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The Catcher in the Rye – How Salinger Brings Holden’s Character to Life Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

The Catcher in the Rye is a story set in the 1940s in the USA. The story is mainly based in New York City, Holden’s home town, though there are parts of the story that are not set in New York. In this assignment I’m mainly going to discuss three events based in the book and look in detail at the language that the narrator J.D. Salinger has used to make it look like Holden is telling the story to the reader. The author, J.D. Salinger, has also used the first person pronoun “I” throughout the entire story, although Salinger has written the book it feels like Holden has written it, this helps to bring Holden’s character alive. He also uses what is known as ‘direct address’ at the beginning of the story. This is where the narrator uses the pronunciation ‘you’ this makes the reader feel that they are being “spoken” to personally. I’m also going to look at the way Holden’s attitude, thoughts and themes are structured and the style used in doing so.

The first event I’m going to discuss is Holden’s conversation with Phoebe in her bedroom. This is where Holden creeps into his own house in order to see Phoebe. Holden creeps into her room in the middle of the night when his parents are not there, when Phoebe wakes up she hugs Holden, because she did not expect him to come so early. Salinger then talks a few pages about them having conversation, here Phoebe obviously very clever for her age (10), instantly becomes aware of that Holden has been excluded from Pencey. Holden does not realise that he has been already exposed by Phoebe of how immature he is (This is where Phoebe makes Holden look younger than her). After that despite, Holden’s assurances she keeps on repeating “Daddy’s going to kill you”. She was very upset with Holden of what he had done and refused to speak to him for a while because of what he had done, this is when Holden decided to leave the room and went to look for some cigarettes.

After he returns in the room Phoebe is still unhappy with Holden, and she asks him why he flunked out again. Holden again is unsure how to respond and blames his academic problems on the phony teachers he had to put on with, and criticises every body and calls them all “phony”. After all the conversation Phoebe then challenges Holden to name something that he likes about anything in this world or anything around him and to my surprise, he cannot name anything not even one. He then he goes on to talk about “Catcher in the Rye”.

One of Holden’s most important dreams is when he fantasises about being the catcher in the rye.

When Phoebe is questioning Holden about what he likes, Holden thinks that the only thing he would really like to be is be “The Catcher in the Rye.” In this fantasy he is standing on the edge of a cliff watching thousands of little kids playing games in the field of rye. He is the only adult anywhere and he has given himself the responsibility of catching all the kids if they start to fall over the cliff.

Holden is dreaming about how he wants to catch all of the children from falling off the cliff which is a symbol of them becoming corrupted by learning and understanding the bad side of the world. This is all Holden would do all day. Holden has shown us through the text that he hates the corruption of the world so he wants to keep the children playing in the field of rye, where they are unaware of the corruption.

This fantasy is very well linked with the main theme of the book where Holden is trying to stop the children of the world being corrupted by youth. Of course this is totally impossible, and Holden says that it is crazy but it is what he really wants to do and he wishes he could find some way to save the children. These are the quotes he uses during the conversation.

“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.” and “That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Chapter 13 contains the encounter with the prostitute. Here, he first met the elevator boy who was also trading in prostitutes, he offered a prostitute to Holden. Holden at that time was ‘depressed’, he quickly accepted the offer before he clearly thought about it. Fifteen minutes later he was sent one. Later on in the story, the elevator boy fought with Holden due to some pricing disagreement (the elevator boy told him that it was five dollars and the prostitute asked him for ten dollars). The elevator boy then punched Holden and threatened to tell Holden’s parents because he knew that Holden wasn’t twenty-two. In this incident, the elevator boy showed Holden’s fears and weakness.

During this time he prepares himself for the prostitute’s arrival, Holden plays down his ‘purchase’ (the prostitute) by saying “I could get in some practice on her, in case I ever married or any thing”.

Holden was sent a prostitute named Sunny. But then Holden felt sorry for her when she arrived, he thought she was quite “young, nervous, impatient, and very skinny” and seemed innocent. By the time she arrived, Holden didn’t feel like sleeping with her anymore and just wanted to talk instead. Here Holden makes an excuse of him recovering from an operation.

He talks with her and decided it was best for her to leave. He paid her five dollars but she argued

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that it was ten. Then just left with five and went back to the elevator boy to get the other five dollars. This also shows how nervous he himself was but kept making excuses about her. Here you can clearly see Holden’s child like attitude towards sex and exposing himself to a strange woman, he tries to act out sensitivity of adult behaviour. Other thing that clearly shows in this chapter is the innocence of Holden regarding sex, while the prostitute aged same as Holden has the opposite view of it.

Chapter 6 is the main Chapter were Holden is shown struggling. This is a physical struggle between Holden and Stradlater. Stradlater spends the evening on a date with Jane Gallagher, a girl whom Holden used to date and whom he still admires. During the course of the evening, Holden grows increasingly nervous about Stradlater’s taking Jane out, and when Stradlater returns, Holden questions him relentlessly about whether he tried to have sex with her. Stradlater teases Holden, who flies into a rage and attacks Stradlater. Stradlater then knocks Holden down and this is where he bleeds from his nose. Holden decides that he’s had enough of Pencey and will go to New York three days early, stay in a hotel, and not tell his parents that he is back.

