When I first read the novel The Catcher in the Rye, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Holden Caulfield’s (the protagonist) attitude was to mine. When I first came to “the most prestigious school in Victoria” (aka Melbourne High School) through a competitive selective exam, I found myself constantly complaining about the insignificant things about the school.

The “most prestigious” public school in Melbourne

I miss him, I miss her, I miss that, I hate this, why are things the way it is? Why am I here? My grandparents eventually became fed up with all complaining and eventually told me that I had to be more stoic. I took all my parents’ and grandparents’ advice as trash and that they were just trying to get in my head.

Boy I was wrong.

I had only thought about stoicism whilst reading JD Salinger’s masterpiece, and after reading it, I realise how negative Holden’s attitude is, and how trivial his problems are. I thought “why can’t he just grit his teeth and march on?” His problems are nothing! Holden has twenty-seven cases of saying “I hate” in the entire novel. I suddenly realised, that I was being hypocritical. Both Holden and I needed to be more stoic. Or did I really? I perceived Holden’s complaining as sort of playful at first however, soon after I got sick of it.

I wanted to yell into the novel “MAN UP YOU IDIOT!” But, I had heard that phrase somewhere. Everyone, my friends, family and teachers were yelling it at me whilst I was yelling it at Holden. What a hypocrite. But what really was “manning up?”. What did it mean to man up?

Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

Growing up in a household where ideas like “boys didn’t cry” or “boys need to support their family” lingered when I grew up. Of course, growing up in South Korea where these ideas were highly-prevalent, I learnt to accept them. I was late to realise that these expectations were nothing more than bullshit. Holden and I are both have a while until we become adults. Yet, why are we putting so much pressure on ourselves?

On page 109, Holden is confronted by the Hotel elevator man, Maurice, and Sunny the prostitute that Holden had made an appointment with beforehand. Maurice claims that he owes him another five dollars when he had already paid the five. Holden, trying to be “the man” of course stands up to Maurice and consequently gets beaten.

Honestly, I can relate to Holden whole-heartedly. Growing up with prejudiced grandparents and parents who think men should be expected to adjust to a new school or anything really, instantaneously without hardship is like Holden’s situation about being able to fight back for his money. Out of the many evident cases of symbolism in The Catcher in The Rye such as; the red hunting hat, the carousel and the baseball glove, this scene came to me as the most symbolic and impactful. Holden was trying to fight for his dignity and his pride for being the man society expects him to be. However, this symbolism of stoicism is short-lived in this scene as his five dollars, regardless, gets taken away. This scene, whilst many of my classmates were humorously read this part of the novel (as it involved prostitutes), I found it ultimately, quite depressing.

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Holden describes himself as “suave” when he calls a female acquaintance on page 69 he had wanted to see. He smokes and drinks alcohol despite being underage to be the man society “expects” him to be. On the page 228 of The Catcher in The Rye, Holden finds himself crying in happiness after seeing his younger sister Phoebe on the carousel of childhood. We can tell he is quite shameful or shy of crying as we can read that he is crying in the rain. “Boy, it began to rain like a bastard…I felt so happy all of a sudden , the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling,”. I believe that this is scene is symbolic of his shame in crying, as we cannot see Holden cry, because it is raining.

However, I must disagree in these situations. I thought that my complaining and hardship about coming to a new school was wrong. That there was a problem with me. However, after reading Holden’s story about his desire to be the man society EXPECTS him to be, I found even more frustration.

Maybe if Holden had someone to deal with his problems he wouldn’t have to be so self-conscious about his “manly-ness”. What if Holden had a father figure or at least his brothers with him? Or maybe the situation could have been worse. Maybe Holden had to deal with the toxic masculinity from the close members of his family like I had.

Although wrong, it wasn’t like I’m going to anything about these sexist expectations. I was just going to deal with them. I was going to be more stoic and deal with these expectations.

I wish Holden could as well.

Of-course other than that time, Holden’s complaining was outrageous and stupid, so yes despite being in some cases, there was more room for improvement in his stoicism. His constant bitching was quite easy to overcome in many cases. Such as in page 75, where Holden complains about the lack of hot girls at the bar.

(pintrest)

Holden’s abscence of stoicism and his “masculinity” was a theme I decided to explore due to the unfairness I experienced growing up. Whole-heartedly, I was able to relate completely to his experience where violence was an obvious in his life and boys were expected to settle disputes with fists. Holden can improve his resilience and develop as a young adolescent and adjust to the realities of the world. However, the toxic masculinity that Holden and I both experienced is definitely in the wrong. But regardless, we as teens must stop putting so much pressure on ourselves, before we even become adults.

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