 英语语言文学
年 级 06级
职 称 教授
（2010 年 6月）
II.The Connotation of the Mainstream Culture in 1950s
Rebellion in Holden‘s III.
3.1 Rebellion against the Clique Spirit of Pencey Prep
3.2 Rebellion in Holden‘s Speech
3.3.1 Loose Danglings
3.3.2 The ―Grammatical Errors‖ in Holden‘s Speech
3.3.3 The ―Vulgarity‖ and ―Obscenity‖ in Holden‘s Speech
3.3.4 Holden‘s Slangs
J.D.Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye is a ―modern classic‖, as one of the most controversial novels in the contemporary American literature.
my paper illustrates Holden‘s rebellion，mainly analyzing Holden‘s rebellion in three aspects: Holden rejects the clique spirit--form personal–interest clique and discriminate against dissenters，which Pencey Prep embodies ; he completely denies
the core part of the mainstream culture-the pursuit of the American Dream， the
pursuit of the material success，thoroughly exposing the deceptiveness and corruption
of the American Dream and shattering its requirements of him into pieces; his acts
show the characteristics of“escape”-he considers the social status and material
success，which the masses are fascinated with，worthless and runs farther and farther away from the mainstream culture，and his violent language shares the common
characteristics with that of the counter-culture movement: various kinds of language
expression whose existence cannot be permitted by the mainstream culture-loose
danglings and perpetual insistences，grammatical errors obscenity and profanity in his
speech and the slangs are like daggers thrown at the heart of the mainstream culture.
Holden clearly shows his rebellion against American mainstream culture in
1950s. Also with this comprehensive interpretation will the hero--Holden be deeply
KEY WORDS: Holden; the mainstream culture; rebellion
Jerome David Salinger (1919- ), an outstanding American novelist and short
story writer, is best known for his controversial novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Salinger is recognized by many critics and readers alike as one of the most popular
and influential authors of American writers after World War II. His only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, has become one of the two ―modern classics‖ in contemporary American literature.
First published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye continues to be one of the most
popular novels ever written as well as one of the most frequently banned books in the
United States, the most controversial novel in American contemporary letters.
Surprisingly, the first reviewers of The Catcher in the Rye were mixed. Some reviewers praised the novellas a significant success. S.N.Behrman wrote a lengthy and
very favorable review in New Yorker, and Clifton Fadiman wrote, ―That rare miracle of fiction has again come to pass: a human being has been created out of ink, paper,
and the imagination.‖ In a review that appeared in New York Times on the day of the novel‘s publication, Nash K.Burger called The Catcher in the Rye ―an unusually brilliant first novel‖ and Paul Engle, in the Chicargo Tribunt, found it“engaging and believable‖, a novel ―full of right observation and sharp insight.‖
Other critics were less enthusiastic about it. Anne Goodman, in New Public, said
that ―the book as a whole is disappointing‖. It is ―a brilliant tour-de-force, but in a writer of Salinger‘s undeniable talent one expects something more‖. Ernest Jones admitted that The Catcher in the Rye was a case history of all of us, but he said that
though the book was always lively in its parts, The Catcher in the Rye, as a whole was predictable and boring. In England, the critic for Times Literary Supplement has also thought Holden is very touching and the endless stream of blasphemy and obscenity
in which he talks is incredible.
Even less enthusiastic were the notices that appeared in Catholic World. Reley Hughes, the reviewer in Catholic World complained about the novel‘s excessive use
of amateur swearing and coarse language, which, he argued, made Holden‘s iconoclastic character monotonous and phony. Morris Longstreth, writing for Christian Science Monitor, found the novel to be wholly repellent in its mingled
vulgarity and sly perversion. Longstreth concluded that The Catcher in the Rye ―is not fit for children to read.‖ For although Holden is alive and human, he is also
preposterous, profane, and pathetic beyond belief. The criticism on The Catcher in the Rye and Salinger became so active that they finally resulted in“The Salinger Industry‖. In Saturday Review, the novelist and critic Harvey Swados expressed dismay at the
outpouring of articles, essays, and speculations about the writer. Unquestionably,
Salinger is a clever writer, with a first-rate ear for the mannerism of speech peculiar to
Obviously, the above comments show that critics and readers chiefly focus their
attention upon the text itself. They stressed on ―being concerned with the text itself‖.
But the text is only the basis for the analysis of a work of art. For Salinger, it is very
difficult to completely separate his works from his life and the sensitive and particular
era of American history he lived and his novel were published in: the 1950s. Though
he has once lived a recluse life, he can not escape the influence of this situation.
