How does Holden from The Catcher in the Rye go against the American dream?

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden rejects the consumerism that makes up much of the post-World War II "American dream." He makes several comments throughout the novel in which he rejects the American need for things like cars, suits, and suitcases. He explains his dislike for these material good concisely to Sally Hayes:

I hate living in New York and all. Taxicabs, and Madison Avenue buses, with the drivers and all always yelling at you to get out at the rear door, and being introduced to phony guys that call the Lunts angels, and going up and down in elevators when you just want to go outside, and guys fitting your pants all the time at Brooks.

Holden does not want to be like his father, who is a "corporation lawyer" making enough money to live in an apartment near Central Park and "always investing money in shows on Broadway."

Despite the financial success of his father and brother, who has gone from literary author to screenwriter, the Caulfields aren't necessarily living this American dream. Their second youngest son died. Holden is telling the story from a hospital. Even Holden's mother "hasn't felt too healthy" since Allie died and is "very nervous."

All of these factors contribute to Holden's rejection of the consumer-driver "American dream" of post-World War II America.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Holden Caulfield clearly dislikes much of the 1950s American culture. The 1950s American dream included the idea of living a financially stable, prosperous life with the opportunity to advance through society. For many Americans, their goals were to have a comfortable job and the ability to access many consumer goods. However, Holden rejects many of these goals and voices his displeasure towards the post-war consumer culture of the 1950s. Holden renounces the idea of needing a proper education to be successful and resents his brother's achievements in the entertainment industry. Holden claims that he hates the movies and despises how many Americans attach value to superficial items. Unlike most Americans, Holden is not attracted to the idea of getting a job that will provide stability and wealth. Holden also finds the competitive nature of American society to be repulsive and cannot stand to witness individuals flaunt their success. In Holden's mind, the idea of the American Dream is superficial and disgusting. As an adolescent who is struggling with the premature death of his younger brother, Holden resents how many Americans attach meaning to material goods, which have no intrinsic value.

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The Catcher in the Rye

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