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Posted on June 14th, 2012, by

The Catcher in the Rye is one of classical works which used to hold the attention of the teenagers and win their sympathy and affection. However, times are changing and the analysis of recent evidence performed by Jennifer Schuessler shows that modern teenagers are neither inclined to feel sympathy for Holder, nor engaged by his search of self and search of sense. The truth-telling and non-conformism of this book which impressed the teens in the previous century were replaced by the perception of Holden as a whining preppy (Schuessler, n.d.). Jennifer Schuessler states many examples when teenagers just thought Holden was an immature rich boy, and reacted with irritation to his thoughts and problems.

According to Jennifer Schuessler, the causes of such change in attitude relate to several factors. First of all, the culture has become more competitive, and interest to success and material wealth has become more common.

Secondly, there is a greater sense of joining or togetherness (Schuessler, n.d.). Furthermore, Schuessler states that the availability of entertainment appropriate for teenagers has dramatically changed the landscape: in the times of Holden Caulfield, teenagers had to choose between adult things and childish pleasures (Schuessler, n.d.).

Jennifer Schuessler also cites the opinion of Barbara Feinberg, who believes that currently the approach to understanding human beings has become highly mechanistic, and as a result, in the modern society there is no room for empathy, intuition, search of self and other complex internal reflections.

I do agree with Jennifer Schuessler that times are changing, and the perception of Holden Caulfield by modern teens is quite different. His emotional experiences and focus on the inner self are very atypical for the modern world, and it is not surprising that the popularity of The Catcher in the Rye is declining. However, I believe that the reasons of such change of attitude mentioned by Jennifer Schuessler (e.g. increasing competition, sense of togetherness, etc.) are rather consequences of current state of affairs rather than causes. The true causes of these changes are deeper, and are conditioned by historical factors and by modern cultural tendencies.

In the article The Organization Kid, David Brooks describes the new type of teenager, and analyzes social conditions which have changed the attributes of youth. He describes current culture as the merge of conformism and non-conformism, while the 20th century youth could be characterized as rebels. Indeed, in the 20th century Every rock anthem, every fashion statement, every protest gesture, every novel about rebellious youth-from The Catcher in the Rye to On the Road carried the same cultural message: It’s better to be a nonconformist than a conformist (Brooks 49). This culture of struggle and non-conformism emerged because the world in the 20th century was split into capitalist and socialist countries, and the ghosts of the Cold War increased the awareness of the importance of own life.

In the 20th century political and cultural leaders took different sides, and young people were exposed to diverse, often opposing, beliefs and values. At the same time, young people today are more likely to defer to and admire authority figures (Brooks 44). In my opinion, the world has become much more uniform and stable since the times of Holden Caulfield. There have been fewer deep social shocks and dramatic wars during last 50 years, and the victory of capitalism over socialism has become evident. Rapid development of telecommunications has strengthened the connections between different parts of the world, and instead of alienation, there came a culture of unity. Also, as the social order and core values in the world depolarized, many tough choices of values and beliefs have become less visible. Mr. Vinsons tells to Holden: many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now (Salinger 148). In my opinion, the percentage of young people who are morally and spiritually troubled and are overwhelmed by the search of self has dramatically decreased nowadays.

One more thing which contributes to the loss of popularity of The Catcher in the Rye is the increasing involvement of teenagers into social life nowadays, mostly due to Internet and telecommunications, but also due to increased sense of responsibility. Holden tells I’m seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I’m about thirteen (Salinger 9).

Such statement would be very uncommon for modern teenagers, as at seventeen they are often focused on building their future life, choosing goals and finding their career mission.

There is one point where I absolutely agree with Jennifer Schuessler; it is the greater availability of entertainment for teenagers nowadays, which decreases (and even eliminates) alienation. In fact, online means of communication, multimedia and social applications, and the general availability of information allow teenagers to taste all aspects of life, help to find friends with similar interests and build own system of values. Holden Caulfield did not have such powerful instruments for building his own world he had to put up with the few people he had around instead.

Thus, it is natural that modern teenagers quickly integrate in the society and spend less time on self-reflection and non-conformism. As a result, most of them develop certain goals and values at quite an early age, and pursue them; at the top of the meritocratic ladder we have in America a generation of students who are extraordinarily bright, morally earnest, and incredibly industrious (Brooks 44). For such teenagers, with wide world outlook and already shaped goals, the ideas of Holden Caulfield would seem childish and crazy. It is difficult to imagine a modern hardworking and volunteering graduate  say I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be (Salinger 136).

However, there is one core thing which teenagers now miss in The Catcher in the Rye and most often miss in the speedy life the concept of self and the understanding of self, own values and goals. I agree with Jennifer Schuessler that The Catcher in the Rye is now perceived differently by the teenagers, but I believe that the roots of this phenomenon are in the social development, not in the cultural manifestations or upbringing. However, teenagers now are gladly following the rules of play of the society, and many of them might face the problems of self-identification later on. Thus, I believe that The Catcher in the Rye did not lose actuality, but this story has to be taught and perceived differently and maybe modern teenagers need different types of heroes. Times are changing, and Holden Caulfield is no longer an embodiment of key problems of the adolescence.

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