The essay "Values Vanish Into Thin Air" is based on the book "The Catcher In The Rye"(J.D. Salinger) and analyzes how Holden Caulfield criticizes the modern society in different ways

Essay by brtnHigh School, 11th gradeA-, January 2003

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The Catcher in the Rye negatively criticizes society's way of living and the

"American Dream" most people look for their whole life, although for the majority of the

people this remains a utopia just out of reach. Modern society very nearly lost both its ideals

and its sense of direction. We have developed into a society of "phony" philistines.

All of society is based on a superficiality which makes it impossible for Holden to find

real friends and depresses him. Only Phoebe really understands Holden, because he can

communicate with her without being superficial. However, whenever he really wants to

discuss his problems with anyone, they turn away from him. For instance, when he asks the

taxi driver about the ducks in the Central Park, Horwitz tells him it is "a stupid thing"

(pg.82;6) to ask. The meeting with Sally is another typical example. Sally does not understand

his views and arguments or why he wants to abandon both his family and New York City for

a lonely life in the country.

Actually, she often does not even "know what he is talking

about"(pg.131,8&9). She sees everything much more realistically and knows his plans will

not work and finally she refuses to go with him (pg.130-134). Also, the conservation with

Carl Luce, which is shortly after the meeting with Sally, ends with Carl advising Holden to

see a psychologist, after Holden tried to conduct a serious conservation (pg.143-149). His

conservations show that Holden is a critical, thoughtful teenager who seriously thinks about

things but he does not fit into this society. This character dissociates him from other teenagers

and even many adults who live solely on their superficiality and society's whim.

Money and success have become the most important values of an American society

searching for the utopian "American Dream" that was an integral part of the American

propaganda machine during and before Holden's generation. These new values replaced the

traditional, important values like simply enjoying life. Holden's parents epitomize this new

American way of living. His father is a corporate lawyer which makes his family quite

wealthy. Admittedly, they are more concerned about Holden's career than his life itself. They

spend a lot of money on expensive boarding schools without realizing that Holden hates

school. He wants not a well-paying job, but rather to lead a happy and fulfilling life. He

develops his own values instead of assuming society's like most people do. The three young

women Holden meets in the hotel bar typify a young society, which is even becoming worse

than the current society of the time. The girls came to New York City with the intention of

getting to know a rich and famous celebrity, that would provide a quick-fix to solve both their

worries and problems. Especially, people like the three girls and Holden's parents show that

money is the most important value to obtain society's acceptance; in a fiscally driven society

even prostitution has become a viable source of revenue, as Maurice and Sunny prove

(pg.101-103). Holden can no longer tolerate a society, in which one must obtain their

acceptance and wants to flee from this inconvenient world. It is a depressing way of living

since money governs the world and especially in New York City where "money really talks"

(pg.69;9&10). That is why society judges people by their material wealth rather than their

personal qualities and character.

The book also calls attention to the American society of philistines, who live on their

wealth and mendacity. A serious, successful life in an organized country has become their

meaning of life, while having any fun and joy have become secondary. Holden calls almost

everyone a "phony" because he completely distrusts society. As a result of that he even

wanted to be deaf-mute rather than being subjected to all those people and their senseless

conservations. Curiously, The Catcher in the Rye's misfit protagonist is always right. He

knows what is going on in the world while the adults do not. His rough language distances

him from all other people and is his way of protest against the "phony" society which is full

of useless rules and laws. For example, Holden does not understand why he is not allowed to

drink alcohol but adults are. The laws have replaced the values of the "new" society, because

there is no room left for any real values between the strictly organized structure of the

American country and the "new" values. However, the society does not realize it is living a

two-faced life which is based on their mendacity and belief in the "American Dream".

The power of money destroyed society's important values which were responsible for

a balanced, fruitful life. Instead, it set norms which people try to reach, although reaching this

will not make life any happier. Everybody fights for acceptance, whatever it takes to be a part

of a modern society, whereby superficiality rises until society cannot lose anything anymore

and drowns in its wealth.