The Catcher in the Rye
Holden and the Canon: Evaluating the Aesthetic and Classic Status of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’
J.D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ has been controversial since its release in 1951. Its focus on crude and sexual subject matter means it was banned in many places, even in some American schools today. Works in the canon, sometimes referred to as ‘the classics’ are broadly defined as works that, because of their innate literary value, are ‘regularly in print’, have ‘a consensus of academics, historians and teachers’ and ‘are studied for school examinations’. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ has consistently been in the top 100 novels since its publication, but has struggled to gain either a consensus among critics or a reputable academic following. This essay shall explore what has held ‘Catcher’ back from canonical status, despite its broad and long-standing popularity, and whether it is the text or the canon itself that should come under question.  Critical Anthology- Section 6
Critics who dismiss ‘Catcher in the Rye’ have generally done so because they consider the writing to be simplistic or unrefined. Canonical texts are usually expected to be ‘aesthetic’ and therefore ‘Elegant, witty, patterned, controlled.’ Some critics will particularly highlight that ‘Writers do not simply choose ‘ordinary’ words, like the words we use for conversation.’2 It is perhaps in this light that Catcher falls down, as the narration often uses an informal sociolect with profanity and slang like ‘godamn’, aswell as unsophisticated compound adjectives like ‘pimpy-looking’ creating an unrefined style for the text. On the other hand this is accompanied by sophisticated language devices throughout the novel, which is full of recurrent metaphors and symbolism. One example is the ‘duck pond’ in New York: ‘You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?’. Not only does his repeated questioning about the ducks connote his curious child-like nature, but it also symbolises to Holden what he desires- impermanent change- that the ducks return every Spring. This exemplifies literary devices in the novel which, although simplistic in presentation, demonstrate aesthetic themes woven into the structure, thereby raising the apparent ‘value’ of the writing.  Ways of Reading: Advanced Reading Skills for Students of English Literature by M. Montgomery- Critical Anthology
Conversely, though, we may consider that the literary value of ‘Catcher’ can be found in this ‘simplistic or unrefined’ language too. The use of a vernacular which doesn’t conform to formal or literary English arguably adds value to the text because, through his repeated motifs of ‘phony’, ‘madman’ or ‘godamn’, Holden constructs his unique idiolect. This helps him to assert his own characteristic cult of individualism, which the novel inspired in popular culture too, using language and tone to create imagery for the character himself and thereby reflecting one of the dominant themes in the novel through linguistic self-isolation and individualism. We may therefore deduce that, although there are certainly traditionally aesthetic elements in Salinger’s work, there is, in conflict with literary consensus, value to be found in the ‘unrefined’ elements of Caulfield’s writing too.
Another supposed requirement for ‘classics’ is that they stand the ‘test of time’, largely because their subject matter is not considered ephemeral or commercial but ‘for all time’, notably ‘they are unlikely to be at the same time texts which discuss specific political questions’2. Even before entering the debate however, it is important to recognise that many classics when first produced were indeed commercial, be it Shakespeare or Dickens. ‘Catcher in the Rye’ comes under potential criticism here as ephemeral and possibly politicised as it may be considered too symptomatic of the angsty 1950s period in which it was set and written. To an extent this is true since the novel was written at the beginning of counter-cultural revolt culminating in the 1960s and elements such as Caulfield’s time at a ‘prep school’ and flunking all subjects except creative writing are autobiographical of Salinger, who is known for regarding himself especially as an outsider. Sociologists in the 50s began to fear the ‘homogenisation’ of culture, with Riesman warning of an ‘other-directed’ man who conforms to society. For Holden, the motif ‘phony’ covers everything in society that justifies his isolation from it ‘One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That’s all. They were coming in the goddam window’- linking his mental sickness with the relevant societal sickness in the 50’s conformist, materialist culture. This implies that perhaps the counter-cultural, isolationist and individualistic aspects of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ are in fact intrinsically linked with issues rooted in the author or period and therefore less significant ‘for all time’.  The Catcher in the Rye: The Voice of Alienation by Timothy Aubry, assistant professor of English at Baruch College, The City University of New York-
However, many have seen ‘Catcher in the Rye’ as being invaluable in its subject-matter as it helped establish, through Salinger’s innovative almost anti-bildungsroman form, a new genre in the teenage perspective. It has been said by critics that ‘It is the first novel of the modern teenage years.’ and that ‘There is a strong dialogue between the book and the teenage experience- they are mutually shaping.’ Indeed, the angsty tone and unreliable narration help to capture something of the, previously unacknowledged, ‘teen spirit’. Holden is the perfect allegory for holding onto childhood and innocence through the teenage experience- helping create value. One aspect of this is the recurrent mental analepsis concerning his brother Allie: ‘He’s dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You’d have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class.’ Holden was 13 when he died, significantly the start of puberty, thereby helping to construct an allegory in which Holden’s longing for Allie comes to symbolise his longing for childhood. Similarly, the book’s titular extended metaphor in which Holden describes his ideal life as ‘the catcher in the rye’- ‘What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff— I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.’ The use of the pastoral refuge imagery demonstrates Holden’s desire to return to a better time where he stops kids falling off ‘cliff’s into adulthood and experience. Such a theme is seen constantly in the novel, including later in the ‘Natural History Museum’- ‘The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times’- representing his deep longing for things to stay as they were. These demonstrate not only established and moving literary techniques, adding value, but also a central theme of such importance that it helped establish a genre. The teenage experience is a significant aspect of life universally and therefore Catcher not only stands the test of time but also brings something new and necessary to the ‘classics’.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8084931.stm – Dr. Graham (Leicester University)
Both the preceding points of genre and language raised issues about what gives ‘value’, about how we define and assign literary worth. Barthes raises this issue in his work, where he explores the idea of ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’ texts, each deriving their value from different forms of pleasure. The canon, comprising mostly ‘writerly’ literature is about challenging the reader and producing something artistically beautiful. ‘Readerly’ texts on the other hand provide pleasure to the reader by immersing them in another world or person’s story, the reader may forget that they are in fact reading, and language may not be as complex or patterned. The informal direct address used by Holden, for example, such as ‘I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff’, pulling us into his world and including us in his superior perspective, or the angst-ridden tone mirroring teen’s inner conflicts, have just as much value to a consumer, regardless of canonical ‘aesthetic’. It is therefore worth considering alternative theories of literary value such as Barthes’s when deciding whether ‘Catcher in the Rye’ has a place in the canon, particularly in appreciating both its evident ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’ aspects.  Ways of Reading: Advanced Reading Skills for Student of English Literature by M.Montgomery- Critical Anthology
Perhaps one observable failing in ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is that ‘Plot is in short supply.’ It’s supposed to form ‘complex patterns or structures’, and is arguably an important factor even in establishing ‘readerly’ value as it creates interesting storylines. Often there are narrative gaps in Holden’s storylines, sometimes left unconcluded with a relatively cyclical arc, leaving readers without a sense of resolution or explanation- ‘That’s all I’m going to tell you about. I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I’m supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don’t feel like it.’ It is easy to feel as though nothing of consequence occurred in this novel. Another reading of the text however, is that the narrative is a mental one, as opposed to a more solid material one, in line with its experimental anti-bildungsroman form. Although the text only covers three days of Holden’s life it feels significantly longer due to the lack of distinct chronological markers and even the absence of consistent paragraphing, with some anecdotes rambling on for multiple pages. These however are excellent structural imagery for an inner monologue. The distortion of time and lack of impetus or direction in plot may be addressed by the fact that this reflects Holden himself, who in his depressed and deteriorating mental state lacks all of these things. It does, indeed then, in this psychoanalytical reading ‘form complex patterns and structures, either being echoed by other ideas in the text or reaffirmed in the form of general themes.’ 7 taking us on a journey through the unstable mind.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8084931.stm – BBC Magazine Why does Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye still resonate?, created 5/6/05  Ways of Reading: Advanced Reading Skills for Student of English Literature by M.Montgomery- Critical Anthology
Overall then, an exploration of general literary features such as form, plot and language, demonstrates how ‘Catcher’ fulfils many of the aesthetic ‘conditions’ for literary value through sophisticated devices and complex, consistent themes. This is the case even if the presentation of them is unconventional within the established canon. Interestingly, Holden’s central themes resonate with canonised heroes of American literature like Gatsby or Huckleberry; be it the social insider turned prisoner, the unique idiolect or the Romantic’s legacy of innocence battling experience. The text does however raise questions about how we assign value to literature such as whether politicised subject matter has a place or whether readers’ pleasure is as important as aesthetic worth. It’s worthwhile noting that the canon can be criticised as a group of texts selected by ruling elites, middle classes or older generations of critics and it’s therefore highly reasonable to consider these alternative aspects when discussing value. ‘Catcher in the Rye’ certainly benefits from such a discussion as the dissident narrator, the nonstandard vernacular and the personal form all add value despite all being points of potential criticism too. It is through a combination of conformist and alternative literary value that ‘Catcher in the Rye’ has a place within the canon, perhaps most pertinently through its attempts to not be a ‘classic’.
