Boys Will Be Boys Essay, Research Paper
Honors English 10
19 April 2000
Boys Will Be Boys
Holden Caulfield, portrayed in the J.D. Salinger novel Catcher in the Rye as an adolescent struggling to find his own identity, possesses many characteristics that easily link him to the typical teenager living today. The fact that they book was written more than forty years ago clearly exemplifies the saying “boys will be boys?” no matter what period of time is taking place. Holden’s actions are those that any teenage can clearly relate with. The desire for independence, the sexually related encounters, the questioning of one’s religion, the individual view of the world as a whole, the language, and dealing with teenage pressures such as drinking and smoking are issues that almost all teens have had or will have to deal with in their adolescent years. Thusly, this novel and its main character’s experiences can easily be related to and will forever link Holden with every member of society, because everyone was or will be a teen.
The first and most obvious characteristic found in most teens, including Holden, would be the desire for independence. Throughout the novel, Holden is not once wishing to have his parents help in any way. He has practically lived his entire life in dorms at prestigious schools, and has learned quite well how to be on his own. “This tendency of teenagers took place even in ancient history, where the freshly developed teen opts to leave the cave and hunt for his own food” (Kegel 54). Every teenager tries, in his or her own way, to be independent. Instead of admitting to one’s parents of a wrongful deed, the teen tries covering up the mistake or avoiding it in hopes that they won’t get in any
trouble. They feel that they have enough intelligence to think through a problem without going to their parents for assistance. When Holden hears the news that he has been expelled from Pency, he concludes that his parents would not know of this for a few days. Therefore, he would wait from Saturday until Wednesday, to let his parents “get it and thoroughly digest it” (25) and then face the consequences, which will more than likely be less severe after his parents calmed down. He states, “I didn’t want to be around when they first got it. My mother gets very hysterical. She’s not too bad after she gets something thoroughly digested, though” (51). In taking the independent route, Holden does not look for sympathy or help from either of his parents. He feels that he can deal with his situation by waiting until the next school year in order to apply himself a little better.
Another characteristic of a teenager, usually of the male gender, would be the widespread subject of sex. As everyone knows, during and after puberty, males have a stronger fascination with the issue and related experiences. Holden is no different. “In my mind, I’m the biggest sex manic you ever saw. Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn’t mind doing if the opportunity came up” (62). Although Holden honestly states to the reader that he is a virgin; he still has encounters associated with sexual activity. First and foremost, Holden actually obtains a prostitute during a brief stay at a hotel room. Holden never has sexual intercourse with this woman, but it does show that he is a teenager looking for affection and pleasure. Also, he proclaimed that he had plenty of opportunities to “give the time” (32) to other women, but he never quite knew to do it while on a date. Holden is very much like the average teen in this regard. The media and other primary sources in teen lives have taken an interest in sex, and have made it seem like it is the greatest thing known to mankind. Most teenagers find it
slightly embarrassing to admit to being chaste, mainly due to the fact that they think everyone is doing it; which is clearly false. Teenagers want to experience and experiment with sex, and even if they choose to not have sex until marriage, they will fantasize about it. This is yet another example of the similarities in which Holden and the typical teen share.
Sex and religion almost go hand in hand today amongst the teenage population. Do teens wait for marriage like the Bible insists or should teens defy the rules outlined by the Bible and have pre-marital sex? Although the novel does not quite refer to sex in a religious sense, it is a good example of choices teens are forced to make. Teens, along with many other members of society, do not agree with every guideline that the Bible sets out for them. They have to decide how large a role religion is going to play in their lives. Holden says that he, in some ways, is “an atheist” (Breit 82). He sometimes prays to Jesus, and yet other times he feels like he just cannot pray because of his likes, dislikes, and indifferent views of the church. This can be related to many teenagers, for religion is not always an easy subject. Teens sometimes feel that not all information on a particular religion is completely true. Some teens toy with the fact that their faith, if they have one, is actually factual. Holden feels that the information on Jesus is probably true, but he is a little suspicious of the Disciples and other characters from the Bible. “Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while he was alive, they were about as much use to him as a hole in the head” (99). He has many questions, as does all of society, of some contradicting issues concerning religion.