According to Lionel Trillng‘s theory, there are many factors shaping a work of art.
Literature can not be separated from the outside influences and forces. These outside
factors often take the form of social, political or historical or cultural background.
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden‘s rebellion against mainstream culture is omnipresent in the whole novel which deeply impressed me. My paper aims to
analyze Holden Caulfield as a rebellious hero against mainstream culture through the
social and cultural perspective.
My paper concludes the following chapters. Chapter One is introduction. Chapter
Two is devoted to the connotation of the mainstream culture in 1950s, mainly
analyzing the definition of the mainstream culture, American Dream, and the
language at that time. Chapter Three explores Holden‘s rebellion against the mainstream culture as is shown in his rebellion against the clique spirit of Pencey
Prep, rebellion against the American Dream and rebellion in language; Chapter four is
conclusion，functioning as the conclusive remark of my study of Holden‘s rebellion
against mainstream culture in 1950s.
II.The Connotation of the Mainstream Culture in 1950s
2.1 The Definition of the Mainstream Culture
Before defining mainstream culture, it is very necessary to explain the meaning
of ―culture‖. It is well known that there are several hundreds different definitions for
―culture‖. Among these definitions, a couple of them are widely accepted by the
people all over the world. I choose one of the definitions for culture from Kamalini
Draid‘s book Acculturation of Anti-culture. In this book, the author holds a belief that culture is made up of people‘s manners, customs, its technology, its religious organization and its system of valuation. There is another widely accepted definition
for culture. It comes from Bruce A.Ronda‘s book The Discourse of American literature culture and Expressions from Colonization to Present. In this book Ronda thinks that culture puts emphasis on the importance of the current meaning as ―way of
life‖. His definition for culture has a more general and more inclusive meaning. In this
book, Ronda also expounds the meaning of ―discourse‖ .He thinks that discourse is a system of expression. As a matter of fact, writing is one of the systems of expression.
One society can articulate its culture by this kind of expression. Literary works also
reflect the dominant view of what‘s real and meaningful. As a result, the mainstream culture finds its expression in literary works to reflect the dominant view of what‘s
real and meaningful in the way of life. In other words, the mainstream culture reflects
the dominant values and ideals in the way of life of the society.
But with the development of the mainstream culture, some people can not accept
the dominant views and values of the society. So, in their own inner heart, they feel
greatly suppressed and depressed. This happens to many writers. They feel
disappointed with the mainstream culture and begin to express their dissatisfaction
and rebellion against it. J.D.Salinger is one of them. Like other writers, Salinger
expresses his defiance against the mainstream culture in his writings, especially in his
novel The Catcher in the Rye. His masterpiece is created as a typical rebel Holden, the
hero of his masterpiece against the mainstream culture in the 1950s.
2.2 The American Dream
The American Dream plays a major role in Americans‘ life. It is an age-old，
glorious dream. Its emergence closely accompanied the American myth，which the
earliest immigrant who came to the north American continent made up. In these early
immigrants’minds，they were meant to reestablish a commonwealth based on the
Teachings of the Bible，restore the lost Paradise and build the wilderness into a new
Garden of Eden on the new continent，where man could at long last live the way he
should and unbounded opportunities could be met through hard work and wise
management. This new world was in sharp contrast with the old one，with the
Americans as Newmans standing simple and sincere before the world. The world was
just reborn and the human beings were endowed the second chance to reestablish a
complete new ideal life. The earliest successful representative of the American Dream
was Benjamin Franklin，whose image inspired countless Americans who wanted to
create a new world with their own dreams fulfilled. As time went on，the American Dream gradually integrated into the American life and even developed into an
American Dream complex which hundreds of thousands of Americans clung to. But
with several hundred years‘ development，especially with the prosperity of the economy and the Prevalence of the materialism，the connotation of the American Dream experienced serious distortion and deformity. It was greatly corrupted and
degenerated. In the Roaring twenties，through the description of F.Scott Fitzgerald，
The corruption of the American Dream was exposed. The Death of a Salesman (1949)
by Arthur Miller revealed the deceptiveness of the dream and further Pointed out its
important change: college education became the key to success. When the time
reached 1950s，the society became highly prosperous and material culture became the
dominant trend in life. People were alienated by the materialized technocratic
civilization and lived on the spiritual“wasteland”，having lost their spiritual faith. The Pursuit of the material success became the sole content of the American Dream. The
important means by which to achieve the dream was college education. People in
1950s tended to see a college degree as a means of a good，safe career rather than as the mark of a liberal education. Working in the office，making a big money and driving a Cadillac were their ideals. Cars became the materialized symbol of the
American Dream，reflecting a person‘s wealth and social status.
