Holden’s and His Peers’ Other-Directed Culture

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Holden and Other-Directed Culture in American Post-war Society

Holden Caulfield has long been a representative of adolescent rebellion against American society. This particular American Post-war culture, according to David Riesman’s The Lonely World, which provides descriptive model of the ideology of American society in 1950s, is an other-directed one. Undoubtedly, Holden is all the way fleeing being directed by others and his cult status as a champion of American individualism has interiorized. However, “he is both an insider and outsider” of American society (Brookeman 62), or say, he is under the direction as others do. In this essay, I will first illustrate David Riesman’s idea of other-directed culture in American Post-war society with typical examples from Holden’s peer group, then analyze Holden’s non-subjective struggle between being other-directed or not,finally try to explain the reason for being other-directed.

What is other-direction?

Riesman located other-direction in the upper-middle class of larger cities in America in 1950s, which is approximately the same time period with Holden’s time. He described this type of character as following: What is common to all the other-directed people is that their contemporaries are the source of direction for the individual---either those known to him or those with whom he is indirectly acquainted, through friends and the mass media. (Riesman 37) He also said:

The mass media are the wholesalers; the peer groups, the retailers of the communications industry. (Riesman 85) Therefore, “other-direction” we talk about today is the influence of mass media including TV, newspapers, films and also schools on individuals which is more often than not spreaded by peer groups.

Holden’s encounters with his peer members display this repetitive character. For instance, Old Ackley constantly talked about some babe he was supposed to have had sexual intercourse with while he was actually a virgin. His lies were intended to fit himself in his peer group’s “taste” of having lavish sex experience lest being left behind. According to Riesman, judgments of peer-groupers are matters of taste, not of morality in other-directed culture. (Riesman 93) Also, the loafing habits of teenagers as the peer group’s culture had become a way of life for all the teenagers we see in the Catcher in the Rye.

Holden, other-directed or not?

Strong as the power of other-direction was, Holden seemed to be standing alone all along. He hated “everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques” (Salinger 131); he rejected the opportunity to star in a golfing movie short because “I’d be a phony if I let them stick me in a movie short” (Salinger 77); he hated all those phony behaviors of other people.

However, Holden was caught in a contradiction where he had not entirely escaped other-direction. Most obviously, he fitted in a notable feature of other-directed peer group, according to Riesman, that since judgment by peer members are so clearly matters of tastes that their expressions has to resort to the vaguest phrases, constantly changed: cute, lousy, darling, good guy, swell etc. (Riesman 71) Moreover, his sociability is far from gauche which we assumed a teenager who hated all the phony things in peer culture should be. He was adept at chatting up the girls both on telephone and in bars; he behaved at ease in every night clubs and bars and he went to these places which were popular among his peer group one after one. Most significantly, Holden possessed the other-directed featured radar-like sense to scan others to seek reference point. One anecdote is about Dick Slagle’s suitcases in which Holden did care about his roommate’s feeling about cheap case and adjusted himself by hiding his “genuine cowhide”. That’s exactly how other-directed people sense others’ reaction, adjust and to get membership and group confirmation. Other examples are more convincing that Holden were constantly...
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