The Theme Of Socioeconomic Class In “The Catcher In The Rye”

These events, which are some of history’s most important, have changed society and helped to create the modern world that we live in today. JD Sallinger’s Catcher in the Rye criticizes the new, modern society that emerged in the post-war period. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield is known for his judgmental and critical views on almost everything. JD Slinger uses Holden’s judgmental thought to highlight the problems that can arise from a society built around social class. Holden is trapped and tries to escape his prep school life, but he finds himself in another place in the fall. Holden is adamant about the quality and cost of suitcases at elite prep schools. He considers anyone below him phony, while everyone below him is depressing.

Marxism means that “all wars are class wars” and all conflicts in society result from the division of wealth between individuals. There is no separation between economic and social classes. Holden’s family is in the upper socioeconomical class. This means that they are financially wealthy and socially elite. Holden, a teenage boy who isn’t quite as smart or cool as others, doesn’t see the way he judges others for their economic standing. Holden mentions the suitcases that his roommate has been using for years. It is quite remarkable that Holden can recall such a small item and still associates a whole person with it. Holden refers to Dick Slagle as his roommate and the bags he brought to school with him. Holden even stated, “It doesn’t matter, I know” and still talks about how it hurts when someone has inexpensive suitcases. Holden is adamant that his suitcases came from Mark Cross. They were authentic cowhide and all the other crap. And they were quite expensive.” (page 13). Holden believes that despite his failure at school, he is superior to his roommate for a small item like his suitcases. This is because Marxism has a significant belief that people belong in the same class socially and economically as they are. Sign exchange value means that “a commodity has value only if its owner is a socially privileged person” (Tyson59). Holden is oppressing his roommate by assigning these suitcases a sign-exchange value and assigning them a value. A University of Chicago inquiry reveals how the suitcases are connected to Holden’s capitalist society. “Only few can dream for suitcases, at great cost to many,” the critic said. The only way to enjoy them is to shut out all awareness of the many. Ohmann and Ohmann both state that even those few who are able to afford suitcases can find themselves in a rut because of the antagonistic striving needed to make them secure. Holden’s appreciation of his suitcases is not the only thing that matters to him. The conflict that is caused when others want them is what Holden focuses on. This is how societies that are based on social class and sign-exchange value, like the theory Marxism, can manipulate people into dissociating themselves from one another. JD Slinger uses Holden and suitcases as a metaphor to show how the socioeconomic classes of people can affect the relationships between them. Tyson also looks at how Marxism attempts an analysis of these people and how their class influences their lives. Tyson suggests that Marxist criticism would assess Holden’s negative judgmental thoughts and feelings based on his class as well as his feelings towards the class. Holden criticizes others, but also himself. Holden criticizes situations in which he finds himself in a greater way than those in which he is not. Holden hires a prostitute, but he refuses to pay the five extra dollars she requests. Holden is forced to be in this situation because money (socioeconomic classes) is the key force behind the interactions between Holden, the pimp and his prostitute. Holden feels trapped despite being the one who caused the problem, and having the ability to solve it. This is implied by his use of language (page 44). Holden also suggests that his actions were out of his control by saying, “All the sudden I began to cry.” I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, but I did it.” (page 45). Holden doesn’t even get up after the pimp hits him. Holden says that he stayed there for a while, much like Stradlater. But, this time, it seemed like I was actually dying. It was true. I thought that I was going to drown. I couldn’t breath. Holden may feel trapped, even though Holden is technically in control. He also feels trapped by his lifestyle as an upper socioeconomic class member. This is evident in his attempts (and failures) to escape the pre-school lifestyle. An University of Chicago literary critique points out the importance of Holden’s relationship to school in his view of society. Holden said that he was going west and that school is the way America socializes this imma-ture. He stated that he would “start hitchhiking” his way to the West. The plan I had was to take a ride down to Holland Tunnel. After that, another ride would be taken and the next one would be taken. Finally, I would travel out West and find somewhere beautiful and sunny where no one’d recognize me. Holden was expelled four times from boarding schools. His actions are the reason he chose to leave. He thought this would make him more isolated from the lifestyle of a prep school student in an upper-class community. But it doesn’t. Holden is a regular at a prep school and returns every fall to avoid going West. Holden has been trapped in his socioeconomic group. Holden, despite being part of a privileged social class, is still subject to this oppression. Lois Tyson explains the phenomenon as follows: “The family does not consciously carry out the cultural “program” when raising its children. However, that program is produced in the context of the socioeconomic culture.” (Tyson, page 14). Holden returned to prep school at the request of his family. He was raised in high-class prep school by his parents who were highly socioeconomic. Holden wants to get out of this “cultural programme” because he feels trapped within it. Marxism would use this example to illustrate how Capitalists oppress even the upper class.

Holden Caulfield feels trapped with his lifestyle. He doesn’t know that he is in a consumerist society where social class is the main focus. He doesn’t realize what he is really doing when he criticizes others about their suitcases or breakfasts. Holden is both relatable and frustrating to many. These ideas are not possible to separate from Holden’s experience as part of the socioeconomic elite. Since the advent of the industrial lifestyle, this elite has been around. It is amazing to think that Americans still live within a society that, despite accepting all identities and sexualities and allowing others to flourish, oppresses people of every class. Walmart’s CEOs and owners make billions while their employees are paid minimum wage.

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