You are responsible for finding all the information you can about life in 1949. Here are some things you might want to consider: what was it like being a teenager in 1949? Holden’s use of language is very distinct in this novel – is this the way most teenagers spoke at the time? How did they dress? What did they like to listen to? What was the median income, why? What was the median income for people like Holden’s parents? You can include recordings of popular songs, pictures, links, anything you want, as long as it’s connected to life in to late 1940’s.

Kei Kase, Mark Khasvin, Adina Kim, Robin Kim, Anna Lee

The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, takes place during the week of Christmas in 1949, with several of Holden’s flashbacks coming from the early to mid 1940’s. The 1940’s in America was characterized by the transition of World War II to the conformist era of the 1950’s. The 1940's was also one of the most critical time period for the foundation of American culture. Thanks to the victorious outcome for the Allies, America had gained so much power hence became one of the most powerful nations of the world. Thousands of young intellectuals were coming back from the battlefields. Therefore it was "natural" to see so many changes occurring not only in the government, but also in culture and entertainment.



World War II & Transition into the Cold War
This decade was characterized much by World War II, which lasted from 1941 to 1945 for the United States. On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, December 7, 1941, America declared its entry into war. Using draftees to fight in the war against the Axis powers, America claimed the Allies' victory after Japan's surrender on September 2, 1945, after four years of treacherous conflicts, including the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the conclusion of this war, horrors of the Holocaust were quickly revealed, providing awareness to the rest of the world on what really happened to the Jews. However, the end of one war meant the beginning of another: the Cold War. America joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to fend off Communist influence from Western Europe, and anywhere else for that matter. Although the Cold War was indeed a war (lasting from 1945 to 1991), armed conflicts did not occur during the late 1940's. Instead, the fear and anxiety of Communism and nuclear warfare seeped into the minds of Americans.

American Politics
Once Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) passed away, Harry S. Truman, his Vice-President, took over. Because of Truman's favor towards Black civil rights, the Democratic Party split into the Dixiecrats , which was mainly a Southern white supremacist group that was pro-segregation led by the leadership of Strom Thurmond. This hot issue of civil rights and segregation continued well into the next few decades.

Domestic Events
During World War II, a major increase of women and Black Americans occurred in the work force, because of the absense of the men who were drafted. The opening of opportunities in industries also brought another wavesuburbs.jpg of migration of Southern Blacks to the North. And as industries began to increase, rural areas of the nation began to decline in population. However, once the men returned from war, many women had to return to their homes, continuing this "cult of domesticity", in which women do tasks they are "supposed to do" (house work, taking care of children, etc.). The return of the men overseas also caused the GI Bill to be passed and a baby BOOM to occur. This may explain the many siblings Holden has in the story. Once World War II ended, the migration of White Americans from the cities to suburbs gradually occurred. This "White Flight" mainly occured during the 1950's, as new plans to build suburban homes drove this desire for middle-class Americans to move out of the city, which slowly resulted in "urban decay". This suburbanization became the foundation for the age of conformity, in which everyone did what everyone else did: wore the same clothes, lived in the same houses, behaved the same, etc. This was partly due to the popularization of the home tele. This conformity eventually caused much critisizm, leading t
o literature with themes of rebellion and loneliness, including Death of a Salesman (1949) and our very own The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Also known as the "Beat Generation", several authors and poets expressed their concern and dislike for this conformist era. These writers include Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and Allen Ginsberg ("Howl").

"Little Boxes" - mocks the suburbanization and conformity of the late 1940's to the 1950's.

What about the teenagers?
Like many of the teenagers today, teenagers in the 1940's liked to hang out with their friends and enjoy each others' company. Girls back then were taught to not to be so "active"; they had to learn how to sew, cook, and help around the house. Their parents did not tell them to get an advanced education. Rather, they wanted their daughters to marry a good man, give births to children, raise them, and just stay at home.

In addition, a lot of jobs were available in the early 1940's, when the World War II was still occuring. Right after school, the teenagers would get home, change into their work uniforms, and head to work. It was not because they really wanted to have jobs; they had to help make a living for their families in the hard times.

Nonetheless, teens in the 1930's to the 1940's enjoyed hanging out with their friends outside. Most teenagers enjoyed going to soda shops, which were the places where they sold "pops" and have jukeboxes that played popular songs of that time. The installment of the jukeboxes was what made the gathering spot so popular among the teens. The popularity of the soda shops can be found in a 1940's song Jukebox Saturday Night by Paul McGrane and Al Stillman:
Moppin' up soda pop rickies To our hearts' delight, Dancing to a swingeroo quickie, Jukebox Saturday night...