A-Level English Literature B Critical Anthology by AQA, Cambridge University Press 2015 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8084931.stm – BBC Magazine Why does Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye still resonate?, created 5/6/05 – Study.com Why is Catcher in the Rye a Classic? https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/catcher/context/ – SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Catcher in the Rye.” Context, accessed 20/07/17 http://studentacademichelp.blogspot.com/2009/05/catcher-in-rye-holden-caulfield-and.html – An essay from Academic Help, The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield and American Protest, created 21/5/09 – The Catcher in the Rye: The Voice of Alienation by Timothy Aubry, assistant professor of English at Baruch College, The City University of New York, The Guilder Lehrman Institute of American History
The Catcher in the Cold War: 1950s Society and the Question of Responsibility
According to Joseph Cummins, a researcher on teenage rebellion in the 50’s and 60’s, in 1946, 3.4 million babies were born in the U.S, which is more than ever before. This was followed by 3.8 million in 1947. After 1954 4 million babies were born every year until 1964 when the baby boom tapered off. These children came of age in the 50’s and 60’s and immediately began to rebel. (Cummins) As parents were faced with a new, more dangerous form of teen rebellion to match the historically tense times. While all the attention was turned to up keeping new societal norms and pushing communists out of 50’s America, teens like Holden were allowed to simply slip through the cracks and watch as their own mental states deteriorated without the proper treatment. Although people say the book The Catcher in the Rye is not a social commentary on the ills of the 1950’s Salinger provides a first-hand account on the societal norms, historical tensions, and psychological states at the time, proving that responsibility fosters hypocrisy.
This time period is infamous for its invisible war against communism as well as the unsettling need to live a cookie cutter life style following the economic boom. Parents found a safe place in the suburbs being able to provide more for their children than their parents had ever provided them. There were certain rules that needed to be followed, and if they weren’t followed, children were shipped off. Professor at Stanford Richard Powers states, “A significant proportion of the adult generation disapproved of the values and lifestyle of the teens, and were doing something about it, including setting new rules, restrictions and prohibitions. Boy’s hair touching the ears wasn’t allowed, punishable by expulsion. Most girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. The new slang – hipster talk – bothered most adults. It was part African American, part beatnik and part street gang… an offensive combination in the eyes of the status quo.” (Powers) This comes off as extremely controlling and bit hypocritical seeing as parents wouldn’t allow their children to be their own individual. This is something everyone has wished for and is entitled to, this was being ripped from them which led to the isolation and loneliness among teens. While attempting to juggle teenage rebellion parents also had another growing concern, the spread of communism. Alan Nadel puts it like this “This all played out through publicized trials of suspected spies and subversives, Loyalty Oaths, Hollywood and Academic purges, as well as extensive anti-communist legislation.” (Nadel) This made this time very difficult on the average man because every citizen was both the threat and the threatened. The constant thought that anyone around you could be a enemy waiting to strike could drive anyone bonkers as well as having no truthful test of loyalty. This shows through Holden’s speech as well as the continuous use of the word ‘phonies’ referencing the need to always be on guard against ones friends, neighbors, and family members.
Political tensions at the time were at an all time high, and the American people reflected that in the way they carried themselves and in their rhetoric. Alan Nadel, author of “Rhetoric, Sanity, and the Cold War: The Significance of Holden Caulfield’s Testimony,” states “This aspect of fiction could not be more emphasized than it is by Holden Caulfield’s speech, a speech which, moreover, reflects the pressures and contradictions prevalent in the cold war society from which it was forged.” (Nadel) Holden’s use of profanity throughout the book showcases his growing irritation, this could be reflected back onto politics in this time period. At one point, the US and the Soviet Union were wartime allies but in peacetime quickly became enemies due to conflicting ideologies and competition when it came to global interests. This bred a form of paranoia that reshaped foreign policy for years after the cold war. History.com states, “Many people in the United States worried that communists, or “subversives,” could destroy American society from the inside as well as from the outside.” (History.com) Holden represents this paranoia the American people were feeling at the time in The Catcher in the Rye when he heads to New York, hags a cab, then proceeds to ask the cab driver many questions which only brings about irritation in the driver as well as making him suddenly more paranoid and questionable of Holden. (Salinger Page 82) People at this time were constantly on edge, always on the lookout for the enemy in hiding. This reflects back onto the cab driver because at time in order to not be suspected of being in bed with the enemy it was a necessity to look, and act like everybody else. The 50’s was an era of great conformity in a political time period of disarray and disloyalty. Everyone led the same cookie cutter lifestyle, some afraid to fall out of line in fear of being a suspected communist. This time period was also littered with less than professional school environments and abstinence only sex education that in the end only hurt the children.
Despite many notable attempts from schools to make their programs better, they still faced difficulties in defining the goals of family life and sex education. According to Rose M. Somerville, an author on family life and sex education, states, “The fact that some of the difficulties are contradictory merely compounds the problems.” (Somerville) This itself screams hypocrisy at the highest of levels To define the goals of family life correctly the need for sex education becomes even higher. How is a child expected to understand the severity of their choices as an adult without having knowledge of how to handle adult problems? Isn’t that what the school system is paid to do for Americas children? Not teaching children the importance of safe sex and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies can make or break their futures as well as the future of Americas children. As the baby boomers grew up and started to blossom into individuals, parents began putting an end to things like boys with long hair, jeans, rock n roll, and fast cars because these were all deemed as unethical and not the societal norm. This is questionable considering when the parents of this generation were themselves teenagers they too wished for freedom and individualism, in a sense one could say they were rebelling. If children didn’t follow through with their parents’ wishes they were packed up and shipped off to boarding school in hopes they would be ‘molded’ into a more productive member of society when if put in their shoes wouldn’t wish this upon themselves making their morals and fitness to be parents up for debate. As Holden states in the book “They didn’t do any more damn molding at Pencey than they did at any other damn school” (Salinger Page 2) this shows that the schools themselves didn’t mold the students into anything special, they simply heavily encouraged the students to fall in line, which many did with ease. They attended all the football games, sitting on the sidelines tirelessly cheering for their team, despite not knowing why they liked them in the first place. They learned all the material, simply because they were told to. They scored high on all the state tests, because they were expertly trained in how to pass them.
It could be argued that in these days, no one ever had a thought of their own. they were always being told what to wear, what to say, and what to do. Take this example from Salinger: “The game with Saxon Hall was supposed to be a very big deal around Pencey. It was the last game of the year, and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn’t win.” (Salinger Page 1) Again the morality of these parents is up in the air once you encourage your child to live a life they do not want to live and force them to participate in things that in the end they have no interest in. The theory alone is shaky, but it lacks evidence to support the argument for the cookie cutter life style other than simply “I told you so.” That by itself can be stressful for a child on top of the rejection of who they really are inside as and, in Holden’s case, trauma over the loss of his brother drove him nearly out of his mind and the belief is it was for the greater good? If the reader really begins to analyze Holden it could be inferred that Salinger is referencing the end of the book where Holden suffers a mental breakdown and following that is sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Holden himself didn’t fit into societal norms, like, for example, not going to the most important football game of the year, he didn’t take his own life but a psychiatric hospital visit however can definitely be categorized under, as Salinger states, “or something.” (Salinger Page 1) Throughout the book, the reader watches as Holden’s frustration begins to eat at him slowly leading to the deterioration of his mental state. The book begins with Holden acting like a seemingly normal teen brimming with angst but as the book continues it becomes evident that something is wrong with Holden, not just normal teenage rebellion.
However, no one else seems to recognize what Holden is going through and he is labeled just another teenage rebel, and for that fact most adults choose not to bother with him due to the difficulty he presents. Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist, puts it this way, “Parents usually dislike adolescent rebellion, it’s not only that it creates more resistance to their job of providing structure, guidance, and supervision.” (Pickhardt) Holden was not the only teen in this time period with this problem, many teens found it hard to express themselves and many mental illnesses were overlooked due to political tensions and the comfortability provided by the economic boom. This raises questions about why his parents didn’t get him help after the passing of his brother and before it was too late, at a time when grief counseling was most definitively needed. This brings about a sense of selfishness that was prevalent in cold war society that allowed a cycle of hypocrisy to live on even as it does now in modern day society. Joseph Cummins, a researcher on teen rebellion in the 50’s and 60’s, claims, “Since millions of baby boomers were raised in the affluent suburbs that had sprung up after the war, they began their rebellion against the materialism of their youth.” (Cummins) Differentiation between parent and child led to many disagreements and hypocrisy directed towards their children because parents thought they knew what was in the greater good for their child. Many, though, rejected the materialism of their upbringing while their parents embraced it, parents became angered with their children for taking advantage of a comfortable lifestyle they wished they could have enjoyed when they were younger and believed they were ungrateful. This left teens feeling isolated and unaccepted with no one to turn to, wishing they had someone to love them for who they are, something that at one point, their parents wished for as well. This could just as well lead to rebellion for the sole purpose of attracting attention, Psychologist Joseph Cummins explains, “Rebellion can cause young people to rebel against their own self-interests — rejecting childhood interests, activities, and relationships that often support self-esteem. It can cause them to engage in self-defeating and self-destructive behavior” (Cummins) This is exactly what Holden decides to do.
If analyzed closely, Holden’s actions reflect a need to be accepted and a cry for help that he tried to express through rebellion. This drives Holden to do things he wouldn’t in his right mind do, and in turn, drives him to the brink of insanity. It all comes to a peak when Salinger writes, “Somebody had written fuck you on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them.” (Salinger Page 201) The idea of someone else getting robbed of their innocence, in his case when his brother had died, drove him absolutely mad. Holden never wanted someone’s mind to go where his had gone, especially not the one person he cared about the most, his little sister Phoebe. The death of his brother ultimately opened Holden’s eyes to all the bad there was in the world, it was like a surgical intervention on a patient who hadn’t gone under anesthesia yet. It was painful jolt into a new world he wasn’t prepared for, and Holden will have scars that will last forever, whether they be visible or not. He wanted to save Phoebe from that, he wanted to save everyone from that, but they didn’t want his help. Not everyone shares this opinion however, some critics say that responsibility doesn’t foster hypocrisy among adults, it only fosters understanding. Of course, no child likes to be told what to do by their parents but sometimes in the end it is for the greater good, even if they haven’t come to that conclusion themselves yet. Psychologist Carl Pickhardt claims, “The parent knows best because new exposure puts the teenager at the mercy of inexperience and ignorance” (Pickhardt) Sureley when they were younger parents didn’t like eating their vegetables, but they were forced anyway because in the end, it made them healthier. In turn they urge their child to eat their vegetables despite the unappealing taste knowing that, in the end, it will to make them just as healthy. With that in mind there is still the remaining question of why make someone do something you wouldn’t do yourself, if it truly is for the other person’s greater good shouldn’t they believe that too as well as have the right to make choices for themselves? It is still argued that the responsibility of being a parent brings about a new sense of understanding of the greater good, but yet in this time period Rose M. Somerville states “These Obstacles were to loom even larger, Among such obstacles were the following, difficulties in defining family life, fear, and uncertainty when facing changes.” (Somerville) If the parent themselves are unsure how could they be expected to know what is best for someone else?