2.3 The American Language in 1950s
As we all know, language is the carrier of the culture which it tries to express.
Language is also the mark that indicates the civilization and progress of the human
beings. So the mainstream culture of any nation inevitably requires a kind f civilized
expression which conforms to its standards.
In the 1950s, America had come to a stage of prosperous and affluent industrial
society. American people were not concerned about the social problems any more.
What they wanted to do was to make fortunes and become a member of the middle
class. For most intellectuals at that time, they were employed by all kinds of postwar
bureaucratic agencies. They became the new middle class and the toll serving for the
bureaucratic agencies. As a result, they lost their independence and moral convictions.
In their writings, they used a formal and elegant language to describe America as a
paradise. At the same time, several prominent writers such as Mark Twain and
Hemingway used the colloquial language in their literary writings. However, this kind
of language was rarely found in most writings. It was inevitable for most writers to be
influenced by the mass media. So their writing was greatly commercialized. They
wrote with a language that conformed to the language standard of the mainstream
society. What‘s more, there was a strict censorship system in America. The writings
full of obscene and rude words were not allowed to publish and banned from schools
and libraries. Any writer at that time knew what risk he had taken if he wrote a work
full of rude and obscene words. However, J.D.Salinger in his masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye in 1951 created his hero Holden who opposed to the mainstream
culture and spoke an inelegant, obscene and profane language.
III. Holden: A Rebel against the Mainstream Culture
3.1 Rebellion against the Clique Spirit of Pencey Prep
The clique spirit is characteristic of Pencey Prep school in which Holden studies.
The clique spirit of Pencey Prep is one of the important parts of the mainstream
cultural code. The so-called clique spirit makes students in several cliques and trains
them to cling to common interests and hobbies of the clique. Finally they can form a
kind of so-called fraternity or brotherhood. When they grow up and enter into the
society, they continue to belong to those fixed cliques and strive for the profit of the
organization. In the post-industrial society, the clique spirit is very important to the
In this novel, Holden‘s parents fail to choose a proper prep school for him. They only send their son to one private prep school after one another. Pencey Prep in
Agerstown, Pennsylvania is the third expensive private prep school. It claims to mold
boys into splendid clear-thinking young men, the ―strictly for the birds.‖ In fact, Pencey Prep strangles the individuality of the youth. In Holden‘s eyes, the school is boring, trivial and full of phonies. The atmosphere of Pencey Prep suffocated him. He
cannot obey the rules and regulations which govern the boarding school. At Pencey,
one is expected to play the game, whether it is the football contest pitting Pencey
against Saxon Hall or what Dr.Thurmer, Pencey‘s headmaster, calls the larger ―game of life‖. The critic Geismer Maxwell further pointed out that Holden opposed to all
those old routines and stuck to his own opinions, even about literature. Though he
thinks he is quite illiterate, he reads a lot. He thinks that Out of America is a good book. In contrast, A Farewell to Arms has become a real phony book. Holden regards
himself as a ―half-coward‖. To some extent, he is a type of hero who shows the strong
opposition to the popular aggressive tough images in Hemingway‘s novel. However, even such a ―half-coward‖ hero hates bitterly ―these dirty little goddam cliques‖ which is the hypocritical team spirit in Pencey Prep. The students in Pencey Prep
collude with one another and show prejudice to others. The peer group‘s influence is very powerful. ―Yow ought to go to a boy‘s school sometime…every body sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team
stick together, the Catholics stick together, the goddam intellectuals stick together, the
guys that play bridge stick together. Even the guys that play bridge to the goddam
Book-of-the-Month club stick together.‖“There was this one pimply, boring guy,
Robert Ackley, that wanted to get in, and they wouldn‘t let him. Just because he was boring and pimply.‖
But Holden feels identified with Ackley. In Pencey Prep one student should not refuse
to receive a statement the others think true. James Castle is forced to jump out of the
window to die just because he despises them and cannot accept the statement that they
think true. This situation can be found everywhere in the book. “you have to keep making believing you give a damn if the football team loses…‖“I know this one Catholic boy…then, after a while right in the middle of the goddam conversation he
asked me, did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any
chance? the thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to
find out if I was a Catholic…he would‘ve enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all.‖“I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the
goddam subway. It was not all my fault…The whole team ostracized me the whole
way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a way.‖
Through the above examples, it is obviously seen that Pencey Prep puts
pressures on people to conform to and to be like one another. Holden lives in the
school and feels deeply the pressure. He sees through the deceptive and hypocritical
clique spirit of Pencey Prep and condemns it by showing a nonconformist attitude and
rebelling against it. So disgusted with Pencey Prep and his peers, he deliberately
flunks several subjects and chooses to ―drop out‖ of the boring school.
