Analysis of Holden’s Language in The Catcher In The Rye
The Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger is a classic novel about a young man named Holden Caulfield and his journey into the adult world. Holden has been to many schools and kicked out many times. Holden tells the story of his expulsion and the adventures following it. He runs into a variety of characters on his journey Holden narrates his own story in vivid detail, along with an interesting choice in vocabulary. This novel has remained relevant because of the relatability of the story line. Analyzing the plot and style of Salinger shows the theme that growing up can be intimidating but everyone has to do it. Salinger uses the use of first-person point of view along with dependent clauses to give the book a more conversational feeling. The Catcher In the Rye is a book about growing up, facing the real world, and the obstacles that come along with it.
The book The Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger begins with Holden Caulfield, the main character and narrator, introducing himself and telling his story about the past Christmas. Caulfield had just been kicked out of Pencey Prep School for failing four classes and this was not the first school Caulfield had been booted from. Holden was sixteen years old at the time but was known for acting like a twelve-year-old; he condemned the idea of growing up. Caulfield uses words like “phony’ as a defense mechanism and often. Holden liked his brother’s books and books that are funny once in a while; ones that make you feel you could be best friends with the author. Holden headed to New York for an early Christmas break without his parents knowing. While in New York Caulfield experiences some odd things and struggles with the idea of growing up. Even while talking about New York Holden couldn’t stop talking about Jane. He asked everyone he came across where the ducks went when the pond froze over but no-one seemed to have the answer. He had a run in with a prostitute but opts out of going through with his “purchase” and just has a talk.
Caulfield’s journey involved him asking a lot of questions, especially about sex. He is pretty clueless about that kind of stuff. Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment, not wanting to face his parents. His parents are at a party, but he sees his sister Phoebe. It upsets her when she finds out he has been kicked out; he tells her he wants to be “the catcher in the rye”, because of a song he thought said “if a body catch a body coming through the rye,” but she corrects him and tells him it’s a poem. All Holden wants to do is to be the catcher in the rye. Holden visits Mr. Anatoli, who gives him some advice. Not only did Mr. Anatoli hand him a quote, “The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” (Salinger 244) He also gives him a speech about how educated men can change the world, trying to get Holden to reconsider his stance on school. (Salinger 246) Holden just finds this annoying. He leaves after a weird encounter of Mr. Anatoly petting his head. He gets anxious and decides to write a note to leave for his sister at school about running away. Phoebe meets him and wants to tag along, but he refuses. She did not want to go back to school, so he took her to the zoo. The book ends with Holden telling us he will not tell us how he got home or how he got sick but all he knows is that he misses the people he told us about.
The point of view of The Catcher in The Rye is first person. The point of view stays the same throughout the book. Holden tells the reader straight forward that he is a liar.” I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. If I’m on the way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera.” (Salinger 16) The narrator being a liar could make him unreliable. It is not known if everything he tells the reader is truthful or not. The point of view is significant because Holden is telling his story and how he interprets it. It shows how he feels about every situation and his thought processes.
The tone of this story is disheartening yet humorous at the same time. Words like “depressing” and the introduction of his sickness make it more serious. Holden also uses words like “phony” and “kidding” all while having a very funny personality which makes this a more humorous book for the most part. Holden really likes kidding with people, but only certain people can be kid with. Caulfield’s immature personality also influenced the humorous tone.” I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes.” (Salinger 22) Despite the effort to use humor as a coping mechanism, the reader can still see that Holden is not ready for growing up and everything that comes with it and that sometimes adulthood can be “depressing.”
This novel’s syntax is quite simple and is written like a teen or a child. The repetition of the word “and “in Holden’s sentences shows him immaturity. “Lawyers are all right, I guess… all you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink martinis and look like a hot-shot.” (Salinger 46) The author uses a lot of simple sentences because it is supposed to be from Holden’s view, like a conversation. Salinger also uses declarative sentences in this novel quite a bit, because he is telling us what happened. Caulfield leaves his sentences hanging often with words like “anything” or “and all.” In Holden’s conversation with Mr. Antolini, Salinger uses a lot of dependent clauses to give the conversation a casual tone.
Diction is a very important part of this novel. In The Catcher In The Rye, the diction is often very pessimistic. Holden uses a lot of swear words in his dialogue; this gives a very childlike and immature tone to him. The word “Phony” is Holden’s way of addressing adult things or things he does not like. Salinger uses slang to get the full effect of Holden Caulfield’s personality. Words such as “flits” used to describe homosexuals and “dough” instead of “money.” Holden’s use of words also reflects the time period and where he’s from. For an example “buzz” is used instead of saying he is going to call someone. In addition, “swanky” is used to describe something very high-class.
Salinger used figurative language in his novel to not only describe the events better but to help readers visual them as well. Salinger uses a simile in the sentence ‘Mr. Antolini lit another cigarette. He smoked like a fiend.” (Salinger 186) The book itself is one large flashback of what happened last Christmas. He also uses irony quite often like Holden’s contempt for religion but then states that he admires Jesus.(Salinger 131) When talking about Allie’s grave, Holden says “It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out,”(Salinger 156) This is personification because he is giving the sun some human like feelings. Another example of a simile is “Living with him was like living in a museum. “(Salinger 10), meaning it was very vast and open.
The theme of this novel is growing up can be intimidating but everyone has to do it. Throughout this book Holden’s number one enemy is adulthood. Caulfield resents anything even remotely grown up or mature. He is a virgin and cannot even open himself up to have sex with a prostitute. Caulfield keeps somewhat of an innocence throughout the book. Holden loves kids because he thinks they are genuine and kind but he thinks adults are phonies and resents them. He is not very open to the idea of growing up at all. Soon later he realizes that he cannot control it, everyone has to grow up one day. He must learn that growing up can be a good thing.
The Catcher in The Rye is the story of a boy named Holden Caulfield’s journey into adulthood. The theme of “growing up can be intimidating but everyone has to do it” is developed throughout the novel through Holden rejecting the idea of growing up. The story line appeals to a wide range of readers, and because of this the novel has stayed relevant and stood the test of time. Salinger’s style was a large part of what made this novel what it is. The Catcher in the Rye is a book about growing up, facing the real world, and the obstacles that come along with it.
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