What evidence is there in The Catcher in the Rye that Holden is a rebellious individual?

Expert Answers
agrinwald eNotes educator| Certified Educator

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is an iconic American novel of adolescent rebellion and alienation. It's famous protagonist, Holden Caulfield, remains a controversial and important piece of the literary canon.

First of all, Salinger's language—which is by default Holden's language, because the novel is in first-person narration—continues to be controversial due to its vulgarity. He frequently uses the word "goddam", which is, in its own way, an act of rebellion against polite society.

Secondly, Holden holds a sort of contempt for the society in which he lives. He becomes sick at the thought of those he considers "phony", and criticises most adults and many of his peers. His inability and unwillingness to become a part of conforming society makes him rebellious.

Lastly, Holden is rebellious in his lack of dedication towards his education. In the beginning of the novel, he is called in to speak to one of his teachers named Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer confronts Holden with an essay that is less than adequate; Holden chose to write about the Ancient Egyptians, and it is evident by this essay that he has nothing but apathy towards the subject.

"Dear Mr. Spencer", says a letter Holden wrote to Mr. Spencer, "I can't seem to get interested in [the Egyptians] although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else" (12).

Holden is certainly an intelligent student, though his unwillingness to put effort towards his classes—even English, which he considers to be interesting—suggests that he is rebellious. He rebels against what is expected of him. He rebels against what disturbs him. He rebels against much of society, which makes him so absolutely captivating to crowds of readers who find themselves similarly alienated from the society they belong to.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is an iconic study in adolescent rebellion, with the narrator, Holden Caulfield, often cited as an exemplar of teenage angst. 

Before the story begins, Holden has just been expelled from his third prep school. This itself is a sign of rebellion, as expensive prep schools rarely expel their wealthy young pupils. Moreover, his failure in his classes is not due to lack of intellectual ability or preparation, as he is an intelligent young man whose father is a successful lawyer, and his mother, although suffering from the loss of Allie to leukemia, is a traditional concerned upper-middle-class parent. Holden's bad performance in school is not due to a bad family environment or extreme poverty, but instead to his own refusal to do schoolwork that he doesn't like; this is key evidence of his rebellious nature.

His trip to New York, in which he roams the city rather than return home, is also a gesture of rebellion, as is his flouting of many conventions both mentally and in terms of his actions. His condemnations of the entire world around him as "phony" is a key element in his rebellion, as it legitimizes his refusal to accept adult authority. His indulgence in alcohol and the scene with the prostitute are also acts of rebellion.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The account that Holden gives us of himself contains many different examples that show he is a rebellious personality, so much so, in fact, that the name Holden Caulfield has become almost synonymous with teenage rebellion and a determination to live one's life outside of the expectation and demands of society. Let us consider one of the first examples we are given in the book, where Holden tells us, almost as an afterthought, that he is being expelled from Pencey, the incredibly elite school where he is studying:

I forgot to tell you about that. They kicked me out. I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas vacation, on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all.

As the narrative continues, we realise that this is not the only school that Holden has been expelled from. His rebellious personality is thus indicated through the way that he obviously refuses or is unable to bow to the demands of society and work hard at school to gain academic success. You also might like to think about the way that he sets off on his own personal odyssey doing what he wants to do and his frequent, romantic and impractical, plans to run away and live away from the norms of society.

Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question