As every teenager perceives the world in one way or another, Holden too has his own individual views on the world, in which he sees as an evil and corrupt place where
there is no peace. This perception of the world does not change significantly through the novel. However as the novel progresses, Holden gradually comes to the realization that he is powerless to change this. “During the short time period of Holden’s life covered in this book, he does succeed in making us perceive that the world is crazy” (Stevenson 216). Shortly after Holden leaves Pency Prep he checks into the Edmont Hotel. This is where Holden’s turmoil begins. Holden spends the following evening in this hotel that was “full of perverts and morons. (There were) screwballs all over the place” (188). His situation only deteriorates from this point on as the more he looks around this world, the more depressing life seems. Around every corner, Holden sees evil. He looks out on a world that appears completely immoral and unscrupulous. The three days we learn of from the novel places a distressed Holden in the vicinity of Manhattan. The city is decked with decorations and holiday splendor; yet, much to Holden’s despair, he seldom yields any occasions of peace, charity or even genuine merriment. Holden is surrounded by what he views as drunks, perverts, morons and screwballs. These convictions, which Holden holds, waver very momentarily during only one particular scene in the book. The scene is that with Mr. Antolini. After Mr. Antolini patted Holden on the head while he was sleeping, Holden jumped up and ran out thinking that Mr. Antolini was a pervert as well. This is the only time during the novel where Holden thinks twice about considering someone as a pervert. After reviewing Mr. Antolini, Holden finally concludes that maybe he wasn’t making a “flitty” (190) pass at him. “Maybe he just likes patting guys’ heads as they sleep” (191). This is really the only time Holden actually considers a positive side. This event does not constitute a significant change. As Holden himself says, “It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out” (200). The sun of course is a reference to decency through the common
association of light and goodness. His perception of the world would remain the same. Many teenagers today see the world in a way that everyone is out to get them. They believe if they do not get what they want that life is not fair. Holden apparently feels the same way.
The one conviction that does not change during the novel is Holden’s belief that he can change the world. On his date with Sally, Holden reveals his feelings. “Did you ever get fed up?I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something?” (131). Holden goes through several plans. It takes most of the book before Holden begins to realize that he is helpless to stop this corruption. Finally, he realizes that not only is there nothing that he can do, but there is nowhere he can go to hide from it. This relates Holden back to the typical teenager in the sense that everyone wants to change the world in some drastic way. But in the end, they realize that there’s nothing for them do to that is so significant and that there is no escape from the harsh reality of the world surrounding them.
“Adolescents use their own unique language of slang and swearing, which is partly to rebel and partly to find their own identity” (Carlton 337). This typical teenage trait is also exhibited in Holden. When someone listens to a teenager they usually hear a variety of swear words and slang terms. Holden uses quite a bit of slang and profanity 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? (2)
When Holden says, “crazy,” “bashing each other all over the place,” “hot,” and “faggy,” he is using slang terms. Each generation has its own variety of slang terms each with separate and almost ironic terms. Some slang used by today’s teens means exactly the opposite of what would be thought. Each child is taught that there are some “bad” words or swear words that should not be used, but as like most teenagers, Holden swears quite often. Holden’s sister, Phoebe, makes a comment on his swearing. She merely requests Holden to, “Don’t swear so much” (168). Vulgar language is a pitfall of adolescence.
Another major aspect of teenage life, are such pressures of drinking and smoking. As most teenagers in today’s world have come across alcohol at one point or another, Holden has given into the pressures of underage drinking to drown his sorrows. Throughout the novel, Holden drinks even though he is underage. “Many drink to escape the problems that they face day to day, and in the novel it is apparent that Holden is drinking so that he can stop thinking about the fact that he has gotten expelled from yet another school” (Barr 93). Drinking is a major issue in the world today with such dangers of binge drinking and drinking and driving. Holden, like the typical teenager is also curious about drinking. The media clearly exploits drinking and makes it appear “cool.” His curiosity gets the best of him and he continually drinks. Another problem with teenage drinking, at all times throughout history, is the great ease at which it can be acquired. In the novel, Holden can simply walk into a bar of some sort, order a drink and in most cases, get served. Although society is more stringent with underage drinking today, there are ways for teens to easily acquire alcohol, as Holden does in this novel.
Holden is also an avid chain smoker. It seems that every chance he gets, he is lighting up yet another cigarette. Smoking is an adult activity, and Holden smokes to be more of an adult. Even though the cigarettes taste bad, he still smokes them. He smokes to ease his nerves and simply because he has become addicted to the substance. Smoking is a big problem faced by teens in all generations. Many smoke to rebel against their parents or because, like alcohol, it is viewed sometimes as the “cool” thing to do. A large portion of today’s teens smoke although they are aware of the dangers like the fact that tobacco is the only product which kills a third of its users. Smoking is a bad thing, but teenagers of every day and age are faced with this.
As seen in these previous examples, and also found in more instances, Holden Caulfied truly resembles the typical teen. He has gone through the same situations, encountered many of the same problems, and he also has acted in similar ways as the average teen. Teenage adolescence is a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. In this period, we all experience development both physically and emotionally, including the epitome of all teens, Holden Caulfield.