Nonetheless, teenage rebellion was a muffled call for help whose signs were blatantly ignored in the face of budding communism, the need to fit in, and the cold war proving that hypocrisy makes roots in those who take on more responsibilities. In order to fix this problem among families that is found even in modern day society we must encourage parents to become more empathetic when facing their child’s problems, this can bridge gaps in family members and can improve mental health among children by letting them know they are accepted and they are loved for who they are. Let this be a lesson and from before us from here on the rule of thumb for every society should be ‘If I couldn’t get through this, why should I expect someone else to?’
Cummins, Joseph . The Rebellion of the Youth in the 1960s. Classroom. Nadel, Alan. “RHETORIC, SANITY, AND THE COLD WAR: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HOLDEN CAULFIELD’S TESTIMONY.” The Centennial Review, vol. 32, no. 4, 1988, pp. 351–371. JSTOR, JSTOR, Pickhardt, Carl E. Rebel with a Cause: Rebellion in Adolescence. Psychology today , 6 Dec. 2009. Powers, Richard. “The Life of a 1950s Teenager.” 1950s Teenagers, Stanford University, socialdance.stanford.edu/Syllabi/fifties.htm. Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company, 1951. Somerville, Rose M. “Family Life and Sex Education in the Turbulent Sixties.” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 33, no. 1, 1971, pp. 11–35. JSTOR, JSTOR,
The Cyclical Nature of Running Away: Analysis of Holden Caulfield and Francis Weed
In both “The Country Husband” and The Catcher in the Rye, Francis Weed and Holden Caulfield attempt to escape the cyclical nature of their societies, but are ironically brought back to a routine lifestyle that is both predictable and blatantly understood by both protagonists. Both struggle to fight through the cage of false appearances and uniformity, attempting to reinvent their monotonous personalities and extricate themselves from their irrational peers. By running away and obtaining characteristics foreign to their natural personalities, Francis and Holden ironically revert back to the cyclical nature of their rejected societies, their rebellions unable to overcome the compelling cycle of monotony.
Holden Caulfield, unable to tolerate the brainwashing nature of his teen peers in high school, rejects the “stupidity” of trying to fit in, an ungraspable concept to the teenager with rationally-based sentiments. Believing his knowledge of the corrupt society contrasts the other teenagers’ ignorance to their issues, Holden “didn’t have any goddamn choice except to leave” (Salinger 98). Hypocritically, Holden leaves because of the lack of acceptance, proving that although he claims he does not desire to fit in, his intentions are to find a society in which he feels accepted. His roommate Stradlater, the jock opposite Holden, maintains his habitual shaving routine with a razor that “he never cleaned or anything” (Salinger 31). Each boy follows a strict routine that is unnatural to Holden as they do not stray from their predictable patterns of character and actions. The nature of the general structured society repulses Holden as his individuality and rational thoughts are (in his mind) superior to the social standards followed subconsciously by everyone else.
Ironically, as Holden escapes from his own routine-based school and social life, he revisits once again another area of sameness and perpetual routine. The carousel, representing each race and kind of person all rhythmically moving to the same song of –– calls to him, leading him back to his social cycle. Running away from his previous setting drives Holden to run to the same rhythm of the carousel, once again falling into the path of routine as he ends the story looking out at his sister, just as the other indistinguishable adults. Holden watches his sister, caught in the circle of childhood, “go around and around,” just as the other children follow. Although Holden originally rejected the never-ending carousel of childhood, he returns to the cycle. His character, even though it undergoes mental reevaluations and irrational decisions, never altered from the beginning as it reverts back to its original cycle. Subconsciously, Holden reverts back to the typical teenager he rejects while seeking comfort from his family, the foundation of the average American society.
In “The Country Husband” Francis Weed ironically tries to change his personal routine after his near-death awakening, but in the end ends up in the same marital structure he began in. He begins to notice the daily routines of his neighborhood, exclaiming his dislike of them, constantly seeking out the negativity in his neighborhood. The identical family homes all housing perfectly-appearing couples and families strikes Francis as unnatural and within him arouses a rebellion that he executes with the rejection of his marriage, and the lust for an untouchable woman. His actions speak louder than his words as he unreasonably seeks a relationship with his children’s babysitter. Although his lust grows for her, this new feeling resulting from his mental awakening is nothing more than experimentation just as the rest of his neighbors. His feelings, based on a social rebellion resulting from the hatred of the cyclical relationships of his town, are nothing more than meaningless lust.
Overall, Francis Weed’s duty still remains with his children, and the typical parties and fatherly obligations still define his life. As he begins to run his family life off its normal tracks, he cannot cope with the mental instability that follows, leading him to seek counseling, a coping mechanism common among the stereotypical American. The way his family ceases to care of Francis’ problems is another moment of his awakening that startles him to the point of reconsidering his relation to his children and wife. He “doesn’t like to come home every night to a battlefield,” but when his children refrain from acknowledging his personal tragedy, it becomes clear his family is under a spell of ignorance along with the rest of his neighbors (Cheever 204). Temporarily giving in to his obsession, Francis also haunts a younger woman, almost a girl, and “did this nearly every night.” After his experimentation with his rebellious lust, Francis spends “another evening among his kind neighbors,” the invariant neighbors whom Francis attempted to desert (Cheever 205).
Although both Francis and Holden run from their seemingly poisonous settings, they end each of their journeys in a state of vulnerability they possessed at the beginning of their escapes. Each man subconsciously aspires to be an anomaly of their societies, but only differ from their peers in their awakened knowledge of the cyclical nature of their own cities. Both men run from the fear of the cyclical world, yet end up in an alternate monotonous schedule. Francis and Holden both recognize that the objects of people’s desires there are mundane, and therefore judge the outside world harshly. It is only after each story that the authors present the notion that although people try to seek individualism, sameness is inevitable.
Hooking Up With Holden: Exploring Sexuality in The Catcher in the Rye
“Sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t,” (Salinger, 63). It might take Holden Caulfield nine chapters to admit to this, but his sexual confusion is present from the first pages of J.D. Salinger’s famous novel The Catcher in The Rye. Stemming from the dichotomy of sexual openness in America, underlined by an immense sensitivity, and sprinkled with teenage confusion, Holden’s relationship with his sexuality is a turbulent one. Holden experiences a constant string of emotions concerning sexuality, spanning from excitement to guilt. All of these emotions are difficult, and are a pressing internal struggle for Holden. Holden Caulfield’s disconnection from his sexuality is a notable contributor to his social difficulties.Certainly the broadest cause of sexual issues in The Catcher in The Rye is Holden’s relationship to societal sexual expectations. America during this time features contrasting beliefs surrounding sex. For the older generation, which includes Holden’s distant parents, “most sex in America had been forced into the closet. Even masturbation was despised and thought to be the source of many physical and psychological ills. The only officially endorsed sexual behavior was monogamous heterosexual marriage,” (Ferguson, 2). Only private, vanilla-no-sprinkles-please sex was acceptable, and even this ultrabland intercourse was never spoken about. In a predictable reaction to this uptight sexual culture, the younger generation rebelled and embraced sex, which later partially motivated the sexual revolution. We see this open sexual excitement in Holden’s private school, Pencey Prep. Holden tells his reader that at Pencey “all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day,” (Salinger, 131). While all of Holden’s friends are making out with girls, and then vividly retelling stories about said making out sessions, Holden can’t quite assimilate into that culture. A part of Holden does experience sexual excitement; he goes on dates regularly, comments on girl’s appearances, and is jealous of his roommate Stradlater’s sexually adventurous ways (Salinger, 43). But there is also an equally strong part of Holden that wants sex to be intimate and incredibly personal. Both perspectives are showcased as Holden reflects on an usual sexual scene observed outside his hotel room window; “I can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all over each other’s face. The thing is, though, I don’t like the idea. It stinks, if you analyze it,” (Salinger, 62). On one hand Holden is excited, and at times overwhelmed, by sex. On the other, he is upset by and quietly sensitive to sexual energy. Holden is clearly confused about where he lands between these two opposing ends of the spectrum. Society is sending mixed signals to all young adults, and Holden is a prime example of the confusion that can ensue.The Catcher in The Rye is commonly known for its exploration of growing into adulthood, and the inevitable loss of innocence. Eero Helenius connects innocence and sexuality well- “With regard to sex and sexuality, then, Holden is primarily concerned with protecting the innocence of those — girls, in specific — yet untainted by its ever-pervasive influence,” (Helenius, 25). The themes of innocence and adulthood are closely related to, and supported by, a number of sexual examples. The clearest example of innocence lost to sex is found as Holden orders a prostitute to his hotel room. Immediately after confirming his room number with the elevator boy turned pimp, Holden starts to regret his decision (Salinger, 91). When the prostitute arrives, Holden is turned off by her childish appearance, noting that she “(…) was young as hell,” (Salinger, 94). The prostitute, who goes by Sunny, enters wearing a green dress and quickly takes it off. Holden’s obsession with innocence is clear as he reflects on this dress- “I took her dress over to the closet and hung it up for her. It was funny. It made me feel sort of sad when I hung it [the green dress] up for her. I thought of her going into a store and buying it, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute and all. