Salinger’s Disapproval of Sham Masculinity

Subject: Gender Studies
Type: Critical Analysis Essay
Pages: 2
Word count: 645
Topics: Book, Gender Roles

Authored by J.D. Salinger and published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye, is a perfect masterpiece that reflects and counters masculinity that was predominant in the 1950s American society. From a sociohistorical perspective, masculinity helps men to view themselves as socially advantaged while viewing women as sexual objects that are out to please them. In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger seems to take a universal responsibility to fight the male domination that originates from the deep sense of being muscular. Apparently, it is evident that Salinger is crazy about the expressions of non-hegemonic masculinities which he portrays as abnormal behaviors that are faked and needs to be punished by portraying the macho characters as weak and forged.  

As a character, Holden lives in a society that demands that he must be successful since he is a man. He, however, fails to live to the level of success that was expected of him as a man. Despite his failure to live to the expected notions of success, he has nothing to regret about it and comfortably and almost mockingly says “I knew that I wasn’t going to be one of those successful guys, that I was never going to be like Edward Gonzales or Theodore Fisher or Lawrence Meyer. I knew that this time when Father said that I was going to work in that man’s office that he meant it, that I wasn’t going back to school again ever, that I wouldn’t like working in an office” (19). Salinger believes that the expectation that a man must work in an office is to too farfetched and decides to give Holden the ability to fight against such expctations when Holden decides to rest as though his failure was certainly desired – “…finally I went to sleep”. Holden’s action is a perfect mutilation of his psychic sense. As Jeranko indicates, “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands from males is not violence against women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves” (28). Holden lives opportunely because he is not bothered by what the society expects of him anymore. His emotions are subdued. 

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Also, Salinger’s life was surrounded by a host of masculinities and he was out to find the adult role that portrays ‘real’ masculinity under the ideal normalcy, but he is quickly dissatisfied by all masculine ideologies. Through Stradlater, Holden’s roommate, Salinger condemns the womanizing behavior perpetuated by males. Holden tells that Stradlater was “madly in love with himself” (31). Just because Stradlater is in love with himself, he expected all women to be crazy about him. As Holden watches him shave his visage, he states “the razor was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway” (31). The razor signifies the character’s manhood that is deeply rooted in inauthenticity and triviality. Stradlater strives to look like a real man, not caring how he treats other people – chauvinism at its best. He, however, fails since all is faked and his real abilities as a man are dubious. 

However, it is also proper to think that Salinger’s condemnation of masculinity, through Holden, is motivated by his craziness. Towards the end of the novel, Salinger says “A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September” (234). This statement points out that he is receiving psychiatric care and his depiction of masculinity is totally flawed as a result of his mental illness. However, his disapproval of masculinity still works perfectly to discourage the strict roles attached to boys as they enter adulthood. 

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  1. Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye, Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.  
  2. Jeranko, Marley. “Negotiating Masculinity in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye”. 2016. Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 1225.
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