Catcher in the Rye The Language of Cather in the Rye

Catcher in the Rye The Language of Cather in the Rye The passage of adolescence has served as the central theme for many novels, but J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, long a staple in academic lesson plans, has captured the spirit of this stage of life in hyper-sensitive form, dramatizing Holden Caulfield's vulgar language and melodramatic reactions. Written as the autobiographical account of a fictional teenage prep school student Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye deals with material that is socially scandalous for the times (Gwynn, 1958). As an emotional, intelligent, inquisitive, and painfully sensitive young man, Holden puts his inner world to the test through the sexual mores of his peers and elders, the teachings of his education, and his own emerging sense of self. Throughout the years, the language of the story has startled some readers. Salinger's control of Holden's easy, conversational manner makes the introduction of these larger themes appear natural and believable. (Bloom, 1990). At the time of the novel through today, Holden's speech rings true to the colloquial speech of teenagers. Holden, according to many reviews in the Chicago Tribune, the New Yorker, and the New York Times, accurately captures the informal speech of an average intelligent, educated, northeastern American adolescent (Costello, 1990). Such speech includes both simple description and cursing. For example, Holden says, "They're nice and all", as well as "I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything." In the first instance, he uses the term "nice" which oversimplifies his parents' character, implying he does not wish to disrespect them, yet at the same time he does not praise them. At best he deems them as "nice and all." Holden further cuts short his description, but in a more curt manner, when he states he will not tell his "whole goddam autobiography or anything." From the start the reader picks up Holden's hostility and unwillingness to share his views strictly by his use of language (Salzman, 1991). From the last two examples, another colloquialism can be seen. Holden has a habit of ending his descriptions with tag phrases such as "and all" or "or anything." (Salzman, 1991). Not only does Holden speak like this in the beginning of the novel, but throughout the book, making this pattern a part of his character. One could imagine Holden frequently ending his sentences with "and all," realizing it is a character trait since not all teenagers used that phrase. So the "and all" tag to Holden's speech served to make his speech authentic and individual. (Salzman, 1991). Salinger intentionally used such speech patterns to help individualize Holden, yet to also make him a believable teenager of the early 1950's. Another example of how Holden's speech helped define his character is how he constantly had to confirm any affirmation he made, as if even he did not quite believe himself. Such reconfirmations include phrases such as "...if you want to know the truth," or "...it really does." Holden says the first phrase several times. "I have no wind, if you want to know the truth," "I'm pacifist, if you want to know the truth," and a variation: "She had a lot of sex appeal, too, if you really want to know." In each of the above instances, Holden makes a statement then feels compelled to clarify that is he is not making it up but is, in fact, telling the truth. These mannerisms may point to several aspects of his character. For example, Holden is on the verge of failing out of preparatory school and fears telling his parents. Because he did not do well in school, Holden may have felt as though no one ever took him seriously and realized his actions left him with no solid academic standing. Since Holden is essentially a failure at school with no serious friendships, he attempts to solidify some communication in asking for approval by stating "if you want to know the truth." Holden wants people to believe him so he speeks to seek approval (Costello, 1990). Again, Salinger creates this speech pattern as believable for a common teenager, yet it also seems to belong individually to Holden. The Catcher