How is Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye a non-conformist?

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Holden values very few of the things his peers and family value. In the opening chapter, he is in the process of leaving Pencey Prep because he "was flunking four subjects and not applying [myself] and all." Holden clearly does not value this private institution's prestige, nor what it can do for him in the future, unlike what his parents, the faculty, and his peers believe.

When Holden goes to the movies with Brossard and Ackley, he is disgusted at their response to the film; they "both laughed like 21 hyenas at stuff that wasn’t even funny." Holden does, however speak highly of reading Thomas Hardy, confessing, "I like that Eustacia Vye." Holden's cultural tastes are unlike those of his classmates.

Holden is not an athlete, and he finds fault with Stradlater and his basketball coach Ed Banky, observing that "in every school I’ve gone to, all the athletic bastards stick together." Holden disapproves of Banky allowing Stradlater to borrow his car since it is against the rules and because it enables Stradlater to be in a position to compromise Jane Gallagher's virtue.

Holden's purchase of a red hunting hat is a highly unusual choice for an urban life in Manhattan and becomes a tangible symbol of his nonconformity.

Holden has little respect or liking for Sally Hayes; he rejects her superficial social behaviors and desire for a conventional future of marriage and upper middle class respectability. She does not understand or show interest in Holden's dream of moving to New England and living off the land in a cabin.

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Holden is a non-conformist in many ways, which is portrayed by his utter disgust for popular American culture and the fact that he is considered an outcast in society. Unlike the majority of his peers, Holden does not attend popular school functions like football games and does not enjoy hanging out with his classmates. Holden is depicted as an extremely lonely adolescent, who refuses to conform to the competitive, consumer-driven American culture. Unlike most Americans, Holden claims to hate Hollywood and continually criticizes the American entertainment industry. Holden also refuses to subscribe to the idea of the American Dream. Holden is in no way infatuated with the idea of earning an excessive amount of money and becoming a member of the upper class. Unlike the majority of society, Holden does not seek recognition from others and wishes to live a simple life in the country, far away from everyone. Overall, Holden is considered a non-conformist because of his dismissive attitude towards popular American culture and his disdain for the American Dream.

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Throughout The Catcher in the Rye there are numerous examples of Holden being a non-conformist, none more so than his time at Pencey Prep. There are several examples of Holden refusing to conform at the school, but I'm only going to list two:

  1. Holden is roommates with Stradlater, a popular boy who mothers would call "yearbook handsome." However, Holden refuses to be drawn into the boy's lifestyle, specifically Stradlater's desire to have sex with girls. Holden calls him a "very sexy bastard." However, Holden rejects this desire to have sex in high school. (He even refuses to have sex with a prostitute he hires.) Instead, when speaking about Jane Gallagher, a girl Stradlater wants to get "sexy" with, and a girl Holden might have been able to have sex with, Holden is only concerned about her checkers strategy and whether she still "keeps her kings in the back row."
  2. A second example of Holden's non-conformity occurs when he rejects the popular crowd, like Stradlater and Ernest Morrow. While Holden's rejection of Stradlater might happen because of Stradlater's desire to have sex with girls, he rejects Morrow because he was "doubtless the biggest bastard in the history of Pencey Prep" and used to go down the corridor after a shower "snapping his soggy old wet towel at people's asses." Instead of choosing to be friends with one of these guys, Holden decides to be friends with Robert Ackley, one of the least popular student at the school. 
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