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Catcher in the Ryes vs Gen X
Catcher in the Rye and Generation X:
Holden and Andy
In the novel, Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden, has very definite views on sexuality, aggression, and death. He is ambivalent towards sex, loathsome of aggression, and fearsome of death. It's this triangle of sin that demonstrates the conflict occurring within Holden's inner monologue. In the novel, Generation X, the main character, Andy, is grappling with many of the same problems that Holden faced forty years earlier. Even though the more modern society is different than forty years ago, the same general issues still haunt Andy today, with many parallels to Holden's coming-of-age issues.
With such a dead-end vision of the trap of adulthood and marriage, it isn't very surprising that Holden is scared of being initiated into the most involving form of relationship--sex. In a society where human relationships are affected by marketplace values, like status and appearance, which commodify people, rather than accepting them. Holden is seeking a deeper, more real relationship with someone, probably anyone, who understands him, and will accept him.
Holden doesn't like to see people hurting. He explains when he says that he would like to be "a catcher in the rye", someone who protects children from the pitfalls of hypocrisy and lies, that Holden seems to think infect the adult world. As a result, Holden is very careful not to use other characters as a means for his own ends. In many ways he is unable to deflect the unexpressed pressures that every teen male feels, to have sex. He is offered the "teenage dream" of sex in a non-responsible situation when Maurice, the elevator operator in his hotel offers to set him up with a hooker. Holden jumps at the chance, but when confronted with the reality of the situation feels horrible, and ends up not touching the hooker.
Pure sex, like many other societal myths, is a romantic place that Holden wants to believe exists, but understands through his cynicism, that is never has, or ever will exist. But his mistrust goes deeper. For Holden, it seemed like sex would somehow integrate him into the world at large, which he despises. Holden does not want to accept any change in his life. He sees sex as a way that society is using to lure him into being like the people that he hates.
At Pencey, his boarding school, he equates sex with perversion. He refers to his studly roommate, Stradlater as a "very sexy bastard" because of his interest in all things related to sex. And then when Holden is obsessing over the idea of Stradlater, and his friend Jane having sex, he tries to think of her as innocent and naive, when he says "when we played checkers, she always kept her kings in the back row." Since he cares about Jane, he can't understand why she would want to involve herself with a guy like Stradlater in the first place.
Thoughts about sex, seem to lead Holden into thoughts about death. After the fight with Stradlater over Jane, Ackley, the novel's most hated character, asks why they fought and Holden tells the readers that "I didn't answer him...I almost wished I was dead." And later on, when he is alone in his hotel room , after the hooker leaver he begins to think about his younger brother's death.
To Holden he also sees sex as the same as aggression. As in his reaction to his fight with Stradlater, he treats aggression in the same way as he does sex. After losing the fight he says, "I'd only been in about two fights in my life, and I lost both of them. I'm not too tough. I'm a pacifist, if you want to know the truth."
Although his swing at Stradlater, seem to go against his non-aggressive personality, it is the name of Jane, someone who Holden considers as the model of perfection and innocence. This all comes back to the comment about Jane keeping her kings in the back row. This is interesting because it shows her unwillingness to be aggressive or sexual, which are two of Holden's values, despite the fact she is now involved with Stradlater, who represents (at least to Holden) sex and aggression.
The connection between sex, death, and aggression all come together near the end of the novel when Holden visits his younger sister phoebe, at her elementary school. Holden sees a sign that someone has put up that says, "Fuck You." This phrase is so important to the novel because it represents, a very aggressive insult, and it is also a work that means having sex. And Holden
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