The second factor again, that leads them to the fight was the comment made by Stradlater “professional secret”. Holden asks Stradlater if he gave Jane, his childhood sweetheart, “the time” (meaning did she lose her virginity to him), Stradlater shrugs it of by saying “professional secret”.

Holden is a critic of society; he believes that the major weakness in society is the phoniness. He thinks everyone he knows or meets are phonies with the exception of Jane, Allie and Phoebe. When Holden heard that his phoney roommate, Stradlater was dating Jane, he thought of her all the time. She was one of the few people Holden thought was pure and innocent. Stradlater disliked the work Holden wrote for him about his dead brother, Allie. Holden loved his brother he believed that he was pure, innocent and lucky that he would always be carefree and in his childhood state. Holden became furious when Stradlater disrespected what he thought as valuable and innocent. When the boys fought, Holden was fighting for his morals.

Holden fears, him changing to adulthood. He believes that being an adult is hard, however he tries to be an adult by going to the room and wanting to loose his virginity to the prostitute. But, he doesn’t succeed and doesn’t fit in. When Holden and the elevator boy fought, Holden just broke down in tears and cried. He couldn’t handle the situation. That meant he wasn’t ready for adulthood after all. After the fight, Holden felt lonely and depressed, he later started talking to Allie believing that he was near him. At that point, he wanted to escape adulthood by committing suicide. He thought that once one dies, they would never have to grow up. They can stay children forever like his brother Allie.

There are many different themes in these three incidents with the main one being, the phoniness of the adult world “Phoniness,” which is the most famous phrase from The Catcher in the Rye, and is one of Holden’s favourite thoughts. Another big theme of the novel is Innocence of children. Holden believes that the children are almost perfect in the way that they are truthful, innocent and not “phony.” They never try to impress others by being something other than themselves. They rely on adults and have little or no responsibilities, but are open to learning and the truth. One of other themes is Holden and his red hunting hat which holds a lot of importance. Holden can be a different person when he puts on his hat. This hat helps him escape from the reality that he finds unacceptable. The hat acts like a mask for Holden, which makes him invisible to the people he dislikes. When he wears the hat, he has more confidence and courage to challenge those who he sees as untrue and phony, that’s why he gives the hat to her sister “to keep the innocence in her” (this is what Holden thinks because the hat gives Holden the confidence and the courage to face phonies) it may do the same for Phoebe keep her “innocent” like Holden.

The language used in “The Catcher in the Rye” is of violence which includes, physical as well as psychological. From the very first chapter to the very last chapter in the book what you will notice is Holden’s constant use of insults, either describing something, or someone, which is quite common in the 21st century, but was very insulting in the 40’s and 50’s. He has quite a limited of insulting words that he uses frequently in this book such as “you sonovabitch” and “you moron”. He also uses the word “bastard” and “goddam” a lot to describe either the situation he is in or describing somebody else. This creates the effect of somebody speaking to you personally for example “I mean if I had my goddam choice” or “I was sweating like a bastard”.

Holden does not like some of the swearing words such as in chapter 25 the graffiti on the walls of school were Phoebe was studying, someone had scratched on “fuckyou” and Holden tried to rub it off. These means that Holden did not like some of the words that directly linked to the adult world. He thought it would leave a bad impression to all the young children in that school including Phoebe. This is what he says to describe it “I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it” and “I figured it was some perverty bum that’d sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall”.

Holden’s another main speciality was to make the sentences more interesting by exaggerating it. If you look at the first paragraph in the book he already starts exaggerating e.g. “my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told any thing pretty personal about them”. He carries on like this throughout the book and in a way this makes him express his feeling about someone. Another way of Holden expressing his feeling is by making his emotions and feelings unclear. He often says he is thinking of something but does not seem able to draw conclusions, e.g. in chapter 22 when Phoebe asks him what he likes in this world, he can’t tell what he likes.

The style of the book is written in, “narrative style” and is mixed with “literature” this is done purposely and in its place most of the writing is in “elegant writing” and a little “metaphor” which forms the pictures and places with more detail in it. In “The Catcher in the Rye” the author J.D. Salinger, makes as feel that we are seeing places such as New York, California and the ranch were Holden wanted to work and events such as the suicide of James Castle through a seventeen year old. The structure of the book is smart as well, most of the time Salinger uses small and short sentences which most of the time are not well structured for example “it really was” this hardly makes sense and often its confusing. The author J.D. Salinger also creates the effect of spoken language most of the time than written. This makes the reader feel involved in the story. He uses punctuation to give rhythm to his written speech, like presentation used in drama.

In my opinion it was a great book though it was written quite a long time ago. The author J.D Salinger gave a good description of Holden, as an always lonesome and depressed young guy who didn’t get over his younger brother’s death. Whether the book is relevant or not to the modern reader, it clearly indicates and describes how a 17 year old youth would think and do at least in the 40’s and 50’s. Looking towards the 21st century I think there are lots of common issues that feature our common lives everyday obviously regarding this problem. The insulting words used in this book are commonly used in our communities both by us and our elders and is nothing of very harmful, but in those days if a youngster said something like that he would certainly be punished for it. From my point of view this book is certainly more relevant to the readers now than before because of the key issues that they now face. It also shows that what the youngsters used to think then even think now but are just more independent, and have there point of view said.

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