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell- I don’t know why exactly,” (Salinger, 95). Despite his lack of emotional intelligence, Holden expresses a deep pain in reaction to this innocent dress being used for prostitution. Holden may not know why he’s so sad about this dress, but readers do; witnessing an apparently regular, young girl turn to the impersonal world of sex work is heartbreaking for our innocence-obsessed narrator. Holden’s pained relationship with sexual innocence is also present, and even more personal, in his childhood friend and love interest Jane Gallagher. To Holden, Jane represents tender childhood memories and youthful beauty. Holden tells a story of when Jane and he are playing checkers, making a special note of how Jane keeps all of her kings in the back row through the game. This is of course a terrible strategy, but she “ (…) liked the way they looked (…),” (Salinger, 32). Much in the same way Holden has unrealistic but comforting tendencies, Jane puts the innocent desire of aesthetics above the adult goal of winning the game. Jane has a history of sexual adulteration, namely her “boozehound” father-in-law walking around their house naked. Jane’s father-in-law, a blatant symbol of harsh adult life, interrupts their checkers game to ask if they have any cigarettes, but Jane cannot meet his eye and begins to silently cry. (Salinger, 78). This exchange serves as evidence that Jane has been sexually abused by her father-in-law. Holden tries to comfort her, but lacks the proper communication skills. This tragic example of sexual adulteration sets the stage for another Jane-related pain for Holden. Stradlater, Holden’s super-sexual roommate, goes on a date with Jane. Holden, and readers, infer that Stradlater and Jane have sex, which is heartbreaking to Holden. Holden desperately tries to bring innocence back to the situation by asking Stradlater about Jane’s delicate back row of checkers, to no avail. As Eero Helenius puts it “Stradlater does not ‘even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row’ (Salinger, 43), a detail about Jane’s character that means everything to Holden but nothing to Stradlater,” (Helenius, 24). This loss of sexual innocence is experienced as death for Holden: death of childhood, death of beauty, death of general innocence. Peter Shaw expands on this abstract death, writing that there are two parts of teenaged psychological development (Shaw, 101). The first is mourning death of innocence, and the second is experiencing love. According to Shaw, “If Holden is unable to move on from mourning [the death of innocence], he is equally unable to to commence the being-in-love portion of his maturation process. He is suffering through (…) ‘the prime danger of this age’: an excessively prolonged ‘moratorium’ on growing up.” Jane Gallagher stands as a beacon of youthful innocence throughout The Catcher in The Rye, and the combination of her father-in-law and Stradlater’s inconsiderate treatment of her are incredibly painful for Holden, holding him back from a more adult mindset. Holden Caulfield is famous for his hypocrisy. And concerning sexuality, Holden’s hypocritical ways do not falter. Holden tells us “In my mind I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw,” (Salinger, 62). However, only a few lines later, Holden also tells us that he feels guilty and dirty when he has sexual fantasies. Despite being interested and excited by sex, Holden does not take any legitimate actions towards have sex. And eventually, it is revealed that Holden has not yet had sex at all. “I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it. Something always happens,” (Salinger, 92). That certainly doesn’t sound like the “sex maniac” Holden had just described himself as. Holden’s sexual hypocrisy extends onto others too. As Holden dances with a few girls at a club, he comments on how dumb and simple-minded they are. However, he also notes how one “(…) when she turned around, her pretty little butt twitched so nice,” (Salinger, 73). Despite criticizing girl for not being intelligent enough, he also finds her attractive and tries to get the three girls to stay out with him. Holden experiences sexual excitement, but hypocritically fails to take the actions that would lead to intercourse. Holden Caulfield’s hypocrisy extends into the world of sexual fetishes, which he holds a restrained interested in. Although Holden again takes no actions to explore his fetishes, he clearly holds interest in certain socially divergent sexual practices. The first of these is a sexual interest in older women. This fetish arises as Holden flees from Pencey Prep to New York City. On his train to New York, Holden encounters Mrs. Morrow, the mother of Holden’s classmate Ernest Morrow. Holden tells us “She was about forty or forty-five, I guess, but she was very good looking,” (Salinger, 54). Holden is approximately sixteen during this interaction, placing Mrs. Morrow at nearly three times his age. Some social constraint is present in his language- Holden says “but she’s very good looking.” She is old but good looking; the word “but” characterizes her attractiveness unexpected, unusual. We can assume that if Holden was admiring a girl his own age, he would say “She is 16 years old and very good looking,” as a young girl’s attractiveness is far more accepted. The decision for Holden to write “but she’s very good looking,” shows that he knows she should not be considered attractive to him. As Holden settles into his hotel room, he reveals more of his atypical sexual interests. Just outside the window, Holden silently observes as two scenes unfold in a hotel next to his. The first is a grey-haired business man who adds a full outfit of women’s clothing, including silk stockings, heels, a bra, and even a corset. In the adjacent window, Holden observes a male-female couple spitting water on each others faces. Holden finds a special interest in this couple, writing “The trouble was that kind of junk is sort of fascinating to watch, even if you don’t want it to be,” (Salinger, 61). There is shame in Holden’s fetish interest; Holden describes his fascination as “trouble”, and openly states that he doesn’t want to be interested in it. Again we see hypocritical behavior, this time in a more explicit sexual manner. An interesting facet of Holden’s sexual disconnection is the possibility of homosexuality. The homosexual nods in The Catcher in The Rye are more subtle than the heterosexual ones, but are relevant nonetheless. The possibility of homosexuality would certainly contribute to Holden’s immense sexual confusion and disparity. The first, and most subtle, suggestion of homosexuality in Holden arises as he watches Stradlater walk to the bathroom- “He went out of the room with his toilet kit and towel under his arm. No shirt on or anything. He always walked around in his bare torso because he thought he had a damn good build. He did, too. I have to admit it,” (Salinger, 26). Again, some shame is present in his voice; he has to admit that he thinks Stradlater is well-built. The next nod towards homosexuality is Holden’s use of the word “flit”. The term was used as a derogatory term for queer and queer-appearing men during mid 20th century, and has since faded in popularity. Holden uses the term with a hateful tone to describe two men he spots at the end of a bar. Despite providing no basis for their homosexuality, Holden aggressively assumes their sexuality (Salinger, 142). During his meeting with Carl Luce, an old classmate notorious for sexual knowledge, Holden remarks that Luce knows “who every flit and lesbian in the United States was. All you had to do was mention somebody- anybody- and old Luce’d tell you if he was a flit or not,” (Salinger, 143) Holden then expresses an irrational fear that he himself would “turn into a flit or something.” A secretive interest with the alternative lifestyle of homosexuality was normal for American culture at this time, but Holden’s language shows a more emotionally charged reaction than interest. His fear of one day waking up a gay man reveals a deeper connection to homosexuality, or at the least bisexuality. We also see that Holden’s disconnection from his clearly homosexual interests creates an off-putting judgement of queer people, in particular other men. Fear of homosexuality arises, even more pronounced, when Holden stays with his old teacher Mr. Antolini. Mr. Antolini is welcoming of Holden, offering him a place to sleep in his apartment when Holden is in need. Holden falls asleep on Mr. Antolini’s couch, and awakens to Mr. Antolini petting his head. Mr. Antolini had been drinking heavily, blurring his sense of what is socially appropriate. The move is not entirely homoerotic; it could also be described as fatherly, concerned, or just drunken. But, keeping in mind that Holden is wearing only his underwear, and that Mr. Antolini had just told Holden “Goodnight, handsome,”, the interaction is undeniably homosexual to some extent (Salinger, 192). Holden flees the apartment, startled and upset by the move. Holden’s immense fear of a homosexual encounter with Mr. Antolini prevents him from seeing any of the fatherly, caring motivations that Mr. Antolini probably held. The act certainly is inappropriate according to American social norms. However, if Holden was more in touch with his homosexual interests and desires, his reaction would not have been so intensely negative. He still would have been startled, but perhaps later would have at least considered the kind, concerned motivations Mr. Antolini certainly held. Here Holden’s judgement of queerness cuts short any chance of a beneficial relationship with Mr. Antolini. All of these sexual tensions, misunderstandings, and disconnections lead to a very sexually confused Holden Caulfield. His confusion and disconnection lead to a number of socially inhibiting tendencies. The most clearly noted would be his infamous judgemental attitude. Holden constantly judges others, a habit frequently associated with insecurity. Another component of his social troubles is his rage, certainly fueled by judgmentalism. For example- in the beginning of the novel, before readers are acquainted with Holden and his lack of self-awareness, Holden enters a rageful fit, physically assaulting Stradlater (Salinger, 43).Holden’s rage, unsafe and juvenile, is triggered entirely by the thought of innocence lost to sexual intercourse. The move feels childish, both in its emotional immaturity and in Holden’s obvious physical disadvantage against the stronger, bigger Stradlater. This brings us to Holden’s last inhibiting trait; masochism. Before Stradlater and Jane go out, Jane is waiting outside of Holden’s dorm room. Jane- the lovely, kind, delicate character Holden adores- is alone, waiting just outside Holden’s dorm. Holden does not even step outside his dorm room, let alone go downstairs to speak with his childhood favorite. He then repeatedly contemplates calling her once he’s in New York, but can’t bring himself to go through with it. Holden’s inability to reach out to Jane despite his feelings is a prime example of his passivity and indecision. Despite having the opportunity to speak with Jane, Holden cuts himself off from this social interaction. The same goes for the previously explored fetishes Holden holds. He’s interested, excited, by sexual adventure. But he again cuts himself off from exploring these sexual activities that would bring him joy. Holden’s mixed drink, one part rage to two parts self-restriction, intoxicates him throughout the novel, leading directly to his depression. The narrative of The Catcher in The Rye occurs as Holden is experiencing peak sexual confusion. Readers witness Holden exploring intrigue, guilt, and discomfort. All of these are perfectly healthy during sexual development, but make emotional life quite difficult. Most readers of The Catcher in The Rye are just as young and impressionable as Holden is, making it important to analyze his developments. Holden is an angry, judgemental, and self-inhibiting character. These traits are not without good reason; Holden is lost not only in social identity formation, but in finding his sexual identity as well.
