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The Aftermath of War as Portrayed in J.d Salinger's Novel, The Catcher in The Rye

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The Aftermath of War as Portrayed in J.d Salinger's Novel, The Catcher in The Rye essay
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War Without A Cause

America won; humanity lost. Although World War II led to America’s increased prosperity, it ended up leaving a wound too great to be mended, a wound that bleeds through the pages of J.D. Salinger’s coming-of-age novel The Catcher in the Rye. Conformity pervaded 1950s American society, and this book is one of the few that challenged America’s mainstream values; it delivered a shock factor with its main character, Holden Caulfield, daring to question the status quo. Serving as his personal catharsis, Salinger used the novel to express an indictment against a corrupt and dysfunctional society. Catcher can be compared to a hard-hitting exposé-only in this case, it’s on an entire country. The novel’s indicative of a culture that could not yet comprehend the weaknesses and frailty of society, a culture that, in simple terms, was having an identity crisis. The Catcher in the Rye serves as J.D. Salinger’s personal anti-war manifesto, meant to be a public exposé on the damage war can cause.

The voice of Holden became as deeply affected by war as the writer himself. Holden speaks in a recognizable teenage language, but at the same time, never uses vulgarity in a self-conscious way, as shown when he sees that “somebody’d written ‘F*** you’ on the wall. It drove [him] damn near crazy. [He] kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it” (Salinger 268). Holden’s disapproval of the word adds to his belief that everything in the world has been corrupted by vulgarities. To him, “You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “F*** you” right under your nose” (Salinger 273). War has proven to be an inescapable part of the human experience; while it may seem that people go to war to better or protect their ways of life, the outcome of war, as conveyed by Holden, will always bring about the loss of humanity and innocence. It is not simply that Holden is afraid of adulthood and is trying to protect youth; he is afraid of war itself and its negative effects. It is evident that the war affected Salinger’s writing; if it did not, Salinger would not have created the main character as someone who is so protective of innocence. One of the greatest effects of war is the destruction of innocence, and given the way Holden acts towards youth, it is obvious that Salinger knew this. Holden tries so desperately to shield Phoebe from this vulgar language, as he so obviously wants to protect her innocence. Deep in his heart, however, Holden knows the truth: even “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “F*** you” signs in the world. It’s impossible” (Salinger 274). He knows the outcome of war is inevitable, and he is aware that war is detrimental to preserving innocence. The war affects his speech in this way; Holden’s love for innocence wouldn’t have been nearly as great if Catcher weren’t written during the aftermath of a war.

Holden’s character serves as a distinct reminder of the utter pointlessness of the violence that comes with war. Holden leaves very few questions to be answered in regards to his views of war when he starkly states, “I’m a pacifist” (Salinger 59). Holden’s love of innocence may relate to his pacifist attitude in the world of war where children are utterly helpless. They have no power to protect their lives or to take away the lives of others. Holden feels an urge to shield these innocent beings and allow them to play endlessly. When describing what he wants to do with the rest of his existence, he says, “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be” (Salinger 232). He views children’s innocence as an antithesis to adulthood, and he attempts to transform his alienation into something meaningful by coining himself “the catcher in the rye.” He strives to create a concept of youth and innocence only in their opposition without really trying to understand what they mean. His inability to come up with his own ideas can be connected with the identity struggles that come with the aftermath of war. During war, people lose themselves; knowing this, Salinger may have given Holden an internal identity struggle for this reason. It can be difficult to create an original identity, and so, just as a baseless identity does not represent the postwar public, Holden’s identity of “the catcher in the rye” doesn’t represent him. The catcher in the rye “is the only thing [he’d] like to be” because him being so is in direct contradiction with who he is (Salinger 232). Holden calls for sincerity and originality but is also aware that both aren’t completely possible, making him an ironic and hypocritical character. This irony can correlate to the identity crisis that war brings about; it is easy to form a baseless identity to cope with the trauma that comes with war, which, ironically enough, is exactly what Holden Caulfield does.

The Catcher in the Rye seems to be a simple coming of age story about a young boy who struggles with identity and adulthood. However, taking into account its historical context, the novel has a much deeper meaning than that. The special quality of Holden’s language is its triteness; his language does not serve a solid function; all it really does is give a sense of the looseness of his thoughts. Had the war not occurred during the writing of this novel, Holden’s voice and language would have been significantly different. As for his identity struggle, Holden serves to represent the postwar public. Both his language and identity crisis characterize him as someone who is, in essence, a sensitive youth who represents the aftermath of war. Salinger purposely created him this way; he uses Holden to express his anger toward war. World War II led America to become financially prosperous, but, given the massive loss of innocent lives, the nation was heavily wounded. Salinger recognized this, and he created the book and the character for this reason; he revealed the damaging effects of the war through Holden Caulfield, and effectively so–he managed to expose not only the pointlessness of war, but the brokenness of America. From this, the reader can consider important questions: if World War II didn’t happen, would Salinger have even written the novel? If World War II had not caused Salinger to hate war, would an angsty teenager named Holden Caulfield ever have roamed the streets of New York?

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The Aftermath Of War As Portrayed In J.D Salinger’s Novel, The Catcher In The Rye. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from
“The Aftermath Of War As Portrayed In J.D Salinger’s Novel, The Catcher In The Rye.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
The Aftermath Of War As Portrayed In J.D Salinger’s Novel, The Catcher In The Rye. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Sept. 2021].
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