New York City
New York City entered its Golden Age during the 1940's. According to LIFE magazine, "photographers worked overtime" to take shots of the new "Capital of the World". As World War II concluded, New York experienced a boom in culture and optimism. gallery/23782/new-yorks-golden-age-the-1940s


2009 (Consumer Price Index); based on conversion of 1949 value
Hundred Dollars
Avg. Income (per year)
$26, 536.02
Avg. Cost of New House
Avg. Cost of New Car
Gas (per gallon)

The period of the 1940's was one of the most important periods in the American business. During this decade, the economy recovered from the Depression because of America's entry into World War II. People's wages became higher and labor unions created a stable domestic climate for the business. Many people had a job in making machinery, 001_history_1.jpgweapons, and other useful war supplies in preparation of and during WWII. In the following years, U.S. entered the Cold War, which again increased job opportunities for Americans. By the end of the decade, the U.S. was experiencing one of its BEST economic periods.

In 1946, the congress passed the Employment Act which kept the U.S. at full employment at all times. However, like most postwar economics, the U.S. experienced inflation as rationing and price regulations were lifted. Therefore, the workers struggled to earn wages that kept up with inflation even though the sta ndard living for the average American was higher than ever before.

In addition, many veterans of the war gained college education with the help of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights. In 1949, three times as many college degrees were conferred than in 1940. College became available to the capable rather than the privileged few. Holden's brother, D.B., most likely recieved an education through the GI Bill.



(BLS concept)

As shown in this chart, the employment of American citizens indeed increased as World War II progressed. Many men joined the army in 1942 to '45, and returned to their initial jobs in 1946. Therefore, women and other minorities who filled in jobs for the men during the war had to leave their jobs in order to give back their jobs. By the end of the war 1945, the charts shows that many civilians had defense jobs, which dealt with the wartime industry. Also, nondefense employment jumped from 59.5% to 88.5% after the end of WW2. And for the unemployment rate, the chart shows how America's entry into war decreased it from a screaming 15.7% to 7% within two years.

Language/ Lingo

Influence of Jazz
Due to the popularity of jazz, especially Bebop and Dixieland Revival, the language, slang, and idioms used by the common people (especially teenagers) underwent a change that reflected the popularity of the genre. Many adopted the language of African American jazz musicians because of the appeal of the apparently carefree, cool, and spontaneous lifestyle of African Americans at the time.

Teenagers and the slang of the 1940's
As with any time period, as a certain artistic culture became popular, along with any slang associated with it, the teenagers in society will often popularize the slang through use. In this case, due to the popularity of the jazz culture and the African American style of language and life, American teenagers soon started using slang terms in everyday conversation.
List of 1940's Slang Terms and Phrases and their Meanings
car/ jalopy (old, nonfunctional car)
cat's meow
something splendid or stylish
flat tire
dull or disappointing date
strong, tough
one who is easily convinced or seduced
asking someone to leave immediately
elegant appearance
stuck on
having a crush on
stool pigeon/stoolie
informant; person who 'tattles"
woman's legs
city slicker
someone from the city
in cahoots with
conspiring with
big house
"giving the time"
sexual activity
"drop a dime"
make a phone call
head doctor
dumb person
in the mood for having sex (in context of The Catcher in the Rye)'s.htm


Women's Fashion
During the early '40s, the influence of the Great Depression was still evident in the fashion of the period, with hemlines of fashionable women's outfits still being long, and at mid-calf, though ankle length dresses were phasing out. However, more casual looks began to take hold, with hemlines starting to go just below the knee. House-dresses had a more tailored look, with attention to detail at the collar and sleeves. In addition, women's clothing began to reemphasize the feminine form, similarly to the flapper look of the 1920's. Hairstyles also began being longer and at shoulder-length, rather than the shorter look during the external image 200px-Gloria-DeHaven-2383.jpgDepression era. Fedora-like hats also started becoming popular, and though the shoes were still similar to the look of the 30's, the high-heels the 1940's are often associated with began to grow in popularity.

The mid-40's saw a change in fashion due to U.S. involvement in WWII, and fabrics were rationed. In fact, the scarcity of leg stockings gave rise to leg makeup as a replacement. Women's fashion also began to become more flattering to the female figure and emphasized the shoulder and hips. Accessories such as hats and jewelry were minimal and were often small due to the rationing of many goods, and makeup was more natural and simple.
external image 200px-Yia-Yia-in-Beret-3228.jpg
Finally, with the late 1940's, and the end of WWII, creativity in fashion suddenly began to take hold. Blouses became even more feminine, with shorter sleeves, and emphasis on the bust. Materials used for women's clothing used more fabrics, and the materials began to be more extravagant. High-heels became even higher, and horn-rimmed glasses were becoming popular. Hairstyles also were shorter and more casual.