Works Cited Ferguson, Michael. “Book Review”. Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 57. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. 2010. Helenius, Ero. “Socialization, Sexuality, and Innocence in The Catcher in the Rye”. University of Tampere School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies. May 2014.Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in The Rye. Little, Brown, and Company Edition. Warner Books. May 1991. United States of America.Shaw, Peter. “Love and Death in The Catcher in the Rye”. New Essays on Catcher in the Rye, edited by Jack Salzman. Cambridge University Press. 1991. The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP.
The Maturation of Holden Caulfield and Henry Fleming
The Catcher in the Rye and The Red Badge of Courage detail the gradual maturation of two immature boys into self-reliant young men. The steady speed at which Salingerís and Craneís language streams enables the reader to see the independent events that lead up to the ultimate rite of passage for both Henry and Holden. Although the pinnacle of maturity Holden reached concerned his pessimistic view of the world and Henryís was a unifying moment of bravery, both boys experienced an epiphany over the course of their respective tales. Holden came to a realization in the timeless peace of an Egyptian tomb that forced him to reevaluate his immature and selfish views. His new attitude was first displayed while he watched Phoebe snatch at the gold rings of the Central Park carousel. Henry found his manhood during the fierce chaos of battle. These final rites of passage differ in particulars, but their underlying themes possess many similarities.As The Catcher in the Rye progresses, Holden comes to terms that he is powerless to rid the world of evil and forever protect both young children and himself from growing up. Although his perception of the world as a corrupt and phony place is not modified significantly, his final realization is a tremendous step towards accepting the inevitable- he must mature eventually, and the world will never be pure. The enlightenment itself is a step towards manhood. His epiphany occurs after spotting another “fuck you” etched in the serene Egyptian tomb. Holden sees he cannot escape perversion even in the ancient vault. He grasps that he cannot possible go about the world erasing all the profanity scrawled throughout it; eventually, every child is going to have to be concerned and upset as they come to terms with its meaning. They must grow up one day, as he knows he must as well. Salinger follows up Holdenís epiphany with several supporting events. Holden has a nervous breakdown because he now knows with an abrupt and sickening certainty that he is unable to stop both evil and maturation. His emotional outpouring at the merry-go-round further sustains his prior reasoning that he cannot stop maturation. “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them.”He knows that he cannot catch them with his net spun of dreams- they will eventually have to experience a fall. Itís part of growing up. Upon seeing this, Holden himself has developed.Henry Fleming enlists as a youth with heroic fantasies of battle lingering in his mind and walks off the “place of blood and wrath” three days later a serene veteran of battle. He came from hot plowshares seeking a Homeric Iliad, timid and anxious about his potential and what others think of him. He ponders a great dilemma: will he run from battle? He is reassured after asking the tall soldier his question. His friend tells him that he would do what the rest of the regiment was doing. Henry is not an individual yet, he is a fragment of a mass of men. Henry feels as though running from the backlash of the first skirmish he fought was a great debacle, and he is further tormented when the tattered soldier asks him how he got his feigned wound. He is haunted by pangs of guilt. As he participates in more battles, the opposition grows more and more human, as opposed to the monsters he envisioned them to be earlier. He sees them as human when he experiences his first surge of fierce, animalian anger. Henryís epiphany occurs in the following “battle”. He discards the expectations of his peers and declares his individuality and courage by seizing the flag from the dead color sergeant and waving it before the regiment. He risks death as the easiest of targets and thus displays his courage and strength. The seizing of the flag is Henryís ultimate rite of passage. He discards the terrified and cautious youth he enlisted as and becomes a mature, courageous adult. His reach for the flag proves he is as brave and courageous as the warriors whose stories dazzled him as a boy. Henry and Holden began both their stories weaker and more ignorant than they left them. How are their rises to maturity similar and different? Both stories cover a time period of about three days. The three days are greatly important, as they detail the rite of passage from youth to maturity. Such a prodigious transformation in a mere three days implies an extraordinary sequence of preceding events. Both The Catcher in the Rye and The Red Badge of Courage tell a story of one of the most relevant time periods in both of the main characterís lives- their rise to adulthood. Both characters seem to have promising futures ahead of them. Holden ends his account of “the madman stuff” that happened to him last Christmas giving the impression that he will try harder in school and that he actually missed the people he criticized so harshly. Henryís story closes as he strolls through a landscape he now appreciates. The concluding sentence, “over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds,” is an almost romantic depiction of the bright future Henry has before him. The language the authors use to convey the story differs. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden himself describes the events. The language is down to earth and flows easily, exactly as if the reader were sitting and listening to Holden instead of the psychiatrist. Because Holden told his story in one sitting, there is no prominent change in language over the course of the story. In The Red Badge of Courage, a narrator tells Henryís tale. Figurative language and a vivid use of color support the narration. The story opened with a paragraph darkened with ominous red and black shading and ended on a blissful golden tone, illustrating Henryís rise to maturity even through colorization. The narration also differs in that Henryís narrator is impartial to the story, whereas Holden clearly attempts to alter certain facts in his favor. For example, when he and Sally are talking, Holden speaks as though Sally was a bit mixed up and that he was in fact speaking in a normal tone of voice. However, the reader can still manage to detect this falsity from his frenzied narration. The Red Badge of Courageís narrator does not try to shield events out of shame or haste; the story is much more straightforward. Again, Holdenís immaturity is displayed through narration as he scrambles to hide his embarrassment. The rise to adulthood is a common theme explored by authors. The path from youth to maturity can be prodigious in its complexity and length, but Salinger and Crane have each provided an account of this nature that occurred over only three days. Fueled by the strength they acquired after overcoming personal barriers, the protagonists reached maturity through their own epiphanies. Henry found his in the dignity he wished to uphold for himself and his regiment, and Holden in a pitiful realization that he is powerless to change the world. The price Henry and Holden paid for their maturity was a loss of much of the egocentricity they had possessed. As Tolstoy said, “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
To Ban or Not to Ban: Why Catcher has so Many Rye-led Up
Thirty-six middle-aged people lean in simultaneously, a collection of ears trained intently on the speaker. He clears his throat before addressing the smattering of adults comprised mostly of teachers, a handful of parents, and an empty-nester townie or two. “The verdict is in,” he announces. “The novel Catcher in the Rye, despite having been on the required reading list for ten years, is… banned, henceforth, by the Parent-Teacher Association of Columbus, Ohio.”Scenes like this one have been playing out continuously since J. D. Salinger published his most famous novel in 1951 (TIME Staff 1). Columbus was not the first district to ban the book, and it was far from the last. According to TIME Magazine, the committee had labeled the book “anti-white,” while another school district in Tulsa, Oklahoma had the teacher who assigned the novel to a classroom of juniors fired (TIME Staff 1). Though the teacher won his appeal for wrongful termination, the book remained off-limits. The reasons this novel is so widely-feared by parents and instructors lies in its content. Mature themes of death, loss, and budding sexuality permeate the novel’s aging pages, and many fear that teens who are exposed to this content will be likely to mimic it. But what these well-intentioned committees are missing is how these themes are not only suitable for older high school students, but critical to their developments as young adults. The Catcher in the Rye is a quintessential piece of American literature that provides an entry point to discussions about issues like sexuality, loss, and grief in a safe environment, making it an indispensable tool in every English department’s arsenal. There is an age-old struggle between parents and their teens that deals with letting go. It is often hard for caregivers to allow their children to leave their careful sights, often out of fear that the cruel reality of the outside world can corrupt or harm their cherubic offspring. This phenomenon can be seen in parents when dealing with sex- there is such a fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as well as the social notion that sex is only acceptable within the bonds of marriage that the idea of any teen having sex is simply preposterous. Naturally, the fact that Salinger’s protagonist Holden references sex on many occasions is difficult for some parents to get on board with. For example, in chapter thirteen, Holden meets and goes to a hotel room with a prostitute, only to back out before anything happens. In chapter eleven, he gets close to “necking” with a girl named Jane (Salinger 78, 94-98). Both times, he ends up abstaining from the act itself, out of nervousness and, perhaps, out of a subconscious reluctance to let go of one of the last barriers between himself and adulthood. While the idea of high schoolers reading about close-encounters with sex might seem problematic, the truth is the scenes serve mostly to strengthen the novel’s importance by providing the instructor with a segue in which he or she can address issues of sexuality and growing up with the young adult audience. This allows for meaningful conversations about the emotional importance of sex in life- which is something many teens learn about the hard way. When sex education only covers the physiology of the biological function, it might be left to the literature to bring up how big of a deal it is emotionally. While Holden is exploring and learning about sex, he’s also dealing with a deep and wounding grief. Catcher takes place in the fifties, when there was little understanding of how deeply grief can affect the human psyche. Even so, Salinger expertly weaves a tale about how one boy is weighed down with the depression and helplessness that surrounds the loss of his brother, as well as how the grief he is saddled with taints the threshold to adulthood he is rapidly approaching. WordPress blogger and literature expert Sarita Garcia explains how Holden’s very name is symbolic of his youth, explaining, “Caulfield, his last name, relates to recurring theme of childhood innocence. A ‘caul’ is defined as a part of the amnion, one of the membranes enveloping the fetus, which sometimes is around the head of a child at its birth. The caul protects young children, just as Holden dreams to do when he tells Phoebe his ideal profession would be the catcher in the field of rye” (Garcia 2). His first name, she says, refers to how he ‘holds’ himself back, away from the shallow social situations like football games and school (Salinger 1). Teens who read Holden’s agonizing narrative often feel connected with his struggle. Holden’s words speak to the typical depressed teen. In chapter 6, he has a meltdown and attacks his roommate Stradlater after he insults the paper Holden wrote about his dead brother’s baseball mit. Holden keeps calling the kid a ‘moron’ and worse, all the while getting angrier and angrier until the moment bursts and the two wind up locked in a dorm-room fistfight (Salinger 44). One bloody showdown later, Holden is left in a heap of sadness and memory. Though it appears at first that his distress is just superficial choler towards his classmate, further analysis indicates that the deep-set anger Holden feels, both towards Stradlater and towards the world, stems from his loss. He’s stuck in the second stage of grief, unable to heal. Child psychologist Joy Johnson explains how preteens and teens often deal with loss, stating, “Children in this age group (ten to teen) have feelings that are similar to those of adults. They want details, and often they will use black humor (such as) death jokes… We’re likely to see more anger and more acting out from this age group. Teens may withdraw or risk death to prove they’re invincible, throwing parents into panic and despair” (Johnson 31). Students who have the opportunity to delve into Salinger’s expository narrative may, in turn, remember a time they grieved, how they too might’ve felt deep anger and remorse. They can learn from Holden, who never had a healthy outlet to deal with his brother’s death, and perhaps learn better, healthier coping mechanisms when they inevitably go through similar tribulations.In a feature done by Huffington Post, author Maddie Crum debates the novel’s many life lessons, stating that Holden’s “frustrations with the disingenuousness of others, and especially his grievances about dating and lost love, can help readers to understand that they aren’t the only one coping with problems, big or petty” (Crum 2). Not only are the scenes depicting Holden’s depression expository to the nature of grief and despair, but also, they are also already so relatable to the average teen. In connecting to the teen mind, Salinger wins the trust of his young readers, giving him an opportunity to make his point. The dark themes of loss and tragedy as well as Holden’s deteriorating innocence that many find averse in the story are the very themes that make it so indispensable. Without some exposure to the harsh realities of the world, teens may not fully develop until they are thrown into adulthood. By showing them ‘mature’ themes like those portrayed in Catcher in the Rye in ways that are healthy and controlled, parents and guardians can rest assured that these real-world issues will not smack their children in the face as soon as they come of age and leave home. This exposure also opens up the door to conversations, which are key to guiding teens over the same threshold that Holden crosses alone. After all, all he ever wanted was someone to talk to.
