Holden Caulfield As The Typical Teenager

barley-field.jpg (11258 bytes)Adolescence is a complicated time in a person's life. It is the time when young people leave their toys behind and enter the world of adults. Often, an adolescent does not know where they fit in. They are expected to act in a mature fashion, yet they are not allowed to make many decisions. They feel like they are receiving a mixed message from their elders. As a result, teenagers rebel against authority. They do the opposite of what is expected of them: they drink, smoke, swear, and sometimes they do not do as well in school as they are capable of. Youths are quick to point out the faults of adults, since they themselves are being criticized for this behaviour. Teenagers also try to be independent and act like adults. They experiment with things like sex and alcohol, yet they still act like children at times. Sometimes responsibility is just too much for them to handle. In addition, adolescents use their own unique language of slang and swearing. This is partly to rebel and partly to find their own identity. These typical teenage traits are found in the music of our time. Many teenagers use music to express their anger and confusion. By listening to the music of adolescents, someone can learn many things about them. They can learn about the way teenagers act, what their feelings are, or how they deal with their problems. The book The Catcher in the Rye also reveals what it is like to be a teenager. The protagonist of this novel is Holden Caulfield. He experiences the confusion of being an adolescent. The book tells of Holden's behaviour during these trying times. J.D. Salinger's portrayal of Holden Caulfield as the typical teenager is an accurate one because of Holden's language, his experimentation with adult behaviour, and his rebellion against the adult society,as seen through the music of adolescents.

To begin with, Holden Caulfield uses the typical teenage language that is found in music, thus J.D. Salinger accurately portrays him as the typical teenager. When someone listens to teenagers talk, they usually hear a variety of swear words and slang terms. Each generation can be identified by their particular language. While something in the early 1900's would be "grand", it would be "groovy" in the sixties, and "cool" today. Many slang terms can be found in the music of teenagers. One example is the song Epic by Faith No More. The lyrics are as follows:

It's so cool, it's so hip, it's alright
It's so groovy, it's outta sight.

Many words in the song are slang, not proper english. Swearing appears in many other songs. An example of this is Get in the Ring by Guns 'n' Roses:

You wanna antagonize me, antagonize me mother fucker
Get in the ring mother fucker
And I'll kick your bitchy little ass

There are many swear words in this song. This reflects the amount of swearing done by the typical teen. Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye also uses slang and swear words in his speech. For example, when he is talking about the football game near the beginning of the novel, he says:

. . . I was standing way the hell on top of Thomsen Hill, right next to this crazy cannon . . . you could see the two teams bashing each other all over the place. You couldn't see the grandstand too hot, but you could hear them all yelling, deep and terrific on the Pencey side . . . scrawny and faggy on the Saxon Hall side . . .

When Holden says, "crazy," "bashing each other all over the place," "hot," and "faggy," he is using slang terms. In proper english he would have said, "interesting," "fighting," "well," and "dislikable," respectively. He also says, "hell," which is a swear word when used in this context. Another example of Holden's language is when he is talking about his grandmother:

I have this grandmother that's really lavish with her dough. She doesn't have all her marbles any more - she's old as hell - and she keeps sending me money for my birthday about four times a year. Anyway, even though I was pretty loaded, I figured I could always use a few extra bucks.

Holden uses slang words like "dough," "marbles," "loaded," and "bucks." If this was proper english, it would have been:

My grandmother is lavish with her money. She is senile because she is elderly. She sends me birthday money approximately four times a year. Even though I was wealthy, I decided that some additional money would be useful.

Holden does not use proper english in his speech. He uses slang and swear words throughout The Catcher in the Rye. Because Holden uses language similar to that found in teenage music, J.D. Salinger accurately portrays him as the typical teenager.

In addition, J.D. Salinger accurately portrays Holden Caulfield as the typical teenager because he experiments with adult behaviour, just like teens in music. Because teenagers are advancing from childhood to adulthood, they are inclined to experiment with "adult things." This includes drinking, smoking, swearing, or having sex. Also, "the transition to adulthood...is generally defined as the time when individuals begin to function independently of their parents." The girl in the song Fallen Angel, by Poison, is experimenting with being independent. She runs away from home, only to find that life on her own is not what she expected:

Now she found herself in the fast lane
Living day to day
Turned her back on her best friends, yeah
And watched her family slip away.
Just like a lost soul
Caught up in the Hollywood scene . . .

The girl is trying to be an adult by living on her own, but she is not "grown up" enough to survive. Her life becomes unhappy and she loses the people that she loves. Another song where an adolescent experiments with adult behaviour is Can't Stand Losing You by The Police. In this song, the boy is treating puppy love like it is true love. Because he is too immature for adult behaviour, he becomes suicidal over something an adult would not consider to be serious:

I see you've sent my letters back
And my LP records and they're all scratched
I can't see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesn't make no sense.

The boy is experimenting with the adult behaviour of being in love. However, true love rarely occurs at so young an age. He considers suicide because he believes that is what an adult would do if they lost their true love. Another example of experimentation is found in Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meatloaf. In this song, a seventeen-year-old boy promises to love a girl "to the end of time" so that he can have sex with her. However, he soon discovers that he made a mistake:

So now I'm praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
'Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don't think that I can really survive.

The boy wanted to experiment with sex, but he found out it was too much responsibility for him. He had to stay with a girl he did not like. He let his hormones make a decision instead of his head, and therefore did not make a mature decision. He was too immature to experiment with adult behaviour. Teenagers in music try to be adults, and so does Holden Caulfield. One thing he does is drink, even though he is under the legal age. An example of this is when he tries to order a drink in a bar:

I ordered a Scotch and soda, and told him not to mix it - I said it fast as hell, because if you hem and haw, they think you're under twenty-one and won't sell you any intoxicating liquor.

Holden drinks even though only adults are allowed to drink. Another thing he does is smoke. For example:

Finally, I sat up in bed and smoked another cigarette. It tasted lousy. I must've smoked around two packs since I left Pencey.

Smoking is an adult activity, and Holden smokes to be more of an adult. Even though the cigarettes taste bad, he still smokes them. Holden also wants to have his independence, like an adult. He asks Sally Hayes to run away with him so they can live on their own:

We'll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that until the dough runs out. Then, when the dough runs out, I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all and, later on, we could get married or something.

Holden wants to live on his own like an adult. He wants to be independent and support himself. In addition, Holden does other adult activities like swearing, and he wants to experiment with sex. Teenage characters in music and Holden Caulfield experiment with adult behaviour like drinking, smoking, swearing, having sex, and trying to be independent. Therefore, Holden is the typical teenager.

Finally, J.D. Salinger accurately portrays Holden Caulfield as the typical teenager because he rebels against adult society. This is how a typical teenager acts in songs. Adolescents rebel against their parents, teachers, and other adults. They are trying to be independent and act like adults, but adults restrict them. They tell teenagers what to do and how to act. An example of this is the song Let's Get Rocked by Def Leppard. In this song, the father is telling the boy what to do, but the boy has other plans:

Stop bugging me
Don't shake my tree. He said,
Who me?
Not my style, man
No way
Come on, get real
I'm sorry dad, gotta disappear
Let's get the rock out of here.

The boy in this song talks back to his father because his freedom is being taken away. The boy wants to decide for himself what to do with his life, and be independent. However, his father is trying to run his life. The boy rebels by not doing what he is told. Another song that shows rebellion against authority figures is Smokin' in the Boy's Room by Motley Crue:

Smokin' in the boy's room
I tell you I was smokin' in the boy's room
Now teacher don't you fill me up with your rules
'Cuz everybody knows that smokin' ain't allowed in school.

The boy is smoking at school even though it is against the rules. The teachers try to stop him from doing it, but he rebels. He refuses to obey their rules. By breaking the school rules, he is rebelling against adult authority. Another song that shows teenagers rebelling against adults is Riot Act by Skid Row. This song tells of the anger a teenager has towards hypocritical adults:

I never wanted to be president
'Cause it's nothin' but an ego trip, yeah
I didn't want your education
'Cause it's nothin' but a pile of shit

He thinks that everything adults force on him is bad. The president is supposed to be a respectful man, but often he is not. Teenagers are always told to stay in school, but there are problems in the education system. He feels that adults are misleading young people into believing things that are false. For these reasons, he rebels against adult society by rejecting their ideas and values. Teenagers in music rebel against adults, and so does Holden Caulfield. One thing he does is get poor grades in school. Adults in society always place a great emphasis on education, but Holden does not think it is important. As a result, he rebels and does not do his work:

They kicked me out. I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas vacation, on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all. They gave me frequent warnings to start applying myself - especially around midterms, when my parents came up for a conference with old Thurmer - but I didn't do it. So I got the axe.

Even though the adults tell Holden to apply himself, he does not. He does what he wants to, not caring what adults think. Holden also rebels against adult society by complaining of it's "phoneyness." One thing he thinks is phoney is how everyone acts like they are sophisticated by discussing the Lunts. After he sees the Lunts' show, he says:

The show wasn't as bad as some I've seen. It was on the crappy side, though . . . At the end of the first act we went out with all the other jerks for a cigarette . . . You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear how sharp they were.

Since Holden thinks society is phoney, he tries not to act like everyone else. He also criticizes them. He rebels by not having the same opinions as everyone else. In addition, Holden drinks, smokes, and swears to rebel. Teenagers are not supposed to do these things, but he does anyway. Adolescents in music and Holden Caulfield rebel against adult authority figures. Therefore, J.D. Salinger accurately portrays Holden as the typical teenager.

J.D. Salinger's portrayal of Holden Caulfield as the typical teenager is an accurate one because of Holden's language, his experimentation with adult behaviour, and his rebellion against adult society, as seen through the music of adolescents. If someone listens to teenage music, they hear slang and profane language. Similar words are used by Holden Caulfield. Adolescents do things like smoke, drink, have sex, and leave home to be like adults. This behaviour is common with teenage characters in music, and with Holden. Also, Holden rebels against the "phoney" adult society. So does the typical teenager in music. Since the music of adolescents reflects their own thoughts and experiences, it reflects what the typical teenager is like. Because Holden Caulfield is similar to the characters in songs, he is therefore a typical teenager. Holden's life even reflects J.D. Salinger's own teenage years. Salinger "was expelled from several private preparatory schools," just like Holden Caulfield. Because Holden is a typical adolescent, he is the type of character teenagers can identify with. They think of him as a friend. It is nice for teens to know how others cope with adolescence.



Related Books:

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye (Cliffs Notes) by Stanley P. Baldwin

Related CD's:

The Real Thing - Faith No More
Use Your Illusion II - Guns N' Roses
Open Up and Say ... Ahh! - Poison
Greatest Hits - The Police
Bat Out of Hell - Meatloaf
Adrenalize - Def Leppard
Decade of Decadence - Motley Crue
Slave to the Grind - Skid Row



Property of Suzanne P. Currie. Updated July 02, 2007 01:37 AM -0400.