In this recent – and highly contested – election cycle, new President Donald Trump launched a war on the institution of political correctness. Many of his supporters praised him for “telling it like it is”; he did not allow propriety to stand in the way of his messages. In doing so, Trump veered away from the longstanding influence of society, and the standards it has set for all people. Still, Trump’s frankness and seeming lack of regard for common customs is rare. Though most people exhibit traits that may not be deemed perfectly acceptable by common culture, they go to great lengths to conform to what they see as normal.
In Catcher in the Rye, the poem Resignation, and the musical piece The Sound of Silence, each author illustrates that humans hide their characteristics that are at odds with society, yet they do little to truly change them; thus portraying the contradictory nature of humankind. In each text, the author illustrates humankind’s tendency to hold hidden qualities that contrast with the standards set by society. For instance, in JD McClatchy’s piece Resignation, he uses trees to illustrate human nature, and states that trees “[… ave concealed their tangled grievances” (McClatchy 4). The word “tangled” is often synonymous with “complicated”, and McClatchy observes that humans often hide their more complicated characteristics – characteristics that are often at odds with society. This relates directly to JD Salinger’s description of Stradlater in Catcher in the Rye, as “Stradlater was more of a secret slob” (Salinger 37). Holden observes that he “always looked all right,” but “you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with [… ] He never cleaned it or anything.
He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway” (Salinger 37). The “secret slobbery” Holden observes is an example of the “phoniness” he often notices. Though Stradlater attempts to “conceal his tangled grievances” – as described by McClatchy – by always looking his best, the inherent phoniness of his character is obvious to Holden. This facade is not limited to Stradlater, as Holden accuses numerous people of being “phony” throughout the course of the novel. In fact, he views the entire adult population as “phony”.
This human necessity to conform with society is expertly described by Simon and Garfunkel in The Sound of Silence. They muse that “Ten thousand people, maybe more [… ] writing songs that voices never shared / And no one dared / Disturb the sound of silence” (Simon and Garfunkel 16-21). The mention of “ten thousand people”, indicates that they are discussing a large population, who are “writing songs that voices never share”. This represents unwillingness to share their opinions and characteristics with the rest of society.
The statement “No one dared disturb the sound of silence”, almost serves as an implicit mandate prohibiting people from breaking with societal guidelines, and displaying these aforementioned nonconformist attributes. This is quite ironic, as Simon and Garfunkel later assert that “the people bowed and prayed / To the neon God they made” (Simon and Garfunkel 29), meaning that the people were actually the ones who put themselves at the mercy of these polarizing norms in the first place. “The neon God” represents urbanization in the context of the piece – as cities are often lit up at night with neon lights – and therefore society.
The author finally asserts that the people “made” this god, emphasizing the incongruity and irony of the situation: they are worshipping that which they fabricated, prompting a contradictory cycle. Thus, Salinger, McClatchy, Simon, and Garfunkel expertly present the tendency of humans to attempt to conceal characteristics contrasting that of societal standards, and the inherent irony in doing so. In writing their respective texts, each author conveys that humans are unwilling to change their qualities deemed negative by society, despite their attempts to conceal them.
For example, in Resignation McClatchy states that a tree does not try to “[… ] change its fortune. They seem [… ] unconcerned with what the world makes of their decencies” (McClatchy 9-11). Masterfully utilizing his personification of trees, the poet observes that people do not attempt to “change their fortunes”, rather they resign to leaving them in their present state. This is very similar to Salinger’s depiction of Holden’s character in Catcher in the Rye, as when Holden is told that “Life is a game that one plays according to the rules”, Holden thinks, “Game, my ass.
Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots 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 hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game” (Salinger 13). This reveals the alienation Holden feels, as he is identifying with those “on the other side of the game”; he feels as though the he is at odds with society. Yet, throughout the novel he does little to amend this. He consistently dons his red hunting hat, a symbol of his alienation and outcast status from the rest of society.
He almost unhappily embraces his status, and resigns himself to do nothing to change it. Furthermore, on numerous occasions Holden is placed in situations which require him to act with far more muchority than he truly has, such as when he converses with a Pencey Prep mother on his train ride. Holden asks her, “ ‘Would you care for a cocktail? ’ [… ] ‘We can go in the club car. All right? ’ (Salinger 62), exhibiting his intention to behave as though he is older, as he asks her to get a “cocktail” with him – an activity reserved to those older than Holden.
He does this because of his belief that a perception of greater sophistication is more socially acceptable than immaturity. Yet, Holden’s true nature is immaturity; this appearance of adulthood is but a mere guise. For instance, when Holden is chatting to Stradlater in the bathroom at Pencey, he exclaims that “All of a sudden? for no good reason, really, except that I was sort of in the mood for horsing around? I felt like jumping off the washbowl and getting old Stradlater in a half nelson. [… ] So I did it.
I landed on him like a goddam panther” (Salinger 29). Holden’s sudden urge of “horsing around” is alone a childish compulsion, as wrestling would be something that civilized adults do not often partake in. Moreover, the fact that he actually acted on his desire for roughhousing – with little hesitation – speaks to Holden’s dearth of self control, hence unveiling his innate immaturity. Though he attempts to conceal his more negatively regarded childishness through acting more adult-like around others, he does not truly attempt to change his nature.
He continues to act with a striking lack of sophistication or maturity, exemplifying the contradictory tendencies of humans as a whole. Thus, in Resignation McClatchy conveys that though humans attempt to mask their outcasting qualities, they give no effort to truly change their nature to adapt to societal norms, a theme which is also evident in Salinger’s representation of Holden’s character in Catcher in the Rye. All authors portray that although they may not be visible on the outside, humanity holds qualities that contrast with societal standards.
However, most are complacent with these characteristics, and show no willingness to “correct” them. The tangled branches of the trees in Resignation, the unshared songs from The Sound of Silence, and the “phoniness” in Catcher and the Rye all illustrate that humans hide their true selves to be perceived as normal on the outside, however the resignation displayed in these works indicates that concealment is the only measure people take to conform; there is always refusal to truly change. We write the rules of society, yet we do not abide by them. Perhaps if we were more true to ourselves, society would be more true to us.