Skip to main content

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Ideology and the novel "Catcher in the Rye"


Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in individualism, he believed that a man can achieve great things if he solely relies on himself and shuns the societal expectations which weigh him down. In his famous essay called “Self-Reliance,” he argues that a human is unique in his self and he should not bound himself with the illogical regulations of the society rather he should be a non-conformist and adhere to his own beliefs and should not dismiss his own ideology in order to conform to the ideas shared by the majority. The main idea that “Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the novel “Cather in the Rye” by J.D Salinger shares is non-conformity and reveling in one’s own individuality and uniqueness. Salinger in his novel “The Catcher in the Rye” illustrates Holden as a character who thinks that conforming to norms is an evil act and one should refrain from it. The character Holden shares the ideology of non-conformity with Ralph Waldo Emerson, a conformist is someone who dismisses his own ideas and takes up the ideas that are shared by the majority of the people. Emerson believes that society corrupts the independent spirit of an individual, hence conformity should be shunned. Emerson states “whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist", which means that for a human to complete his transition into a man it is necessary to rely on himself and to not dismiss his own ideas. Holden views conformists with contempt and enjoys his uniqueness. Holden lives according to the ideology of Emerson, he refuses to conform to society, lives like an outcast due to his beliefs and persists on expressing his individuality. Holden is a person who matures from an immature boy to a self-reliant man, he aims to wage a war against the superficiality of the society and therefore gets expelled from 3-4 elite schools due to not following rules, he mostly teaches himself and misses classes at school because he believes in exploring his own ideas. Holden is generally disliked by his teachers and friends, his sister Phoebe even claims that he does not like anything so everyone is displeased with him, this is very similar to what Emerson said: “For nonconformity, the world whips you with its displeasure.” This aspect of Emerson’s ideology can also be seen reflected in the novel as due to not conforming to rules and ideals of the society Holden is disliked by nearly everyone. Emerson argues that being a non-conformist is not easy as the society ostracizes the people who make their own way and cling to their own ideas, this novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye” is the clear depiction of the ideology presented by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Another aspect that is similar between the character of Holden and the ideology of Emerson is the profound belief in the goodness of nature. Emerson in his essay “Nature” lays the foundation of his theory transcendentalism, transcendentalism explores the relationship between nature and humans, it states that nature is divine and only with the true understanding of nature can a person understand himself and the reality. Holden Caulfield is the most outstanding example of transcendentalist character in literature. Holden admires nature and only in the company of nature he can think clearly for instance when Holden is talking to sally he mentions how would he love to leave the city life behind and move somewhere deep in the forest where there are no people. His obsession with ducks and where they go also accentuates his concern and love for nature. Thus, it can be affirmed that the protagonist of the play lives according to the principles presented by Emerson in many ways.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


Issam El Masmodi on April 29, 2020:

Salinger's sole novel is of course one of the greatest works in literary canon. The unreliability of Holden and his innovative way of thinking diffrentiates him from the other characters in American literature. The idea of linking the philosophy of transcendentalism to Holden is to the point since Holden refutes conformism particularly the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

Scroll to Continue

Related Articles