There is an argument that American society was founded or widely based on the American Dream, an idea based on freedom, and the belief that prosperity will occur through hard work, with equal opportunity for all. This was the basis for the American Declaration of Independence, which stated All men are created equal' suggesting that in theory America was a land of equal opportunity. However, the dream' could be misinterpreted, inciting limiting social conformity, which in the 20th century led to the desertion of the inner cities by the middle class and the unfortunate homogenization of suburbia.'
The resultant lack of individuality and search for personal identity due to the rigidity of social structure, are criticisms of American society which the authors of The Virgin Suicides' and The Catcher in the Rye' try to evoke.
Both novels critique American society through setting the weakness of the individual against the strength of social conformity. In The Catcher in the Rye', we see from the start that the older generation are trying to induce conformity in the younger, as Old Spencer says, Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules'; American society is presented as linear, and a lesson is expounded to keep it so. This lesson is presented to Holden as a threat to his individualism as he thrives on being nonconformist, I don't know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like it'.
Holden's inability to conform and his innate individualism is a result of his social alienation, what I was really hanging round for, I was trying to feel some sort of good-bye,' revealing his desire for emotional gratification while remaining an individual. Similarly, in The Virgin Suicides', the Lisbon sisters desire individuality, yet to society they appear as a homogenized conformist group and are described as wearing four identical sacks'; even Cecilia writes of her and her sisters as a single entity'.
[...] The Lisbon girls have only been fairly successful in their struggle for identity through the boys' narrative, and yet the rest of society continues to see them as one, despite resorting to suicide. Holden also fails in his quest for individualism, as he decides to go back to school and to conformity, the very thing he has been rebelling against, showing a hopeless lack of progression. This is also true for the narrators in Virgin Suicides' who never come to understand the girls, nor their own roles in their suicides; they fail to come to a sense of closure and the girls remain out of reach. [...]
[...] Both Salinger and Eugenides present the media as detrimental to American society. In Virgin Suicides', the family watches television together, an act that should bring them together, but we can see that it is a false unity as the Lisbon's were ‘laughing together at the same lame stunts, sitting up during the rigged climaxes,' reinforcing the girls as victims of social conformity. The mass reaction to the mass produced entertainment is explored by Salinger in a more public environment, ‘I'd been to the movies with Brossard and Ackley before. [...]
[...] Salinger reinforces how social oppression and fear of expectation has caused Holden to disconnect with society on both a physical and emotional level. These authors have composed an indictment of twentieth century society through the tales of lonely characters who have struggled to find their place within it, and rebelled against a supposed Utopian America. The endings of both novels show how the individual has failed in their battle against the strength of society, displaying their relative weakness and the fragility of the American Dream. [...]
[...] America seems to be for both authors promoting a Utopian ideal where misdemeanours in society are concealed; Ms. Perl, the journalist covering the story of the Lisbon sisters' suicides presents the girls as social anomalies ‘under the headline “Suicides May Have Been Pact” outlines the generic conspiracy theory, which held that the girls planned the suicides in concert with an undetermined astrological event'. Eugenides' critiques American society for trying to cover up and distort a tragedy while trying to avoid looking at America itself, for seeking outside sources to deflect sociological attention. [...]
[...] Holden hypersensitive and hyperimaginative' which is a reaction to society's expectations, a critique of sexual conformity in American society, which implies sexuality should not be dictated by society but driven by individual needs, oughta go down and at least say hello to her . I will, in a minute.' Furthermore, Holden is fearful of his own sexuality; he describes how, ‘They told me to stop so I stopped' perhaps to conceal his sexual inexperience, for which he feels a misfit. [...]
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