Catcher In The Rye- Use Of Language Essay, Research Paper
Not many great novels were produced during the post World War II era. Perhaps the greatest novel published was J. D. Salinger s The Catcher in the Rye. This book, just like all other great works, was met by scathing criticism and unyielding praise. Many literary critics marveled at Salinger s genius use of language to make Holden Caulfield, the main character, unbelievably realistic. Through Holden s thoughts and dialogues, Salinger successfully created a teenage boy. Because of that The Catcher in the Rye became one of the few great post World War II works.
The language used in The Catcher in the Rye has been a topic of controversy in the literary critic s realm. Holden Caulfield s thoughts and comments serve to deepen his personality and provide entertainment. Salinger wanted to create a typical teenager but also wanted Holden to be an individual. Like most teenagers, Holden speaks in trite sentences however he also uses words in places that were then uncommon. Holden often leaves his sentences dangling with words like “and all” and “or anything.” Often he uses those phrase to extend some indescribable emotion or action like ” how my parents were occupied and all before they had me” or ” they re nice and all.” But many times there is no significance at all to the expressions as in ” was in the Revolutionary War and all,” “It was December and all” and ” no gloves or anything.” (Salinger 5-7)
Holden has many expressions which appear consistently throughout the novel. Some places, the expressions only serve to make Holden more realistic, other places Holden is trying to reinforce his values. Holden repeatedly comments on his hatred toward phonies. That is one thing that Holden hates more than almost anything. That could be the reason he frequently confirms a statement with “I really do,” “It really does,” or “if you want to know the truth.” He also confirms comments by repeating them twice like “She likes me a lot. I mean she s quite fond of me.” (Salinger 141) or “He was a very nervous guy- I mean a very nervous guy.” (Salinger 165) He uses different phrases and styles to give a more factual backing to his comments, thus preventing himself from seeming like a phony.
Holden s speech usually stays away vulgar and obscene. Whenever he says words like “ass,” it is merely teenage vernacular for a part of the human anatomy. He doesn t say it to be offensive. “Ass” is simply another word Holden uses to better convey ideas. He can mean cold by saying “freezing my ass off,” or incompetence “in a half-assed way,” or even disbelief “Game, my ass.” His vocabulary contains many words that are religious but are not used that way. Holden says “hell” to mean “to a great extent” when describing something: “We had a helluva good time,” “old as hell,” “playful as hell.” He uses words that pertain to the divine such as “God s sake,” “God” and “goddam,” however, he never means it in a blasphemous manner. They are just parts of his speech. He uses those words casually when referring to his “goddam hunting cap” or saying somebody is a “goddam moron.” For more emotional circumstances, Holden reserves “Chrissake” or “Jesus Christ.” Even though Holden is not too religious, he never uses “Chrissake” unless he is depressed or enraged. For extreme anger Holden keeps “sonuvabitch” ready. After his fight with Stradlater, Holden continually refers to him as a “moron sonuvabitch.” His anger is also reflected in the sudden increase in appearance of “goddam.” While the words Holden uses may not be proper he is not trying to be sacrilegious. Salinger is merely using the language to make Holden seem like a normal teenager and also to reflect Holden s state of mind.
A popular word in Holden s youth was “crap.” It was a word that could be inserted into any part of a sentence, just as Holden did. He used it to mean a dirty substance “I spilled some crap all over my gray flannel,” or miscellaneous items “I was putting in my galoshes and crap.” He also used it to mean something undesirable “The show was on the crappy side.” Holden also used a couple phrases like “shoot the crap,” and “chuck the crap” to mean chit-chat. Many characters in literature use the adjective old a lot. Gatsby, from F. Scott Fitzgerald s novel The Great Gatsby, used it. Holden uses it in the same manner as Gatsby. Both of them use “old” towards the familiar or as a term of endearment. Gatsby would always refer to acquaintances as “old sport” and Holden refers to his sister as “old Phoebe.” Holden probably acquired this expression from that novel because he says, “I liked Ring Lardner and The Great Gatsby and all. I did, too. I was crazy about The Great Gatsby. Old Gatsby. Old sport.” (Salinger 183)
Holden is a pretty nice guy. He tries not to insult people but when he gets mad he lets his tongue loose, the result of which is often a powerfully invective statement. Holden just combines all of his speech idioms to form the nastiest comments he can. This was obvious after his fight with Stradlater when Holden said, “Get your dirty stinking moron knees off my chest,” (Salinger 43) and “You re a dirty stupid sonuvabitch of a moron.” (Salinger 43) This also provides a good comic effect. Holden is able to describe certain situations very well. He makes similes that are so unexpected that they are hilarious. To describe someone s personality he says, “That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat.” (Salinger 52) To describe Spencer s facial expression he comments, “He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he d just beaten the hell out of me in Ping-Pong or something.” (Salinger 14) Such similes catch the reader off guard and are extremely funny, yet they get the message across.
Many times Holden refrains from blatantly stating something in an offensive way. At times he will talk like a mature man and refer to a drunk as an “alcoholic” and instead of saying that he hadn t ever had sex he says “lose my virginity.” Other times Holden will do almost the exact opposite; instead of using the mature and politically correct phrasing he will revert back to teenage slang. Instead of saying “lose my virginity,” he says “to give someone the time.” Rather than saying somebody is an “alcoholic” he would say the person is a “booze hound.” Inconsistencies like this make Holden more life-like. Holden is on the verge of adulthood so his language is going to be a mix between adult manner and teenage slang.
Holden s speech pattern is very revealing about his personality and age. After certain comical events or after a show of innocence, Holden would often say “that killed me.” That further proves that Holden appreciates innocence and that he is able to see humor in society. Holden s lack of vocabulary shows how young and uneducated Holden really is. At one point he even admits it when he says, ” Boy! I said. I also say Boy! quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes.” (Salinger 12)
The language in The Catcher in the Rye sparked debate. The book dealt with subject matter that was considered inappropriate and it contained words that publishers would never print. Holden s battle for the preservation of innocence involved erasing the word “Fuck You.” Many conservatives felt this was not reading material for children. The book was banned from many schools and libraries. (Pinsker 13) However Holden was not trying to promote the word. His quest was to eradicate it, but he knew that was impossible. No matter what, the graffiti would still be there and the children would be exposed to it. He could not catch all the children and prevent their loss of innocence. He even says, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn t rub out even half the Fuck You signs in the world.” (Salinger 262) Even though the critics thought the language was not right, it served an important literary function.
Even though there were some critics who thought The Catcher in the Rye should be banned, it still became the greatest novel of post World War II. J. D. Salinger s genius use of language throughout the novel made Holden Caulfield human. Because of the accurate portrayal of a teenage boy, the reader is able to become familiar with Holden s idiosyncrasies, therefore making him seem more realistic. By making Holden come to life, Salinger was able to create one of the most memorable characters in all of literature.