In todays society, there is a constant push for individuality. "Be yourself" is plastered on walls throughout
schools, and conformists are often looked down on as "unoriginal" and "typical". The 50's, when The Catcher in
the Rye was written, was an immensely different time. With the rise of television, societal norms were broadcast
widely, with characters showing what the "protocols" were to dress nicely or poorly, act cooly or freakishly, and
generally be popular or
"alone". Salinger explores the idea of conformity vs. individuality in his novel The Catcher in the Rye through the
protagonist, compulsive liar Holden Caulfield. Throughout the novel, Holden, constantly makes up ridiculous lies
to, in a way, react to the "phoniness" and conformity of the world around him. One example of Holden's constant
lies, sometimes even for no reason, is when he meets Mrs. Morrow on the train and they begin to discuss her
"'...Perhaps you know my son, then, Ernest Morrow? He goes to Pencey.' 'Yes, I do. He's in my class.' Her son
was doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pencey, in the whole crumby history of the school. 'I must tell
Ernest we met,' he said. 'May I ask your name, dear?' 'Rudolf Schmidt,' I told her. I didn't feel like giving her my
whole life history. Rudolf Schmidt was the name of the janitor of our dorm" (Salinger 87).
Holden's random and often ridiculous lies can be seen as a reaction to the "phoniness" of other people. When
Holden decides a person he is talking to is phony (a conformist), he lies to cope with their phoniness and, in a
way, match what they exude. Holden also lies to cope with his own personal phoniness, which he attempts to
break throughout his push for non-comformity throughout the novel.
Holden's move to New York, stay in a sketchy hotel, and constant conversing with strangers show his urge to
be independent. Through this, it can be
seen that Holden is trying to find his authentic self. By dropping out of school and warping usual social rules,
Salinger attempts to exemplify the importance of finding yourself through Holden's move from normality. Salinger,
who pushes the idea of conformity equalling phoniness throughout the novel, presents an odd ending to the story.
At the end of the novel, Holden is unhappy with his new life, formed through his independence, and decides to
"conform" and go back to school. Through this, Salinger shows that although Holden might be "conforming", his
authenticity could sprout from moving with the crowd. Salinger shows that, whether it's "conforming" or "being
independent", it's important to find your authentic self and possible to in either instances. Some people are
leaders, and some followers, and Salinger mirrors this dichotomy through Holden's inner conflict, showing its true
importance in society both in the 50's and today.