Term Paper: Rye Anthem the Individual vs. Society

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Rye Anthem

The individual vs. society -- the normal, adolescent isolation and angst of Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caufield and the abnormal Anthem of pain of Ayn Rand's Equality 7-2521

Both J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Ayn Rand's Anthem depict conformist societies hostile to deviations from what is deemed normal. In both books, the protagonist is talented and articulate nonconformist who cannot fit into current societal constructs of identity, and wishes for an alternative venue in which he can express his true self. Holden Caufield and Equality 7-2523 feel oppressed by demands that all persons regulate their behavior according a set of pre-ordained rules. However, Holden Caufield's status as an adolescent suggests that he is experiencing a transitional stage, and he will eventually find a place in adult society after he reconciles himself to his parents, his teachers, and his emerging sexuality. The reason society seems to oppressive, the narrative suggests, is because Holden perceives it to be so, rather than the fact that it really is as awful and as phony as it seems to his young eyes. In contrast, Rand's world differs from Salinger's work for her vision shows a land where societal rules are fundamentally anathema, not simply to a confused adolescent's sense of self, but to fully developed, adult human nature.

Salinger's tale takes place in an arena that is at least somewhat recognizable as of the real world. Caufield is a student at an elite preparatory school. Although the school is strict, Caufield's refusal to turn in assignments suggests that the school is not draconian in quality, only in Holden's perceptions. One of Holden's parting conversations with a teacher is cynical and unpleasant, but not fundamentally in error, in terms of the teacher's point-of-view: "Life is a game, boy," says Mr. Spencer. "Life is a game that one plays according to the rules." Holden responds: "Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it," although he thinks, "Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hotshots are, then it's a game, all right -- I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hotshots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game." (Salinger 8) The reader sympathizes with Holden's anger at his teacher's advice, but also understands that wishing to dwell in a world without rules is impossible -- one cannot live in a fantasy world without assignments, manners, or schedules. Even Holden admits later on that Spencer is not a bad teacher or a bad person. However Ayn Rand's story is highly allegorical and fantastic in its setting. Rand envisions a future dystopia rather than depicts the present. The individual in conflict with society is named Equality 7-2521 and the rules that bind him affect his every action. Unlike Holden, Equality 7-2521 does not know who his parents are, or that he is a person at all. The reader gets the sense in Salinger's tale that the adults like Mr. Spencer have already suffered Caufield's angst during their own youth and then accepted the need to bend to the rules of society. But in Rand, and desire for individuality at all, even within a set of rules, even to know the identity of one's parents is utterly stifled. Equality 7-2521 dwells in a home with other students like Holden, but cannot leave or even try to be expelled: "The sleeping halls were white and clean and bare of all things save one hundred beds. We, Equality 7-2521, were not happy in those years in the Home of the Students." (Rand 21) Also, unlike Pencey Prep, where certain transgressions of the rules are tolerated, provided one gives lip service to some of the rules, Equality's society does not even tolerate the most minute deviation from the norm, even the pronoun 'I.'

Holden's likelihood of eventually becoming integrated into adult society is underlined because he does possess strong ties to his family. Although Holden spends much of the novel of The Catcher in the Rye wandering, he is always wandering to somewhere -- eventually back to the apartment of his mother and father. Although Holden criticizes his brother, he clearly loves his sister, and dreams about being the title catcher in the rye, who saves children from feeling pain. "I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff -- I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all." (Salinger 173) Even Holden's sister Phoebe, a child herself, criticizes Holden's fantasy as crazy, noting how simplistic and stark it is, compared with the moral complexities of the adult world. The world, the book suggests, is not nearly as 'us vs. them' as Holden's adolescent viewpoint suggests. Although Holden dislikes his current place in society, change is inevitable given the nature of the aging process. But Equality 7-2521's society stifles such familial feelings that allow persons such as Holden to come to terms with their difficulties. Equality is raised in an impersonal setting, a nursery with no fathers or mothers. This impersonal society, Rand suggests, makes any kind of dissent, creativity, or natural chafing at societal constructs, as Holden is free to explore in Manhattan in the relative freedom of Catcher, utterly impossible. "There is evil in your bones, Equality 7-2521, for your body has grown beyond the bodies of your brothers." (Rand 18) Unlike Holden and Phoebe, whose sense of sibling unity is secure enough that it can tolerate argument and dissent, Rand's society is rigid to the point that no dissent is possible. "We strive to be like all our brother men, for all men must be alike." (Rand 19) Because "our brothers who are the State" are one with the State, to disagree with a family member is treason, unlike Holden Caufield's society where disagreement does not mean fundamental dissolution of family. Caufield can even be kicked out of his prep school, but he is still part of a family. This indicates the basic health of Holden's society, family, and world despite his rage and anger.

One of Holden's weaknesses as a character, and the reason he has such trouble fitting into his society, is that he is so insecure about himself that he cannot tolerate change. Even for pleasure, he enjoys looking at an entire static object, in a museum, more than dancing or interacting with other people whom he deems to be false or phony. "The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move...Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you." (Salinger 121) This is one reason why Holden has such conflict with authority and with his peers -- he cannot tolerate any deviation from his point-of-view, because his adolescent sense of self is so fragile. He even experiences confusion when addressing the reader, expressing his own views as "your" views, as if he assumes that the reader and he must share the same perspective of the world, otherwise they cannot communicate. But this childish need for utter agreement is ironically reflected in the views of the leaders, the adult members of Rand's society. Caufield's desire to keep everything as it is, to keep children preserved as children (and presumably to stay a child himself) is reflected in his infantile desire for simplicity, order, and a lack of decision-making that characterizes the society of Anthem. When asked if the members of this society are happy, the brothers of Equality shrug and respond: "Indeed you are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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