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The Individual in the Society

In: English and Literature

Submitted By tlpowell13
Words 1955
Pages 8
May 17, 2010
English 10 H
The Individual in The Society The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word individuality is: total character peculiar to and distinguishing an individual from others. The novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, play The Crucible by Arthur Miller and the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy all have underlying themes of the society influencing a character’s individuality. In each text, each character struggles with the difficulty of the society’s impact on their lives. Through each text we see the struggles and stress “the society” puts upon people. In “Barbie Doll,” the main character struggles with her self image, whereas in Catcher, Holden struggles with the society’s pressure to become materialistic. In The Crucible, every character is under the microscope and pressured to stay in order and not to step out of perfection. If they do not do as told or what is thought to be the correct way to act they will be accused of witchcraft even if innocent. The society has such a large impact on each and every one of these characters, that without a doubt each character has been influenced one way or another. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden faces the pressure of the society alone and struggles with the ability of keeping his individuality from slipping out of his grips. The society in this novel brings upon the pressure of having everything, even if it means really having nothing at all. Holden feels he cannot be himself in the society surrounding him, his school tries to change him, his parent’s values aren’t the same as his, and he hates everyone because everyone is alike; they all have the same personality, without single trace of individuality. The schools that he attends and then runs from all have the same modus operandi, or method of operating. They all want to shape Holden into the people he hates the most; a phony. “It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques.”(Salinger 131). This is what Holden struggles with; the pressure of his school trying to make him just like the others. His parents’ values are, again, not what he wants to become. His parents are rich, have everything and have given everything to, or tried to give to Holden. They send him away to those schools to try to reform him and yet he still runs away. Holden’s father is lawyer, which is why Holden feels he is a phony too; he feels that his father’s occupation parallels to his personality - unchanging and becoming weaker. However, when he describes his mother, he makes her sound predictable and insincere, two qualities that he associates phonies have, also. What he saw as he grew up made him question everyone and eventually analyze them to the point where he grows to hate them even more. When he talks about his brother, D.B., he gets more aggressive. Holden explains, “Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute.” (Salinger 2) This quote really explains the way that Holden feels about his family, and the people that aren’t related to him but are part of this society. He believes that anyone who isn’t true to themselves, is phony. The poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, is about a young girl who feels inadequate at all times and she never sees herself as beautiful ever. She has very harsh standards for herself because in society and in the media that is all she sees. The society has such a jarring view on and standards for everyone that makes them all feel inadequate. The only way that she could feel beautiful was to basically “redo” herself by seeing a doctor about her “imperfections.” In lines 15-19 Piercy writes, “Her good nature wore out/ like a fan belt/ so she cut off her nose and her legs/ and offered them up.” These lines show the beginning of the end for her, she didn’t believe in herself and the society definitely didn’t either. The society gives the belief that if you are just like everyone else, you’ll finally be happy. As Piercy writes at the end, “Consummation at last./ To every woman a happy ending.” (Piercy 24-25) she portrays the thought that once you give yourself to society and give up your own beliefs, that you will finally be happy. That shouldn’t be the way it happens, happiness isn’t seeing someone different in the mirror, it should be how you look inside, not to be “phony” as Holden Caulfield would say. In both Catcher and “Barbie” both main characters show the lack of strength to love themselves the way they are. However, Holden doesn’t ever give in to the society and their materialistic ways but instead sticks to his own values. In “Barbie Doll” the young girl eventually gives up because she can’t take being unlike everyone else. She then gives herself up by creating a new person through surgeries. The only way to be yourself is to stick to your own values and not letting anyone change you. