Alienation in J. D. Salinger's novel "The Catcher in the Rye"
Alienation is an essential concept in social philosophy, functioning as the key term and a diagnostic tool for the study of a social crisis that is present since the 18th century. The theory is often associated to be the main criticism of the concept of capitalism and overall describes the powerlessness and the lack of freedom of our society. Reason for that is the accompanying increasing focus on making a profit and the affection towards materialism. Both are depicted to be the trigger for the growing divisiveness between humans and the world and thus, used as an explanation for social suffering.
However, this is just one possible perspective on the term since many known social philosophers have dealt with it, which consequently ends in countless approaches on the subject matter. Moreover, it is a commonly used topic in multiple art forms and primarily known to literature. In the best known and globally famous novel "The Catcher in the Rye", by American writer J. D. Salinger, alienation plays a significant role as it represents the sixteen-year-old adolescent Holden Caulfield coming of age. In the three days that the novel depicts, the reader perceives the world through the eyes of the central character, who is also narrating the story.
Table of Contents
2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. A Relationship to The World
2.2. Resonance defined by Hartmut Rosa
2.3. Alienation defined by Rahel Jaeggi
3.1. What are the origins of Holden's alienation?
3.2. A Strange World
Alienation is an essential concept in social philosophy, functioning as the key term and a diagnostic tool for the study of a social crisis that is present since the 18th century. The theory is often associated to be the main criticism of the concept of capitalism and overall describes the powerlessness and the lack of freedom of our society. Reason for that is the accompanying increasing focus on making a profit and the affection towards materialism. Both are depicted to be the trigger for the growing divisiveness between humans and the world and thus, used as an explanation for social suffering (Jaeggi 24f). However, this is just one possible perspective on the term since many known social philosophers have dealt with it, which consequently ends in countless approaches on the subject matter. Moreover, it is a commonly used topic in multiple art forms and primarily known to literature. In the best known and globally famous novel The Catcher in the Rye, by American writer J. D. Salinger, alienation plays a significant role as it represents the sixteen-year-old adolescent Holden Caulfield coming of age. In the three days that the novel depicts, the reader perceives the world through the eyes of the central character, who is also narrating the story. This term paper wants to examine the protagonist's behavior and analyze where his negativity towards society is coming from. Furthermore, I want to prove that his isolation is the reason for his alienation, with which he thinks that he can protect himself but, in truth, prevents him from getting help.
2. Theoretical Framework
To successfully analyze Holden's form of alienation, it is crucial to underpin my findings with existing concepts by key theorists in this field. Therefore, this chapter's goal is to convey the terms and concepts that will be used throughout the research paper. To be more specific, the paper will rely on the concepts of “alienation” by philosopher Rahel Jaeggi and “resonance” by sociologist and political scientist Hartmut Rosa. Moreover, the term “relationship” needs to be defined, to provide a better understanding of the two concepts mentioned before. Also, Rosa's theory will be used as an introduction tool to help the reader make the entrance into the concept of alienation easier. The discussion of these terms and theories is inevitable, as their definition may vary from the commonly known or anticipated one.
2.1. A Relationship to The World
This chapter wants to elaborate on the key term “relationship”. A constructivist approach to the term differentiates from its romanticized meaning, as it defines it as a “mutually influencing” (Huber 12) connection, that subjects are forming naturally towards their surroundings. The article “Resonanz und Entfremdung in Beziehungen” by Lisa-Marie Huber will be used to back up my findings.
One could say that a relationship is commonly interpreted as a romanticized connection that involves feelings or emotions towards other subjects and objects. However, for the use of this paper, we must change our point of view. It is human nature to form ontological relationships towards everything that we encounter to understand its meaning. The reason for this is that these connections serve as the necessary elements to build our knowledge and awareness of the world and ourselves (Huber 12). In other words, forming relationships means being able to identify and realize what surrounds us. If this were not the case, one would not be in awareness of the world, and further, humans would not be able to recognize themselves as individual beings. These relationships exist “between subject and world, two subjects, and subject and object” (Huber 12). Moreover, they are not fixed structures, but stand in mutual relatedness and just as our world-awareness and self-awareness are in constant change.
2.2. Resonance defined by Hartmut Rosa
In his book, Hartmut Rosa argues that the term resonance is an excellent way of defining the quality of a relationship (281). It describes the phenomenon of a relationship between two vibratory bodies. The oscillation of one of the bodies, thereby, directly affects the oscillation of the other one. Although it originated in physics, Rosa uses it to develop a new socioscientific field of study. In terms of his theory of world relationships, resonance describes a mode of being in the world. In other words, it defines a particular way of a subject getting in touch with its world. This means in no way the feeling of real physical touch. Instead, it holds the idea of both bodies stimulating each other so that, at the same time, both are influencing and transforming each other mutually (Rosa 285). In the course of this, it is assumed that a body that holds great resonance, will make it more accessible for other bodies to get into the resonance state, too. (287) Furthermore, Rosa wants to point out that resonance does not describe a state of emotion. He argues that it is a type of relationship. This statement will get more understandable after an example concerning the emotion of sadness. Being sad is usually seen as a negative emotion. However, people still tend to enjoy movies or stories that make them cry or even feel sad. This is because resonance is not affected by any level of emotion. When a subject enjoys a sad movie, it feels touched by something within the story. The plotline may hold values of great importance, or the viewer simply connects to one specific character. With that in mind, we see that experiencing resonance can occur in every situation when subjects get in contact with something in the world that reflects their values, is seen as necessary, or strictly concerns them (291). In the words of Hartmut Rosa:
“Resonance experiences are only possible where we act in accordance with our strong valuations, where our cognitive and evaluative maps converge with our actions and being.” (291)
Moreover, Rosa argues that it shall be understood as a “momentary triad from converging movements of body, mind, and experienceable world” (290). It is, however, not possible to force this triad. Subjects that vehemently try to increase the quality of relationships in their life would cause more harm than good (Rosa 295). This is due to the fact that each component is equally able to influence the movement in a positive or negative way directly. If one or more components completely stop resonating, the chances are high that the relationship will develop alienated traits. These are going to be discussed in the next chapter.