Crum, Maddie. “Here’s What ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ Can Teach You About Life.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 1 Jan. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/01/catcher-in-the-rye_n_4524045.html. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017. Garcia, Sarita. “The Catcher In The Rye – The Etymology and Symblism of Characters’ Names.” Martita’s Place – Literature in English and Spanish, WordPress, 12 Mar. 2006, mhgaray.wordpress.com/2006/03/12/the-catcher-in-the-rye-the-etymology-and-symblism-of-characters-names/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.Johnson, Joy. “Talking to children about grief and death.” Mothering, Jan. 1998, p. 72. Psychology Collection, Gale Library Database, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl= https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=PPPC&sw=w&u=mlin_n_amespubl&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA54308817&it=r&asid=9a340895065af64da4bb2ea71167250a. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company, 1951.TIME Staff. “The Hunger Games Reaches Another Milestone: Top 10 Censored Books.” Time, Time Magazine, 26 Sept. 2008, entertainment.time.com/ 2011/01/06/removing-the-n-word-from-huck-finn-top-10-censored-books/slide/the-catcher-in-the-rye-2/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2017
The Consumer in the Rye
The World Wars, being some of the most important events in history, changed society and created the modern world we know today. The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, is a critic of the new, modern world that was created in the post war era. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, famously judges and criticizes almost everything around him. JD Salinger uses Holden’s judgmental thoughts to demonstrate the detriment a society revolving around social class can be. Holden feels trapped in and tries to escape the prep school lifestyle, but finds himself at another in the fall. Holden judges the quality and price of suitcases of those below him, even at an elite prep school, and sees everyone socioeconomically above him as phony while everyone who is socioeconomically below him is depressing.
Marxism is the idea that “all war is class war”; the conflicts in society all stem from the separation between people based on their wealth. There is no social class separate from economic class. Holden and his family are in the upper class socioeconomically, meaning they are socially elite and economically wealthy. Holden, a naive teenager, knows that he is separate from others, because he’s less cool or younger than they are, but he doesn’t see the ways he looks down on others for their economic class. Holden brings up the quality of the suitcases of a roommate he hasn’t seen in years. It’s telling that he remembers such a small commodity and associates an entire person with this. Holden reduces his roommate, Dick Slagle, to the suitcases he took to school. Holden even says, “ It isn’t important, I know” but still goes on about how he “hate[s] it when somebody has cheap suitcases,” (page 13). Holden associates himself with his suitcases that “came from Mark Cross, and they were genuine cowhide and all that crap, and I guess they cost quite a pretty penny” (page 13). Despite that Holden didn’t succeed at this school at all, he thinks of himself as superior to his roommate for something so small as his suitcases. This connects to Marxism because an important belief in this theory is, first, that people are in the class socially that they are in economically, and also because of the idea of sign exchange value. Sign exchange value is the idea that “a commodity’s value lies in the social status it confers on its owner” (Tyson 59). Holden is assigning a sign exchange value to these suitcases and oppressing his roommate through this. A critical inquiry at the University of Chicago connects the capitalist society that Holden lives in to the economic struggle represented by these suitcases. The critic says, “Only a few can hope for suitcases, at the expense of the many, and enjoyment of them depends on shutting out awareness of the many. Furthermore, even the few are somehow blocked from enjoyment by the antagonistic striving required to secure one’s suitcases,” (Ohmann and Ohmann). Holden does not focus on how much he appreciates his suitcases, just the conflict that is caused by those who wish to have them. This is how a society revolving around social class and sign exchange value, like in the theory of Marxism, manipulates people into separating themselves from each other. JD Salinger, through Holden and suitcases, shows how relationships between people, even unconsciously, can be manipulated by their socioeconomic classes.
Besides exploring Marx’s ideas on how capitalism affects the relationship between people in different socioeconomic classes, Tyson explores the way that Marxism attempts to analyze the people in these classes and the way their class affects their life. Tyson implies that a Marxist criticism would evaluate Holden’s negative and judgmental thoughts as a function of his class and feelings towards being in that class. This is because Holden is a critic to others around him, but also to himself. He criticizes the situations that he puts himself into an even greater extent than those he does not. Holden chooses to hire a prostitute and chooses not to pay her the extra five dollars she demands. Holden puts himself in this situation, where money (socioeconomic class) is the central force behind this interaction between himself, the pimp, and the prostitute. But yet, despite causing the situation and being able to resolve it, which would put him in control, Holden feels trapped. He uses language to imply this in the scene, saying, “He was almost standing on top of me,” (page 44). Holden also implies that his actions were not in his control when he says, “All of a sudden I started to cry. I’d give anything if I hadn’t, but I did,” (page 45). Holden even stays on the ground, after the pimp hurts him and leaves, saying, “Then I stayed on the floor a fairly long time, sort of the way I did with Stradlater. Only, this time I thought I was dying. I really did. I thought I was drowning or something. The trouble was, I could hardly breathe,” (page 45). Although Holden is in control, both because he could have given the pimp and the prostitute money before they hurt him and because he is physically in control of his own body, Holden feels trapped. It is also evident that he feels trapped in his lifestyle as a member of the upper socioeconomic class in the way he tries (and fails) to evade the prep school lifestyle. A University of Chicago literary criticism points out that this relationship, between Holden and school, is important in seeing his relationship to the rest of society. The criticism says, “‘School is the agency by which America more than most countries consciously socializes the imma- ture for entry into the approved adult activities: and so a boy’s relation to school becomes a microcosm of the individual’s relation to his society.’ (Way)” (Ohmann and Ohmann) Holden even goes as far as to say that he’s going to move out west. He says his plan is to, “start hitchhiking my way out West. What I’d do, I figured, I’d go down to the Holland Tunnel and bum a ride, and then I’d bum another one, and another one, and another one, and in a few days I’d be somewhere out West where it was very pretty and sunny and where nobody’d know me and I’d get a job,” (page 110). Holden has been expelled from four boarding schools, which is a function of his own actions, and is choosing to go out West. This would separate him from the upper class prep school lifestyle that he is obviously trying to evade, but it doesn’t. Holden returns to a prep school in the fall and never goes out West to escape it. This is because Holden is trapped in his socioeconomic class; although he is apart of the privileged class, Holden is still oppressed by this societal structure. Lois Tyson explains this phenomenon, “The family unconsciously carries out the cultural “program” in raising its children, but that program is produced by the socioeconomic culture within the which the family operates,” (Tyson, page 14). Holden goes back to prep school because of his family’s wishes; his parents raised him in the “cultural program” of high class prep school because of their high class socioeconomic status. This “cultural program” is what Holden is trying to escape from because he feels trapped in it. Marxism would use this as an example of how people, even those in the upper class, are oppressed by the Capitalist system.
