In the novel, Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden, has very definite views on sexuality, aggression, and death.
He is ambivalent towards sex, loathsome of aggression, and fearsome of death. It’s this triangle of sin that demonstrates the conflict occurring within Holden’s inner monologue. In the novel, Generation X, the main character, Andy, is grappling with many of the same problems that Holden faced forty years earlier. Even though the more modern society is different than forty years ago, the same general issues still haunt Andy today, with many parallels to Holden’s coming-of-age issues. With such a dead-end vision of the trap of adulthood and marriage, it isn’t very surprising that Holden is scared of being initiated into the most involving form of relationship–sex. In a society where human relationships are affected by marketplace values, like status and appearance, which commodify people, rather than accepting them.
Holden is seeking a deeper, more real relationship with someone, probably anyone, who understands him, and will accept him. Holden doesn’t like to see people hurting. He explains when he says that he would like to be “a catcher in the rye”, someone who protects children from the pitfalls of hypocrisy and lies, that Holden seems to think infect the adult world. As a result, Holden is very careful not to use other characters as a means for his own ends. In many ways he is unable to deflect the unexpressed pressures that every teen male feels, to have sex. He is offered the “teenage dream” of sex in a non-responsible situation when Maurice, the elevator operator in his hotel offers to set him up with a hooker.
Holden jumps at the chance, but when confronted with the reality of the situation feels horrible, and ends up not touching the hooker. Pure sex, like many other societal myths, is a romantic place that Holden wants to believe exists, but understands through his cynicism, that is never has, or ever will exist. But his mistrust goes deeper. For Holden, it seemed like sex would somehow integrate him into the world at large, which he despises. Holden does not want to accept any change in his life.
He sees sex as a way that society is using to lure him into being like the people that he hates. At Pencey, his boarding school, he equates sex with perversion. He refers to his studly roommate, Stradlater as a “very sexy bastard” because of his interest in all things related to sex. And then when Holden is obsessing over the idea of Stradlater, and his friend Jane having sex, he tries to think of her as innocent and naive, when he says “when we played checkers, she always kept her kings in the back row.” Since he cares about Jane, he can’t understand why she would want to involve herself with a guy like Stradlater in the first place. Thoughts about sex, seem to lead Holden into thoughts about death. After the fight with Stradlater over Jane, Ackley, the novel’s most hated character, asks why they fought and Holden tells the readers that “I didn’t answer him…I almost wished I was dead.” And later on, when he is alone in his hotel room , after the hooker leaver he begins to think about his younger brother’s death.
To Holden he also sees sex as the same as aggression. As in his reaction to his fight with Stradlater, he treats aggression in the same way as he does sex. After losing the fight he says, “I’d only been in about two fights in my life, and I lost both of them. I’m not too tough.
I’m a pacifist, if you want to know the truth.” Although his swing at Stradlater, seem to go against his non-aggressive personality, it is the name of Jane, someone who Holden considers as the model of perfection and innocence. This all comes back to the comment about Jane keeping her kings in the back row. This is interesting because it shows her unwillingness to be aggressive or sexual, which are two of Holden’s values, despite the fact she is now involved with Stradlater, who represents (at least to Holden) sex and aggression. The connection between sex, death, and aggression all come together near the end of the novel when Holden visits his younger sister phoebe, at her elementary school. Holden sees a sign that someone has put up that says, “Fuck You.” This phrase is so important to the novel because it represents, a very aggressive insult, and it is also a work that means having sex.
And Holden sees sex, as something men do to women, something aggressive. So here we come full circle: Holden fears aggression because it may lead to death, like in the case of his younger brother. And to Holden, sex is equated with aggression, and of course Holden has equated aggression with death. So it can be seen that Holden has a triangle of sin that he wants others to avoid, and that is why he wants to become “a catcher in the rye” so he can protect everyone else from what he knows. Refreshingly, Generation X, takes place some forty years later, in a time where most things sexual have been demystified through a more open, and tolerant society, and the media. In many ways, Generation X’s main character, Andy has a lot of the same issues, as Holden, without many of the neuroses that Holden suffered from.
Fittingly, “Cosmopolitan” Magazine called Generation X, “A modern-day Catcher in the Rye.” The book opens with a cartoon whose caption reads; “Don’t worry, mother…if the marriage doesn’t work out, we can always get divorced.” This quotation typifies the social change that had taken place between the time of Catcher in the Rye, and the time of Generation X. The change that has taken place in society is that qualities like “virgin and chastity” used to be considered virtues, but today are abhorred, and are seen as qualities of the prudish, and/or the unattractive. Andy, the main character has a lot in common with Holden Caufield. Much like Holden, Andy becomes tired of the sexual world in which he lived. In a quote sounding a lot like Holden, Andy said, ” I became nonsexual.
I started to find humanity repulsive, reducing it to flanks, mounds, and secretions…” Andy also goes through a similar sexual identity crisis when he laments that, “I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” An ironic sexuality, much like that of Holden’s. Andy also abuses the sexual vocabulary to a large extent, when he uses sexual terms, to describe non-sexual objects. “Watching TV, is a lot like masturbation,” which he advocates in the book. He describes a car as, “a syphilitic old Saab.” Holden also associates objects with sexuality, like when he uses the word “crumby” to describe a sexual fantasy, and later uses the same word to describe a stomach ache. Clare, one of Generation X’s female character, has many of the same of qualities as Jane. Both Holden and Andy have dated their respective female characters, but neither had a sexual relationship with them, and both become jealous when they hear of someone who is.
In Andy’s case the “Stradlater” is Tobias. Tobias is everything that Andy is not. Andy has money, a job, a good body, and is very attractive. Tobias is a lot like Stradlater, in that they both torture the main character without realizing that they are doing so. Andy realizes Tobias is superior to him when he says, “Life is not fair.
Something about Tobias always extracts the phrase ‘life’s not fair’ from people.” Both Holden and Andy are unwavering in their contempt of “phoniness” and hypocrites. Holden said of Stradlater, “He (Stradlater) was so phony. He just used to girls….” Andy echoes this sentiment, “He (Tobias) embodies to me all of the people in my own generation who used all that was good in themselves in bottom-feeding jobs like ambulance chasing, or money brokering.” Andy feels jealous when he sees Claire with Tobias, in the same way that Holden felt jealous of Stradlater when he was going out with Jane. But much of the aggression that plagues Holden throughout Catcher in the Rye (i.e.
the fight scene, the running way etc.) is lost on Andy. In the 1990’s as far as Generation X, physical reaction is a thing of the past. Andy’s anxieties, and jealousies, manifest themselves in to a sea of deep cynicism, and ambivalence towards life in general. Both Holden and Andy share the burden of knowing too much about the world that is around them.
The main characters of Catcher in the Rye, and Generation X, have a lot in common. Holden’s views on the triangle of sin are often closely mimicked by Andy. Despite being from two markedly different generations, they suffer many of life’s timeless realities, like worries about sex, ambivalence, and cynicism. These characters show that these problems though not easily solvable, are facts of life, and it is likely that in another forty years another novel will be written dealing with many of the things that Andy and Holden are all to familiar with. Book Reports