Men's Fashion
Due to the strict rationing during the wartime era of 1939 to 1945, men's fashion experienced a need for practical and sturdy clothing. Suits lost their vests, pocket flaps, and trouser cuffs, and the use of natural fibers were diminished due to rationing. Instead, artificial fibers such as viscose and rayon were used for common clothing. Anything that was too flashy was considered unpatriotic and was hindering the war effort.
external image 1940s_man.JPG
Of course, many young men were willing to rebel against the rationing with zoot suits, with baggy trousers and over-sized jackets. The flashiness caused it to be considered unpatriotic, and even illegal. However, the suit gave the man more substance, something that was much sought-after during the desperate wartime. The swing scene was also a great influence for men's fashion. While going to clubs, many men often wore large colorful clip-on ties, along with suspenders, since materials for belts were going to the war effort. Wingtip spectator shoes were also popular during this period.
Zoot Suit
Zoot Suit
external image 4171806140_5e00d91eb6.jpg
With the end of the war in 1945, men's fashion saw the development that is often associated with the swing era. The end of the war favored full-cut, long clothing, and shirts and coats came with a wide variety of colors. It is during this time that casual shirts began to rise in popularity, due to the influence of colorful Hawaiian shirts. Hand-painted silk ties were also often worn. Finally, in 1949, a new look came began to be advertised as the "bold look". A loose fitting jacket with notched lapels and three buttons was advertised as the newest in men's fashion.

Teenage Fashion (1940's - 1950's)

Then there were the teenagers. Teenage girls were too young for leg makeup, or tailored dresses and other sophisticated styles of the 40's; however, they dressed in similar clothing that had more "pop" to it. Teenage clothing was much more colorful and had more emphasis around the waist area. At the time, circus stripes (as shown below) were very popular as well as bright but soft pinks, light blues, soft yellows, polka dots and anything that was appealing to the eye.
teen-balloon.jpgteen-pink.jpgDresses were also "poofy" from the waist below in order to seem as though young girls had a little bounce to them when they walked. The fashion of the 1940's created the illusion that people were almost always cheerful and bubbly yet proper and lady like at all times. Women and girls alike always seemed to be proper as their clothing would always have collars and the dresses would fall below the knee in order to cover the knee. Jeans at the time were called "dungarees" at the time and were almost never allowed to be worn. Girls were expected to always wear dresses and jeans were usually worn at home or during play in very limited circumstances. It was very popular for boys to have leather jackets with the collar up in order to be "hip." Hair would be greased back and it was common to see boys wearing plain white shirts with jeans along with sunglasses as accessories. (This was in the early 1950's, most commonly seen in the movie Grease!)'s's-Fashion


Teenagers of the 1940's enjoyed the same things that the teenagers today have access to. They went out to watch movies, listened to music, created their own styles of dance, and read books. Nonetheless, several differences can be seen between what types of cultural media they were exposed to.

1.) Movies
First, it was very normal for 90 million Americans to go to the movies every week to see a movie. It was extremely popular not only among the teenagers but for other age
groups also. Unlike today, however, the genres of the movies did not vary much. Most movies made dealt with sports and war themes, which was due to the Allies' success in the war campaign. Some famous movies include Flying Tigers (1942), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), and Casablanca (1942).

2) Music and the Significance of Radio
Like many teenagers of the 21st century, teenagers in the 1940's also enjoyed listening to music and got influenced by the mass media. The most popular generes of the music back then was jazz and swing--which are the American- originated genres that had incorporated many of the African cultural aspects. Country music, rock and roll, western swing, blues and R&B were popular as well. It was so popular that the trend had swept into foreign countries. In Germany, where the country was under the Nazi regime at the time, had banned the access to these new genres because of its African origination thus named it "the art of subhuman". Nevertheless, some German teenagers were so swept into this new music that they listened to the songs anyway. They were known as the "swing kids".

Some of the most famous and popular artists of the 1940's incuded Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Frank Sinatra. And similar to the movies aforementioned, the songs also dealt with the wartime themes. It usually described how one felt devastated that their love had been killed or taken away.

Back in the 1940's, radio was the main medium for the people to not only to listen to music, but also to watch the news and listen to soap operas and the game shows. However, the invention and the mass distribution of the televisions replaced the radios in the U.S. households. Other methods of listening to music were a 78- RPM record player, a juke box, or even listening to it live.

3) Sports
Like today, not only the American teenagers, but the population in general enjoyed both playing and watching sports. In the 1940's, the most enjoyed game was baseball.

In addition, many positive changes were made in that decade. Jackie Robinson became the first African American baseball player to play in the major league. Moreover, Jesse Owens, also an African American, rose to fame as he won several medals at the track and field events in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Joe Louis, a heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949, was also an African American. Ultimately, the notable achievements of the members of the minority groups gave so much hope and inspiration to the future generations.
Jackie Robinson

4) Books
Teens in the 1940's, like the students today, also read books as their hobbies. Surprisingly, it was very popular among the teenagers that the sales of the books rose from 1 million to 12 million volumes a year. This great success can be also attributed to the invention of cheap paperback books.

Many superb novels, which are also some of the most often recommended books even to this day, were published in the 1940's. Some include Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Gremlins by Roald Dahl, and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Furthermore, some famous stories were actually written by the authors during this period but published later. Such examples are The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and Native Son by Richard Wright.