Holden Caulfield feels trapped in his lifestyle, but he doesn’t realize that he is really trapped in a consumerist society that revolves around social class. He criticizes others for their suitcases or their breakfasts, but doesn’t realize he is actually criticizing their standing in a capitalist, consumer driven society. Holden is a mesmerizing character; he is relatable to some and infuriating to others. But these ideas of Holden cannot be separated from his experiences as the socioeconomic elite. This elite has existed since the post World Wars, industrial lifestyle came to be. It is strange to think that all Americans are still living in a society that, despite being more accepting of identities and sexualities, continues to oppress people for their class and allow others to flourish at the expense of those below them. This is the model that allows the owners, CEOs, and other leaders of Walmart to make billions while their un-unionized employees work for minimum wage.
Mentally Manipulated: Holden Caulfield and PTSD
One Johns Hopkins Study determined that 81% of young adults have been exposed to a traumatic event, while 8% of those exposed have developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“Blog”). The symptoms of PTSD can be divided into three groups: intrusive, avoidance, and hyperarousal (“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”). Psychological trauma of exactly this sort often appears after the death of a loved one. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, is drastically affected after the deaths of his younger brother and of a school friend. Within J.D. Salinger’s narrative, it is clearly shown that the terrible events Holden Caulfield has been exposed to throughout his life have lead him to be affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Holden displays intrusive symptoms of PTSD, especially flashbacks.
At the beginning of the novel, Holden introduces the reader to his younger brother, Allie: “My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left handed. […] He’s dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946” (Salinger 43). Holden’s story about Allie is a flashback to when Allie was alive and well. This shows that Holden does not want to believe that Allie has passed away and chooses to focus on the positive memories instead. Holden is in denial. Another flashback Holden has during the novel occurs when he becomes depressed. “I felt so depressed, you can’t imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed” (Salinger 110). Holden is still speaking to Allie as if he is alive, remembering a better time. Later in the novel, when Phoebe tells Holden to think of something he truly enjoys, Holden can only think about an old memory of his, flashing back to the time his friend committed suicide while wearing his sweater. He remembers this vividly, thinking, “There was this boy I knew at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn’t take back something he said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stable. […] Finally what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window” (Salinger 188). This event has a significant effect on Holden; James Castle, someone whom Holden considers a friend, appears dead on the sidewalk wearing one of Holden’s sweaters, which is now covered in blood. This traumatic moment is forever ingrained in Holden’s head, and it creeps up on him when he is trying to recall pleasant memories. These events show how flashbacks, a symptom of PTSD, affect Holden on a regular basis.
Holden also displays the avoidance symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Feeling strong guilt, depression, and worry and having trouble remembering events are symptoms of avoidance that Holden Caulfield experiences as an effect of PTSD. A prime example of Holden having trouble remembering events as well as worrying excessively happens when Stradlater arrives home from his date. “Some things are hard to remember. I’m thinking now of when Stradlater got back from his date with Jane. […] I probably was still looking out the window, but I swear I can’t remember. I was so damn worried, that’s why” (Salinger 45). Holden’s anxiety is far above normal levels for a healthy person because it is affecting his daily habits, such as using the restroom. An instance where Holden feels strong guilt is when he starts talking to Allie as if he is there with him. Holden does this when he feels extra depressed, and it is always about the day where he did not let Allie come along with him and his friend, Bobby. An example is when Holden says, “So once in a while now, when I get very depressed, I keep saying to him, ‘Okay. Go home and get your bike and meet me in front of Bobby’s house. Hurry up’” (Salinger 110). The fact that Holden often recalls this moment displays his feelings of guilt pertaining to Allie. Holden also has strong feelings of depression along with suicidal thoughts. When Holden is trying to fall asleep in his hotel room, he writes, “What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window” (Salinger 116-117). The one factor holding Holden back from jumping is that people will have to see his dead body on the pavement, and he does not want to make other people go through the same situation he experiences when James Castle commits suicide, which still has a traumatic effect on him.
Even more intense than Holden’s symptoms of avoidance are his symptoms of hyperarousal pertaining to PTSD. Prevalent especially during the end of the novel, Holden Caulfield experiences all of the symptoms of hyperarousal that are present with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which are angry outbursts, trouble sleeping, and being on edge. Most alarming is what happens immediately after Allie dies. Holden goes into a fit of rage, remembering, “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don’t blame them. I really don’t” (Salinger 44). Holden’s reaction to his brother’s death is far beyond what is normal during times of grief, especially for a thirteen year old boy. When Holden says that he does not blame his parents for having him psychoanalyzed, it shows that Holden acknowledges that something is wrong with him and that he knows his reaction is abnormal. An example of a time where Holden has trouble sleeping occurs when Holden is in the hotel in New York. “It was still pretty early. I’m not sure what time it was, but it wasn’t too late. The one thing I hate to do is go to bed when I’m not even tired” (Salinger 74). Before arriving at his hotel in New York, Holden has been awake all day and been active, causing a normal person to become exhausted. In addition, once Holden has been in his hotel room for a while, he decides to go out and visit multiple clubs, as well as go dancing, before he returns to his hotel room and attempts to sleep. A situation where Holden is on edge occurs when he visits Mr. Antolini’s apartment. Holden is finally able to fall asleep, only to be awakened by something strange: “I woke up all of a sudden. I don’t know what time it was or anything, but I woke up. I felt something on my head, some guy’s hand. […] Boy, I’ll bet I jumped about a thousand feet” (Salinger 211). Holden is distressed and leaves Mr. Antolini’s apartment immediately after this incident occurs. He doesn’t give Mr. Antolini a chance to explain himself, and is paranoid, assuming the absolute worst about the situation.
Although many critics believe that Holden Caulfield is suffering from a mental illness such as PTSD, some commentators have argued the opposite. One of the most common objections to the claim that Holden has a mental illness is that the emotions he is feeling are normal for a teenager. While some of Holden’s actions are normal, his emotions are far beyond the realm of anyone who is sane. Another argument against Holden’s abnormal mental state is that Holden is just trying to make the transition from boy to man and does not approve of the phoniness and cruelty he sees in the world he is trying to embrace. The novel begins and ends with Holden in a mental institution, which is obviously not a place for someone who is emotionally stable. Holden also displays problematic symptoms such as depression, suicidal thoughts and the inability to concentrate. The most common objection to the presence of a mental illness affecting Holden is that Holden is just whiny and insecure. Yet Holden’s angry and pessimistic views towards the world connect with PTSD symptoms, such as feeling on edge. Depression also triggers negative thoughts, which is another symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While critics try to argue that nothing is wrong with Holden Caulfield, evidence from the novel clearly proves that he is struggling with serious mental instability.
Holden Caulfield consistently shows symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the horrific events he has been exposed to throughout his life. He experiences intrusive, avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms which negatively affect his outlook on life. It is also important to point out that J.D. Salinger was diagnosed with PTSD, since authors often reflect their personal lives within their work (“J.D. Salinger had PTSD”). No matter how far Holden attempts to run from his problems, he can not escape them because they are inside of him. While some critics argue that Holden is a normal teenager, facts and evidence directly from Salinger’s novel prove the theory that Holden Caulfield is, in fact, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Root of Holden Caulfield’s Suffering
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator of The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, constantly points out flaws in other people but is unable to see his own. Be it positive or negative, he loathes change. Through his general hatred of others and his inability to accept the prospect of an ever-changing world of people, Holden alienates himself from society and becomes an outcast. Almost all of his pain and depression stems, however, from one specific event that causes him distress to the point that it could almost be considered post-traumatic stress disorder: the death of his younger brother Allie. When one connects Holden’s constant pain and alienation to the death of his younger brother, the question of how Allie’s death influences Holden’s life arises. Although he never interacts with Holden, Allie still has the strongest influence on his life.
Holden constantly finds flaws in the people around him and complains about them, explaining in depth why each person hides who he or she truly is: “You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but in a different way. Stradlater was more of a secret slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or anything. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway, if you knew him the way I did” (Salinger 27). Simply because Stradlater wants to look polished, Holden believes he is fake and hypocritical. Holden thinks of everyone in this fashion, however, and actively searches for faults in almost every other character. He appears to be unable to find a person who meets his criteria for perfection until he speaks of his younger brother Allie, who is now deceased.
Holden practically worships Allie, considering him a guardian angel: “Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him” (198). In Holden’s eyes, Allie is the epitome of perfection because he was an innocent young person whose life was cut short before he was able to become anything else. Holden’s vision of Allie will never change because Allie himself cannot change. As unrealistic as it is, that is the way Holden likes people to be. Holden thinks of Allie as a guardian angel and subconsciously uses him as a standard for morality in others. Therefore, Holden can never be satisfied with others and hates the conditions under which he must live his life. To him, nothing is as pure as Allie was, and in this way Allie is the cause of Holden’s constant hatred of seemingly everything.
Holden cannot accept the concept of change. Whenever anything changes, he immediately becomes intensely frustrated with it. This theme comes up notably when he thinks about a girl he has feelings for, Jane. They knew each other when they were younger and more innocent, but Holden finds out that she is dating Stradlater and potentially having sex with him: “I kept thinking about Jane, and about Stradlater having a date with her and all. It made me so nervous I nearly went crazy. I already told you what a sexy bastard Stradlater was” (34). Jane is one of the few people that Holden has been able to look up to and appreciate as a person. He does not want his memory to be stained by a new image of her and Stradlater acting in more adult ways, ways that terrify Holden because he does not like anything to change or grow. He and Jane used to play checkers, and Jane had a certain quirk of keeping her kings in the back row. Before Stradlater leaves for his date with Jane, Holden tells him to “Ask her if she still keeps all her kings in the back row” (34). Holden wants to know if Jane is the same, or if she has changed into a person that he would no longer like and relate to, a thought that devastates him. To most people, change is not as terrible as it is to Holden. Because he lost Allie, he cannot accept when anything in his life is altered even slightly. After Allie dies of leukemia, Holden grasps for something else that can remind him of young innocence and the ease of childhood days. Then, he was not surrounded by phonies. He is terrified that one day he will be forced to change into an adult and live a life independently. Allie’s death leads to an epiphany: everything in life is ephemeral and nothing he values will stay.Although Allie is never seen as a living character, he is still the most important player in Holden’s life because he acts as a form of guardian angel and influential figure.
