A Misfit to Society: An investigation of the common struggle in Catcher and the Rye and The Bell Jar between the sexual ideals imposed by society

Essay by vaughan0 November 2004

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Society is often the curator of ideals, beliefs, and expectations among a vast number of unquestioning conformist individuals. It dictates a strict set of guidelines of which no one is to venture from, or they risk being labeled as social outcasts. These unwritten social laws affect every single individual, and often conflict with one's own beliefs particularly on the matter of sex, and sex-role stereotyping. Such a criticism is evident in the case of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Sylvia Plath's The Ball Jar. Both of the protagonists in these narratives represent a fundamental struggle by adolescents to comply with their respective gender roles.

In the case of Holden Caulfield, the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, his journey into adulthood requires him to accept his role in society as a "typical" man - a domineering manipulative force. In Holden's view, this means he must shed himself of all innocence, and embrace his sexuality.

This closely parallels the views of the protagonist Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar, as she rejects the idealized image of the traditional female and often compares herself to a bell in a bell jar, where she is suffocated by societal pressures, and she herself is weak and voiceless. Both characters portray these emotions through their anti-establishment and rebellious nature, leaving them to face the consequences of refusing "society's order" in a psychiatric institution because of their refusal to conform to their respective gender stereotypes.

Both narrators express their rebellions to their gender stereotypes through the most obvious means possible- sex. "If you want to know the truth, I'm a virgin. I really am. I've had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I've never got around to it yet." (Salinger 92) Holden reveals his sexual...