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 in the Rye gained much of its notoriety for the language
used in it, particularly the crude words (Gwynn, 1958). Like most colloquial
uses of body