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller portrays the children and adults as straight-forward and upright; the entire society of Salem, Massachusetts, consists of adults constricting the activities of everyone and all children around them. When Miller was talking about Parris, he wrote, “He regarded them as young adults, and until this crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.” (Miller 1258) The way that every adult looked at a child was completely and utterly wrong. The children are never allowed to have fun, nor were they allowed to even speak unless spoken to. How could that ever be acceptable for them? The society in this play is so controlling that a child or even adult was bound to step out of their straight lines to try and be happy. Societal views were so tight and “correct” that no matter what you tried to do you were always shut down or accused of witchcraft. Arthur Miller points out in this play the strict values of the society when he wrote, “Their creed forbade anything resembling a theater or ‘vain enjoyment.’ They did not celebrate Christmas, and a holiday from work meant only that they must concentrate even more upon prayer.” (Miller 1259) The society in this community of Salem, MA, is wrapped so tightly that the the consequences of repressing human activities and desires are more drastic than if they had been allowed to do what they wanted in the first place. The girls that are dancing in the forest and then accused of witchcraft is a crazy idea. If the girls were allowed to have the least bit of fun and activity in their lives then they wouldn’t have to hide it all. The hold that the society has on people in that town is so strict that these girls were scared out of their minds. They didn’t want to be accused of witchcraft when they were just dancing. No one should be kept on lockdown as teenagers. The similarities that The Crucible has to Catcher and “Barbie” is that they all had trouble with the abilities of being strong in their own selves. All of society’s pressure to be perfect makes everyone eventually go insane. However, the girls in The Crucible do go against the society by dancing in the forest but eventually when they are caught they don’t have enough strength to fight against the courts so they then conform and blame others to stay out of trouble. The girls used the society to their advantage so that they wouldn’t get into trouble and they could put the blame on someone else. Society’s intention in all three readings are exactly the same: to get the characters to be confined to everyone else’s ideas. Identity is not involved, it is better to not know who you are and to be just like everyone else than to actually have an individual personality. The critic Jean-Marie Bonnet wrote that the society of The Crucible is, “Such an adamantly rigid society of course implies that any form of individuality will be considered subversive and dangerous...individuals trying to assert their individuality are strangled by the web of social constraints.” Her critique is absolutely correct; the way that the society in Salem acted when the girls were caught was exactly wrong. The girls weren’t do anything wrong, the only one that was doing anything bad was Abigail. The children shouldn’t be treated with so much responsibility, kids are kids and they have energy to release. Keeping them cooped up doing adult activities will obviously cause one of them to crack; and when one cracks, they all crack. Society has such a hold on people now, too, everyone looks the same, and there is no individuality anymore. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden struggles with finding who he is and how to keep away from the materialistic worlds. Critics Alan Blackstock and Adrienne Pilon wrote about Holden saying, “It is here that Holden expresses most clearly what is bothering him: the inevitable loss of innocence involved in growing up. Other than the children, the only people Holden respects completely(outside books) are the two nuns, who have managed to remain unstained by the world.” (2251) This quote hits the nail right on the head with how Holden really feels and sees the world. The way that Holden sees the world is that the only people deserve his respect is the kids that haven’t had to grow up and see the real world. As a result of his opinions of people he can’t respect anyone that needs “things.” Holden Caulfield is a boy that doesn’t want to give up his innocence, he doesn’t want to grow up and into someone that he doesn’t recognize anymore. The fact that the society has such a large impact on everyone that they change to the point of no return isn’t how Holden wants his world to be. The three books, poems and plays that have been analyzed throughout this entire paper all had the underlying theme of society’s impact on their individuality. Each character struggled but eventually at the end found what they were looking for. In The Cather in the Rye, Holden finds that who he is, is who he will always be no matter what people try to say and do to him. In “Barbie Doll,” she changes herself to better her image and to better her heart but also falls under the spell of being perfect and like everyone else is what life is all about. Lastly, in The Crucible, the girls end up blaming everyone else for what they’ve done which is again what their society showed them to do. Nobody really ends up happy but they all put an end to their own lives in some way. The reason that everyone struggles with their images and their personalities is that of the impact of the society and media in our lives. If we didn’t see all of those “perfect” girls in our communities or on television, we’d all be happy with the way we were born and raised.…...

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