Catcher In The Rye
Goodness is defined by www.dictionary.com as “in man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good” (1). In the books, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, goodness is defined by someone’s moral value. The moral value of girls and boys is set by society’s standards in the time periods that the books are written. Montgomery’s book was written in 1908 in a very young Canada, in a time where women were just starting to break out of their roles of wives and mothers and into the workforce. Salinger’s book was written in the 1940’s in America. This is a time where males were still the breadwinners and a person’s socioeconomic status and gender still defined a person’s moral value. In this paper I will compare how, within a forty year time period, very little had changed.
In Montgomery’s book which was published nearly a hundred years ago, she writes about every day problems that face her central character Anne. Anne is a rambunctious 11-year-old orphan that was mistakenly sent to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a bachelor brother and spinster sister. They are very well respected people in the community of Avonlea, even though they are a spinster and a bachelor. Marilla specifically asked for a boy to help Matthew with the work around their home, Green Gables, because Matthew is getting on in age and a boy to help would be a load off of his shoulders. When Matthew gets to the train station, he finds that there was a girl sent instead of boy.
This is a time when children should be seen and not heard, and Anne was not this type of child. She spoke too much, she spoke out of turn and she spoke up for herself, which is not something that the society of Avonlea was used to. Upon meeting the nosy neighbour, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, she was quite rude to Anne. This is the first look into Anne’s temper that is seen in the book.
“Well, they didn’t pick you for your looks, that’s for sure and certain,” was Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s emphatic comment. Mrs. Rachel was one of those delightful popular people who pride themselves on speaking their mind without fear or favour. “She’s terribly skinny and homely, Marilla. Come here, child, and let me have a look at you. Lawful heart, did anyone ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! Come here, child, I say.”
Anne “came there”, but not exactly as Mrs. Rachel expected. With one bound she crossed the kitchen floor and stood before Mrs. Rachel, her face scarlet with anger, her lips quivering, and her whole slender form trembling from head to foot.
“I hate you,” she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. “I hate you-I hate you-I hate you-“ a louder stamp with each assertion of hatred. “How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!” (Montgomerey 64-65)
This shows us that Anne is not your typical young lady. Her parents died when she was very young and she had grown up with various different people until she finally made it to the orphanage where Matthew and Marilla got her from. It seems that no one raised her with the right manners that young ladies are supposed to have. Marilla planned to take this on herself, with no interruptions from Matthew. Anne was going to be raised right.
Even though Marilla and Matthew had the best intentions when they decided to take Anne into their home and raise her as a proper young lady should be raised, Anne seemed to make as many mistakes as she possibly could. She got her best friend Diana drunk, accidentally of course, she hit a boy over the head in school with her slate because he teased her about her hair, and she fell off of the roof of Diana’s house because she took a dare. These are just a few of the incidents that Anne has been involved in. All things that girls should not be doing in this time, throughout the novel there are many times of disapproval towards Anne and her actions. In the end, she grows and becomes a young lady that the entire town is proud of. Had she not grown out of it, the people of Avonlea may not have accepted her.
Religion also played a big part in being good in the society of Avonlea. Marilla always says her prayers, which means that Anne would have to as well, because all good little girls say their prayers.
“I never say any prayers,” announced Anne.
Marilla looked horrified astonishment.
“Why, Anne, what do you mean? Were you never taught to say your prayers? God always wants little girls to say their prayers. Don’t you know who God is Anne?” (ibid 50)
Anne does know who God is, and Marilla tells her that she is “a very bad little girl” (ibid 50) because she does not say her prayers. Anne blames her red hair because one of the people that she used to live with told her that “God made her on purpose and she has not cared about him since” (ibid 50). This shows us that in order to be good in that time, you had to believe in God, attend church and most definitely say your prayers every night before bed.
In this novel, the label of good is given to those who behave themselves, act proper, believe in God, go to church, say their prayers and hold their tempers. Children that are good are seen and not heard and they speak only when they are spoken to. This label in the beginning of the book does not apply to Anne at all, but by the time she has turned into a young lady at the end, she has turned into quite a bright and lovely young lady.
In Salinger’s novel, goodness is seen in two different ways. The way that the main character Holden Caulfield sees it and the way that society sees it. Holden is a young man who has been kicked out of many schools for bad grades. He is unable to apply himself in school. He means to, but once he gets into a new school, things start to change and he does not seem to be very interested in it all. The story is based on him and told from his point of view. The story is about Holden getting kicked out of school again for the fourth time. He is more worried about his parent’s reaction to it than anything else.
He decides rather than waiting till Christmas vacation started, to take off from the school and hang out in New York until the day he was supposed to be home. There does not seem to be anyone that he really likes at the school anyways, so he leaves without anyone knowing. His parents are still unaware of his expulsion from school. He knows that they are going to be very upset because education in his family is something that is mandatory. His father is a lawyer and his older brothers a writer, so he is expected to make something of himself like his brother and father have.
Holden is a typical sexually curious teenager. When he gets to New York, one of the first things he does is try to get in touch with girls. He tried to phone girls he knows, but it is too late, so he finds this number of “this girls that wasn’t exactly a whore or anything but that didn’t mind doing it once in a while” (Salinger 63). This was not uncommon back then. A lot of people’s experience in the 1940’s-50’s is the television show, “I Love Lucy”. This portrays a very good wife that gets herself into a few messes here and there. They live a perfectly happy life where no sex is involved and everything in the end is happily ever after. So when some people hear that there was sex, even promiscuous premarital sex, they are a little shocked. The 50’s especially seemed to be the time of the housewife and the breadwinning husbands. This is the time that Holden lived in, and it was definitely a time of sex, drinking, and the beginning of rock and roll. Holden was definitely a rebel of that time. In the short time we have with him in the novel, he shows us that good to him, is someone that is interesting, someone that can keep a conversation going and someone that does not sell out to make money. In the 1950’s, the time the book was set in, good was defined as someone who did not have premarital sex, someone who is educated and someone who is decent.
In each novel and each time, good is defined in different ways. Throughout the years and throughout the genders, that changed. Holden Caulfield and Avonlea each had their own terms of goodness and both author’s eventually molded their characters to live up to those standards.
Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. The Bible Foundation BBS. 1998. < http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=00-database-info&db=easton>
Montgomery, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. 1908. London, ONT: Seal Books.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1951. Boston, MA: Little, Brown Company.