By basing everything he does and judging everyone else on his memory of Allie, Holden sets the bar unreasonably high. No one can live up to Allie’s standard. In reality, however, Holden is the phoniest of all because he lies to himself about his extreme hatred of everything. Allie’s death renders Holden unable to accept that in order for the world to work as it should, everything must change. Allie not only symbolizes the innocence that Holden has lost, but also serves as a reminder that Holden will one day lose everything that he loves.
The Difference Between Fabula and Sujet According to the Russian Formalists
Russian Formalism was a school of literary thought which emerged in Russia during the 1910’s. Members of this movement attempted to study literary language and literature according to scientific methods, and Peter Brooks states that they focussed on “calling attention to the material and the means of its making, showing how a given work is put together”. According to Krystyna Pomorska, the Russian Formalists “explored several areas in an entirely new way…[and] undertook…an analysis of prose encompassing all of its structural components”. One of the structural aspects of literature which came under Formalist analysis was the way in which the narrative events are presented. Pomorska states that “they showed sujet (plot) and fabula (storyline) as related but not at all identical factors”. In this essay, I will outline the differences between these two terms, using examples from both contemporary and classic literature.
One of the key aims of the Russian Formalist movement was to distinguish systematically between that which was art, and that which was not. The influential Russian Formalist Victor Shklovsky outlined the Russian Formalist view of art by saying that “In a narrow sense we shall call a work artistic if it has been created by special devices whose purpose is to see to it that these artifacts are interpreted artistically as much as possible”. Indeed, the Formalist ‘artistic piece’ in regards to literature, is the sujet. The fabula, on the other hand, is what Russian Formalist thinker Vladimir Propp referred to as a “periodical devoted to narrative art” . The fabula, or story, is simply a chronological timespan of events, which can be manipulated and rearranged to form a sujet (plot). Shklovsky highlighted this as he argued that “As a matter of fact, the storyline is nothing more than material for plot formation”. Metaphorically, the fabula serves as a raw material, and the sujet serves as the structure which that raw material is used to construct. This was fitting with the Formalist focus on mechanical construction and how art is created over why it was created or what it was. However, Russian Formalists argued that in order for this material to be converted into an art form, artistic devices must be employed. As Lee T. Lemon highlights, the Russian Formalists aimed “to discuss the literariness of literature, to discuss that which makes literature different from other kinds of discourse. This quickly led the Formalists to distinguish between story and plot”. Indeed, they aimed to isolate the art of literature from both other art forms, and from non-art forms. The sujet of a piece of literature was deemed to be what made it literature. It was, as Brooks describes, “the dynamic shaping force of the narrative discourse”.
When distinguishing between what was and wasn’t art, the opposite of art according to the Russian Formalists was real life. Artistic perception was deemed to be entirely different from normal perception. The aforementioned artistic devices served to skew the normal perception into something unfamiliar, abstract and subsequently artistic. In regards to the Russian Formalist thinker Tomashevsky, Lee T. Lemon argues that “The central distinction Tomashevsky makes is that between story and plot…his main concern is plot for that is where artistry lies; the story is a background against which elements of the plot are studied”. This “background” is a set of events which occur in the nature and order that they would in reality. Victor Elrich summarizes Russian Formalist Jan Mukarovsky’s view by saying that “Literature signifies in a sense all the factors with which it comes into contact, e.g., the author, his milieu, his audience, without ever becoming a proxy for any one of them”. In other words, although the sujet uses the fabula as a basis, it transforms it through artistic devices, becoming much more than a simple imitation of the real world. Through this distortion of perception, the Russian Formalists believed that de-familiarization was achieved, which they deemed to be a crucial part of literature. They argued that it allowed us to grasp the full potential of literary language and devices. Brooks says of the Formalist notions of fabula and sujet “We must…recognize that the apparent priority of fabula to sujet is in the nature of a mimetic illusion… fabula is a mental construction that the reader derives from sujet, which is all that he ever directly knows”. This supports the distinction between art and real life, as the fabula resonates in the audience’s experience of time and perception. However, it also highlights the relationship between the two, as the audience use their knowledge of real life perception to make sense of the de-familiarized piece of literature.
In its most well-known form, the difference between the Formalist ideas of the terms fabula and sujet has its roots in its relation to the order of events in a piece of literature. The fabula, or story, is essentially a chronological order of events as they would have happened in the real world. Sujet, or plot, on the other hand, refers to the order of events as they appear within in a piece of literature. For example, the use of flash backs and flash forwards as a narrative device would mean that the order of events in the sujet are different to the order of events in the fabula. The beginning, middle and end as portrayed in the sujet may not correlate with the beginning, middle and end chronologically. Shklovsky describes an effect of this artistic device on literature as he argues that “In order to impede the action…the artist resorts not to witches and magic potions but to a simple transposition of its parts.” An example of the artistic transportation of a fabula’s parts can be observed in Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow, which essentially tells a man’s life story in reverse chronological order. This is done from the perspective of a secondary consciousness of the main character, who experiences everything backwards with no control over the man’s actions. Due to this narrative style, the events as they would have occurred in real life (the fabula) are largely distorted and purposely easy to misunderstand. For example, the main character of the novel, who was really a Holocaust doctor, is perceived to be a bringer of life and healer of the sick, as the torture and murder he inflicts is recounted in reverse. Here, the Formalist distinction between fabula and sujet seems well founded, as the use of the artistic device of transposing events leaves us with an entirely different piece of literature both in style and in meaning. The notion of the sujet being the true art form, rather than the fabula, is also supported as Time’s Arrow effectively disjoints itself from the reality we know to displace the simplest ideas of cause and effect. For example, acts of injury become acts of healing, and death becomes life or rebirth.
Another artistic device which separates the fabula from the sujet is narration from an unusual, or unreliable, perspective. For example, a child narrator, an untruthful narrator, or a person who is mentally ill. Like the transportation of events, this kind of narrative device allows people to see the real word through a lens of de-familiarization, through the eyes of another person rather than the artistic ordering of time. An example of this device in employment can be seen in J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The audience’s perception of the fabula is effectively hindered as it is seen through the eyes of a depressed, pessimistic teenage boy. Holden Caulfield’s view of the world and of people is one of harsh criticism and negativity. He see’s people as phonies, and harshly judges almost everyone and everything he comes into contact with. Here, the Russian Formalist separation of fabula and sujet shows off its strengths as a theory as the use of an unreliable and non-standard narrator effectively displaces the novel from reality. What it becomes is an artistic literary representation of teenage angst and isolation of the other. The reality of events of the fabula become more likely to differ from the events described in the plot based on the fact that Holden is shown to be a self-confessed liar. He lies to various characters he meets, including pretending to have a brain tumour, and even says of himself “: “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful.” Therefore, it is safe to assume that his lies are likely to carry over into his narration.  Another example of non-standard narration turning a fabula into an artistic sujet can be seen in Jack London’s novel White Fang. London, although narrating from a third person perspective, does so in such a way that the wolf-dogs are often the main focus, and the narration is through their eyes. This causes the reader to become completely de-familiarized from the finished sujet as the human world and human actions are both shown from the largely alien and outsider perspective of a different species.
Non-linear chronology and non-standard narration are often used as artistic devices in novels, but in poetry the fabula is also often transformed into art through language devices such as alliteration, assonance, imagery and rhythm. Bijay Kumar Das argues that, under Russian Formalism, “poetic language disrupts ordinary language just as plot disrupts story. Ordinary language is the logical and sequential order of words just as story is a logical order of motifs”. In other words, just as the fabula of a novel consists of events in their real life nature, and in their chronological order, the fabula of a poem consists of everyday language describing an event, object or situation. Like with a novel, this fabula serves as the material for the artistic sujet, which is constructed using poetic language devices. The artistic devices in poetry can be seen to effectively achieve the Russian Formalist notion of de-familiarizing the audience from real life through language rather than through the presentation of events. For example, in Sylvia Plath’s poem Daddy, artistic language devices, in particular the use of metaphors and similes, transform the simple description of her relationship with her father into something unfamiliar, darker and altogether more powerful. The narrator compares her father to a Nazi through imagery such as a “swastika” and her father’s “Aryan eye”. She also compares herself to a Jew, forming a powerful Holocaust metaphor. This hyperbolic imagery shows her relationship with her father less for what it actually was, and more for how her mind may have processed it. Of course, it is unlikely that it was anywhere near comparable to the Holocaust, but to her it felt that way. The audience, therefore becomes estranged from the sujet of the poem, due to the unfamiliarity of a father daughter relationship being compared to an atrocity such as the Holocaust. The sujet of Plath’s poem is essentially an artistic expression of pain and feeing as oppose to being a simple description of real life events.
In conclusion, the Russian formalist distinction between fabula and sujet is often seen as a distinction based on order of events; it is the idea of chronological order versus artistic order. However, on a wider level the formalist separation of the two terms is predominantly based on their distinction between art and real life. The fabula is simply an everyday story in both order of events, and in the style of narration. The sujet, on the other hand, was what the formalists saw as art. Russian formalism focussed greatly on the mechanical construction of literature, and how it was made. In turn, the fabula came to be viewed as a raw material for the creation of the sujet. Multiple artistic devices could be used, including transposition of events, non-standard narrators, and poetic language devices in order to de-familiarize literature from everyday life and the real world. The sujet therefore, was essentially an artistic presentation of the fabula after it had been taken apart and reconstructed into a work of formalist artistic value.
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