Societies Influence Upon Humanity
Rejection is the key to self-destruction. Rejection of an individual could possibly cause the mental deterioration (nervous breakdown) of that individual due to the repudiation of society. Ostracization is not always induced by the physical appearance of a person but is sometimes caused by a character flaw. In both J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime the main characters, Holden and Evelyn, feel rejected by society and in isolation turn inward and reject themselves.
The death of Holden Caulfield’s younger brother Allie initiates Holden’s nervous breakdown. Holden enters an unrecoverable spin of depression spiraling downward to the point of near suicide. “What I really felt like though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out of the window” (a-108) Holden lacks a friend or another compassionate influence to provide him with moral support. “Just as one part of Holden drives him forward in his painful quest for a relationship, another deeper part urges his withdrawal.”(c-556)
Without a caring husband, Evelyn Nesbit must turn to society for not only mental love, but also physical love. “There sits among us the most brilliant woman in America, forced by society to find her genius in the exercise of sexual attraction.”(b-46) Evelyn attempts to buy her way into society. “Your beauty is no more than the beauty of gold, which is false, cold, and useless.”(b-49)
Holden attempts to justify his isolationism by considering the entire sane population of the world phony. “If you sat around there long enough and heard all the phonies applauding you got to hate everybody in the world”(a-97) Holden is a perfectionist and can not accept blemishes in individuals’ personality. He could be considered a hypocrite because of his view of society as imperfect.
“It is ironic that Holden ventures to find perfection when he himself is far from perfect.”(g-intro)
After being unable to receive love from the world, Evelyn delves for mere acceptance. “It occurred to Evelyn one day that Harry might indeed love her. She was stunned”(b-72) Evelyn wished for simple contact and communication even if it was ridiculing. “She wanted someone who would treat her badly and whom she could treat badly.”(b-74)
Holden thinks that each different school he went to might offer some new compassionate relationship. He had been expelled from two other schools, and his latest school, Pencey, was no different. In the beginning of the book he is watching the last football game of the year from beside the Revolutionary War cannon on Thomsen Hill - he is not at the field - freezing cold because somebody had stolen his camel's hair coat and fur-lined gloves, Holden is really hanging around “trying to feel some kind of a good-bye.”(a-25) Caulfield misses the friends he made at Pencey but reassures himself that they were simply morons and he should not feel sad about leaving them. I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I didn't know why. I put my red hunting cap on and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, 'Sleep tight, ya morons!'”(a-35)
Holden realizes that he has a problem with being unable to accept anyone as sane and intelligent so he travels to the house of his old English teacher and asks him for help. The teacher Mr. Antolini quotes the phrase “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mature man wants to live humbly for one.”(c-123) None of this is any use to Holden, who simply wants to know what makes him find so many people false and dishonorable. In the fragile state Holden is in he needs reassurance and love. However, the love the English teacher shows Holden is misinterpreted because Holden wakes up in the night in horror to find the man stroking his head. Caulfield, believing the act was homosexual and that his teacher is a queer phony, dashes into his clothes and escapes. “Holden’s running from Antolini’s apartment takes him some distance on the way in his fall from innocence.”(c-557)