The dictionary defines influence as, the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something or the effect itself. In “The Catcher in the Rye”, Salinger’s naive protagonist Holden Caulfield views society as corrupt and flawed. However as the book progresses, his encounters with others make him realize that he is powerless against this reality. Holden’s relationship with his younger sister teaches him that change is inevitable, Mr. Antolini’s ( Holden’s teacher back in Elkton Hills ) advice gives him hope for a tainted society and his roomate shows Holden that society accepts only what is “normal.” Holden’s interactions with these people help him recognize the harsh reality he lives in.
Holden views his little sister, Phoebe as the embodiment of the word innocence. Holden expects her to preserve this quality, but soon comes to the conclusion that that task is impossible in the society they live in. As Holden is on his way to the principal’s office to deliver a message to Phoebe, he stumbles across the words “fuck you” written on the wall with marker. Holden’s reaction is clear when he states, ” Somebody’d written ‘fuck you’ on the wall. It drove me near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant” (Salinger 201).
Holden tries to recover from witnessing the sight by walking a different direction, but to his dismay he notices another “fuck you” on another wall. Though the last phrase was written in marker, this one was scratched in with a knife. The carved words sketched into the wall represent the troubles “engraved” in the world. Misfortune and inconvenience are two aspects of society that are permanent regardless of Holden’s attempts to censor them. Holden can not prevent society from ruining the innocence of others, so he seeks counselling for his problem.
Holden has the belief that he lives in a tainted and “phony” society. (Holden’s term for those who have loss innocence.) Upon meeting Mr. Antolini, Holden finds a new found appreciation for humanity. Mr. Antolini notices that the source of Holden’s hardships are from this hatred, so he decides to give him some advice.
Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You’re by no means alone on that score…Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now (Salinger 189).
Throughout the story, Holden rejects the idea of becoming part of society. He tends to avoid others that he believes are not true to themselves by setting specific ideals that present his dislike against them. Mr. Antolini’s advice gives insight to how Holden feels about this topic . Antolini knows that others are feeling the same way and are disgusted by the cruel environment humans emit. This gives Holden comfort knowing he is not the only one that is bothered by this idea. Though Antolini’s advice temporarily relieves Holden and his views of a ruined society, others simply fall into its “trap.”
Holden describes Stradlater as the most handsome and hygienic guy on campus, however he soon discovers that he is not as perfect as he once thought. Holden decides to go to the bathroom with Stradlater and starts to conversate with him. He notices that Stradlater does not keep his razor or toiletries clean even though he keeps his image flawless. “He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap” (Salinger 27).
This specific scene reveals that Stradlater is a slave to society’s standards. He puts in the extra effort to make himself look appealing to impress others, not for his own benefit. Holden can not tolerate this phony mindset. Stradlater’s superficial belief of becoming a flawless person is completely parallel to Holden. He isolates himself from others, not caring about what others think of him. For instance, Holden wears a hunting hat backwards. Overall, Stradlater represents the human struggle to become accepted into society.
With the relationships Holden has with Phoebe, Mr. Antolini and Stradlater, his negative outlook on life is given to a new perspective. Phoebe’s innocent character contrasts with Holden’s negative attitude toward society, Mr. Antolini’s counselling gives him hope for his depressing point of view and Stradlater’s efforts to look attractive shows Holden that society has standards of what people look like. For all theses reasons mentioned, Holden’s interactions with these characters affect his point of view.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.
The Influences of Holden Caulfield