Alienation in The Catcher in the Rye and Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese’s 1976 drama Taxi Driver is about post-war alienation and isolation. The main character, Travis Bickle, is having difficulty finding happiness after being discharged from his service in Vietnam. Another work that focuses on this type of isolation is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. While The Catcher in the Rye was written in the wake of the life-altering struggles of World War II, both works are similar in their description of the alienation that many experience in a post-war setting.
Travis Bickle has a great deal of difficulty connecting with others in Taxi Driver. He does not contribute much to conversations with his fellow employees. He is disconnected with his passengers, and he rarely engages in substantial dialogues with them. Furthermore, in the driving scenes, Travis and his passenger are rarely shown in the same shot. This heightens our awareness of the divide between Travis and the rest of the world. He might be close in proximity to them, but he still cannot relate to anyone. This can be seen during several scenes in The Catcher in the Rye, when Holden attempts to strike up conversations with anyone who will listen. Interestingly, one of Holden’s most unproductive conversations occurs in a taxi.
The reason for this lack of connection is never explicitly explained, but we can assume that it has to do with Travis’s experiences in Vietnam. It is likely that Travis has started to distrust others because of what wartime can reveal about human nature. Holden Caulfield displays a similar distrust of other people in the post-World War II setting of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield did not serve in World War II, but his experiences are meant to represent the widespread disillusion among veterans at the time. The death of Holden’s younger brother Allie is an individual representation of the large-scale loss that many people, especially those who experienced the war firsthand, were feeling at the time. Holden’s feelings mirror author J.D. Salinger’s emotions upon returning home from the war. Holden refers to others as “phonies” frequently in the book, and talks about how angry everybody makes him feel. Holden lacks a great deal of empathy for others, because he sees everybody as horrible and undeserving of kindness. We can see Travis undergoing a similar transition to widespread hatred when he begins to buy firearms and prepares himself for an act of violence. Taxi Driver was controversial among moviegoers in 1976 for its climactic violent scene. Interestingly, the bulk of the film is focused more on the causes and reasons for violence. We can see that both Travis and Holden are aggressive due to some sort of trauma. This shows that Taxi Driver and The Catcher in the Rye are more interested in the roots of violence and the integral roles that trauma and alienation have in igniting violent thoughts and actions.
The only meaningful connection that Holden can make with anyone is his sister, Phoebe. He finds comfort in his relationship with his sister because she represents innocence and has not been corrupted by any kind of traumatic experience. Travis finds an innocent of his own in the form of the young girl Iris. Both Holden and Travis express a desire to save their respective innocent companions from the maturity that threatens everyone. Holden expresses this wish by describing his fantasy of saving children from falling off a cliff. Travis actually acts on his wish by attacking the leaders of Iris’ workplace. Both Holden and Travis seek to save innocent people. The irony is that Travis’ actions result in a bloody shootout that Iris must witness.
Both of these works show the psychological damage that exists after war. The main characters of these works react angrily to others while simultaneously wanting to reach out to someone. This complicated mix of feelings is a product of an alienated post-war society. The Catcher in the Rye and Taxi Driver both show that the effects of trauma can be long-lasting and extremely harmful.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.
Scorsese, Martin. Taxi Driver. Columbia, 1976. Film.
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