3.2 Rebellion against the American Dream
The American Dream has played a significant role in the American life and
become the inseparable part of the mainstream culture. Later on, it has even
developed into the ―American Dream Complex‖. With the development of science and technology and economic prosperity and material affluence, the connotation of
the American Dream has greatly changed. It has come to a stage of material
corruption and decadence. Many writers have described the deteriorated American
Dream in their writings. After the civil war, Mark Twain said that the American Myth
had begun to evaporate. In the 1920s, Fitzgerald created The Great Gatsby showing
that the American Dream had been broken. In the 1950s, J.D.Salinger exposed the
corruption of the American Dream in The Catcher in the Rye. Undoubtedly, it is a complete and merciless negation of the American Dream. To Holden, this most
important representation of the mainstream culture is nothing.
The American Dream requires much of the children like Holden who come from
a rich middle-class family. The change of the American Dream can be proved in
Arthur Miller‘s novel The Death of a Salesman. In this novel, Arthur Miller pointed out that the college education is the key to success. In the 1950s, the Americans
looked on the college education as a means to gain a comfortable and decent job. As
the school advertisements of Pencey Prep says: ―Sine 1888 we have been molding
boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.‖ Both the teachers in Pencey Prep and
Holden‘s parents want him to study abroad so that he can learn enough to be able to
buy a goddam Cadillac someday. The successful representative is Holden‘s alumnus Ossenburger, a phony undertaker and the pet is a ―Pencey hero‖ named stradlater, a student in Pencey Prep. Old Ossenburger comes up to school in this big 19 goddam
Cadillac and claimed what a ―hot-shot‖ he is. The ―Pencey hero‖ stradlater lives a leisurely life. He is a popular student in Pencey. These two are the kind of persons the
school requires students to be.
Holden‘s brother D.B used to be a promising writer, but now he has become a Hollywood scenarist. In most people‘s eyes, his job represents the typical American
success story and a good example to follow. Even the little sister Phoebe requires
Holden to be something, to be a lawyer like his father.
However Holden cannot fit into the mainstream society and begins to reject the
American Dream‘s requirements. In the beginning, Holden was expelled by Pencey
Prep because he flunked four subjects. After reading the novel we know that Holden
is actually an intelligent and sensitive student, not the type of ―illiterate‖ boy as he claims himself to be. In fact, Holden has read a lot of books like those written by
Maugham, Hardy, William Shakespeare and many other writers. He is also good at
English and writing. He has his own ideas and thought patterns. Probably, he is kicked
out of Pencey Prep because of his defiance to the school education and educational
system. Furthermore, he was disgusted with the suffocating atmosphere of the school.
He cannot stand the life in all those private schools. ―All you to do is to talk about girls and liquor and sex all day…‖ He feels he was surrounded by phoniness. In the
novel, schools are not a place where students can healthily grow up but a place to
train students‘ competitive abilities to deal with the world. Stradlate is such an
example the Pencey Prep cultivates. After the college graduation, the successful life
course is to work in an office, to make a lot of dough, to play golf, to play bridge, to
buy cars and drink Martinis, and to look like a ―hot-shot‖. In such schools, the education is completely materialized and utilized. Holden hates Pencey Prep and its
educational system. So he rebels against it in his own way and decides to leave the
school to go to the west.
Holden disagrees with his little sister phoebe‘s suggestion to be a lawyer which is a status symbol in the mainstream society. He rejects his father‘s example, which is a typical success story. In the novel Holden‘s parents never formally appear in the novel, they lack the minimal real care for and understanding of Holden. His father
wants him to go to Yale or Princeton, but he does not want to go to any of those Ivy
League colleges. He neglects his parents‘ expectation for him. Here, the love between
parents and their children has been replaced by the material pursuit. It is first in the
family that Holden sees through the essence of the American Dream—corrupted and degenerate reality. The most surprising reality can be seen from Holden‘s former English teacher, Mr.Antolini. He is an adult representative in the society and Holden
trusts him the most. Mr.Antolini is married to an older woman, lives in an expensive
apartment in New York and is a pretty heavy drinker. He even tries to make Holden
believe his egoistic creed, ―the mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly