Adolescence is the transitional stage in life where a child transforms into an adult. It is the bridge between childhood and adulthood, where juvenescence, youthfulness, and innocence are lost and replaced with maturity, responsibility, and the burdens of the harsh real world. A teenager is filled with all kinds of emotions and raging hormones, which makes adolescence a period of anxieties and uncertainties, of stress and misunderstandings. It is a search for self identity and self esteem. In The Catcher in the Rye, adolescence is a major thematic concept that is visible throughout the novel. The realities of adolescence that Salinger most criticizes are blind conformity, social cliques, and peer pressure.
Salinger criticizes and disapproves of blind conformity, a phenomenon of adolescence. This blind conformity is discernible through many of the students at Pencey that obliviously go with the flow, follow others ideas, and do things just for the sake of it. The criticism of the author is made apparent and valid due to the fact that everyone at Pencey goes to school, does their work, and acts like they are excited for the football game because that’s the norm of society, and students are fearful that they will stand out if they don’t conform. Many teenagers automatically and unconsciously resort to conformity because they find it easier than being themselves and having unique individual character. When adolescents blindly conform, they don’t express their true inner self. Instead, they reveal only their phony exterior self, which signifies immaturity because if adolescents were truly mature then they wouldn’t be concerned about what other people think of them. This phoniness and lack of maturity that blind conformity generates is the reason for Salinger’s criticism. Also, Salinger utilizes the character of Holden as a foil to blind conformity. Holden refuses conform to his family or his school’s ideas, which exhibits his ingenuity. This foil is perceivable because unlike Holden, the other boys at his school just “study so that [they] can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day” (Salinger 170). The author indirectly criticizes blind conformity through Holden and further uses him to elucidate that individuality requires a tremendous amount of courage and confidence in ones self.
Additionally, Salinger disparages social cliques, another reality of adolescence because he perceives them to be phony and as well a means of losing individuality because of the necessity of conforming to the group in order to stay in. Through Holden, Salinger highlights how different groups stick together “in these dirty little goddam cliques” just like how “the guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick together, and the goddam intellectuals stick together” (170). Cliques are inclusive groups of people who share interests, views, purposes, and patterns of behavior, and are predominantly visible in school environments. Teenagers disperse and associate into cliques because it provides them with a sense of belonging and security. It eliminates loneliness and instability within adolescents by allowing them to be a part of something. When in a clique, one must conform to the group and as a result, uniqueness and individuality are lost and replaced with phoniness, artificiality, and disingenuousness. Furthermore, the author underscores the problems with cliques such as the negative influence it has on the values and beliefs of an individual and the false sense of protection and safety it gives adolescents, which therefore validates his disapproval of cliques. Essentially, Salinger criticizes social cliques because “it’s full of phonies” (170).
Finally, peer pressure is a reality of adolescence that is criticized by the author. Peer pressure is distinguishable in the scene where James Castle commits suicide by jumping out of a window as a result of the constant tormenting and harassing he has received from the other kids at his school. Salinger criticizes this phenomenon because peer pressure engulfs teenage society and makes it a strenuous and burdensome task to keep ones individuality, self esteem, and emotional stability. Holden succumbs to peer-pressure in the scene where Holden and Stradlater are in the “can” and Stradlater asks him to write his English composition for him and Holden complies. Youths are relentlessly bombarded with peer pressure and are pressured by society to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, in an attempt to gain acceptance. Salinger’s belittlement of peer pressure is due to the devastating and pitiful impact it has on adolescence.
In conclusion, the adolescent realities that Salinger most criticizes are blind conformity, social cliques, and peer pressure. These phenomenons are censured by Salinger due to the phoniness, immaturity, and loss of individuality that result from them. The author does a miraculous job in capturing the essence and aspects of human nature and the harsh, ruthless realities of the unforgiving world. Through Salinger’s graphic and accurate depictions, readers are forced to confront actuality and the brutal truth on the reality of life, which is illuminating and intriguing, yet at the same time very depressing. Salinger’s revelation and exemplification of this scary truth is dismal simply because the truth hurts.