The story of Holden Caulfield is an example of the experience of growing up. It
illustrates the enormous amount of pressure placed on teenagers. It also shows that some
teenagers can handle the pressure, while others cannot. Although Catcher in the Rye takes
place in the 1940s, Holdens life is extremely similar to that of teenagers in the 1990s.
Even though the moral and social structure of today varies greatly from that of the 1940s,
a similar story could easily occur. Holdens problems mirror the dilemmas of every
One of Holdens largest problems is his anxiety about his future. He is a classic
example of an underachiever, and has been kicked out of many high schools for failing
grades. This is not because of a lack of intelligent, but is because he does not work or
apply himself. His parents and his teacher, Mr. Spencer, push him to change his ways and
be responsible, to no avail. This pressure contributes to his inevitable nervous breakdown.
He deals with his own apprehension by convincing himself that he does not care. This also
contributes to his failing grades, creating more anxiety. This problem afflicts every single
teenager today. Standards are even higher than in the 1940s and jobs are increasingly
harder to find. Also adding to this is the high cost of college. Most of todays students
have to work their own way through college.
Another of Holdens problems is his relations with the opposite sex. Throughout
the book, Holden tries to force himself to call Jean Gallagher, an old friend of his. He
knew her as a child and decided to contact her after his roommate, Stradlater, dated her.
Although he really wants to call her, he cannot work up enough courage to do it.
However, he does call an old girlfriend, Sally. They go on a date, but Sally storms off after
an argument. Also, a major source of anxiety is sex. He convinced himself that he has not
had sex yet because he has not had the chance, but deep down he knows he is not ready.
While society imposes shame about sex before marriage, his peers see it as a matter of
pride to have had sex, and a matter of shame to not have had sex. Holden is torn between
what he has been taught, and what his peers expect of him. At one point in the novel, he
thinks he is ready and orders the services of a prostitute. However, when the prostitute
arrives at his hotel room, he realizes he does not want to have sex yet. He sends her away,
partly because she is as young as he is, and partly because he chickens out. This problem is
unavoidable for teenagers today. Most teenagers are not mature enough to resist the peer
pressure to have sex and are also not mature enough to handle the consequences.
Furthermore, teenagers are irresponsible which results in teenage pregnancy becoming
almost commonplace in some communities.
Holdens main problem is his transition from childhood to adulthood. He is rapidly
becoming an adult, but does not want to leave his childhood behind. He is constantly
mentioning his sister, Phoebe, throughout the novel. She is a point of happiness for him
and represents his ideal image of childhood. He is clearly in a transition stage. For
instance, he goes to bars and drinks like an adult, obviously mimicing what he percieves to
be adult behavior. However, when he awakes in the middle of the night to find Mr.
Antiloni patting his head. Holden panics and runs out of the apartment, assuming that Mr.
Antiloni is a homosexual. His reaction is immature and premature. Every teenager today is
torn between their childhood and being an adult, that is what being a teenager is. Every
child wants to grow up as fast as possible, but is not ready and does not want to accept
the responsibility that goes with growing up.
In conclusion, Holden is a typical, everyday teenager whether the point of view is
of the 1940s, or the 1990s. A teenagers place in this world has not changed drastically
over the years. Furthermore, there is no indication that a similar story could not happen to
a teenager today. In fact, it does every day.