2.3. Alienation defined by Rahel Jaeggi
As mentioned in chapter 2.1. and 2.2, qualitative relationships should mutually influence and transform subjects and their counterparts. Alienation occurs whenever this organic process is disrupted. However, it does not define a specific type or condition to a relationship but shall be seen as an umbrella term for all the disturbances, that harm the mutual exchange between subjects and their environment. Rahel Jaeggi, therefore, describes the phenomenon as a “relationship of unrelatedness” (20).
When alienation occurs, subjects are no longer able to get in touch with themselves, others, and the world around them. This shall underline the fact that an alienated relationship does not vanish but instead transforms into something loss-making for the subject. In the words of Rahel Jaeggi, it means: “indifference and divisiveness, powerlessness and a lack of relationship to yourself and to a world experienced as indifferent and strange.” (Jaeggi 21)
In other words, things that used to have meaning and were perceived as necessary now become irrelevant and turn hollow. Subjects that become alienated, furthermore, feel as if they would lose control of their lives. The world they used to feel so inherently connected with turns into a numb place without any purpose to live in. If this feeling intensifies, subjects can turn into selfdefined strangers, who allegedly no one can understand and therefore feel like they are the odd one out. This is due to fact that they can no longer perceive themselves as active beings. Everything that happens seems to be decided over their heads, without a chance to influence it (Jaeggi 21).
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, alienation is an umbrella term. Thus, the following part of the paper will list and deal with the seven ways in which it can occur, according to Rahel Jaeggi. These phenomena will later be used as analyzation tools in chapter, 3.1 and 3.2.
First, a subject can be alienated from oneself. This implies that one does not act or behave in one's natural manner. A reason for this could be the sought after recognition by a specific group of people in general. Thus, actions become led by what a subject believes to appeal to others instead of one's own accord and will. This can further reflect to their aim in life and general needs. Everything then is influenced by what the subject beliefs would be right to do (Jaeggi 22).
Secondly, relationships are alienated when they are not entered for their own sake or cannot identify oneself with them. On the one hand, that concerns social bonds, which one has only formed for one self's benefit. Such intentions will inevitably lead to qualitatively bad relationships, with an immense lack of real mutual exchange and little to no prospect of further development. On the other hand, this applies to any other relation, too. As an occupation, that is only seen as a source of income and without any deeper connection regarding the subject matter (Jaeggi 23).
The third phenomenon addresses social interrelations. According to Jaeggi, “you can alienate yourself from your life partner or your family, the place of your origin, a community or a cultural milieu” (23). A possible example of this would be feeling alienated because of being born into a rich and eminent family. Although everything is gloss and glamour when growing up, the subject realizes that it cannot correlate with being a public presence and finds itself attracted to a normal life in the countryside. This suggests the feeling of not belonging to a particular family or society.
The marketization and commodification of previously non-market-based areas is a form of alienation (Jaeggi 23). This can be explained using the example of Valentine's Day. Here, emotions and love affairs are being objectified so that couples give each other gifts as a custom. What is meant as an expression of affection for the partner is not expressed “directly” but “abstractly” by the gift of goods and services that are acquired through money (Jaeggi 23). Another phenomenon of alienation lays in the waste of human potential, which is lost due to the system of our modern working world. It forces subjects into specializing in a specific field and reduces the development opportunities for the individual. Moreover, it is the fault of industrialization, mass production, and the increasing use of machinery, that laborers are entirely unaware of the complete manufacturing process (Jaeggi 23f).
Further on, alienation describes the State of not having any room for maneuver because of overpowered institutions that restrict our life. In particular, this refers to strong institutions such as the State which are beyond control for the subject. Such conditions will then increase the feeling of being trapped in a system due to the limits set to one's actions. In some cases, this can also refer to a toxic interpersonal relationship in which, for example, communication is no longer possible (Jaeggi 24).
Lastly, the “absurd” can, in some way, also be described as a form of alienation. Everything that entirely falls out of order and resembles “disconnectedness and senselessness” (Jaeggi 24). Now that it is clarified what Jaeggi's theory of alienation wants to express, it is possible to use these results together with the concept of resonance to analyze Holden's behavior and character. As a result of this, it is notable that alienation must not be interpreted as the complete opposite of resonance. Instead, alienation and resonance are deeply connected and mutually influencing each other. The subject that holds strong resonance is not easy to be shaken out of it, whereas a body that is highly alienated is very hard to bring into the resonance state. Still, both concepts describe a specific form of a subject's relationship to the world. This means that the very same relationship can switch between those two states and, therefore, is never fixed. Even if the involved subjects invest in the relationship, it is not guaranteed that it is not alienated at the same time. As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, it does neither suggest the loss of the relationship, nor the absence. An ontological relationship is omnipresent and not affected by how the subjects relate to it. The formed connection is fixed, and the only thing that will change is how the subject perceives it. In the following analysis, I want to clarify which of Holden's relation traits are alienated and why.