The Importance of Language in The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye has captured the spirit of adolescence, dramatizing Holden Caulfield's vulgar language and melodramatic reactions. Written as the autobiographical account of a fictional teenage prep school student named Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye deals with material that is socially scandalous for the time (Gwynn, 1958). As an emotional, intelligent, and 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 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, and even 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 blatant 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. This wording of his phrase implies that he does not wish to disrespect them, yet at the same time he does not intend to 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 that he will not tell his "whole goddam autobiography or anything." From the start, the reader picks up on Holden's hostility and unwillingness to share his views strictly by his use of language (Salzman, 1991). Another colloquialism can be seen in the last two examples. 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," and realize it is a character trait of his, since not all teenagers used that phrase. Therefore, 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 individualize Holden but also to make him a believable teenager of the early 1950's.
Another example of how Holden's speech helped define his character is his constant need to confirm his own affirmations, as if even he did not quite believe himself. These confirmations include phrases such as "...if you want to know the truth," or "...it really does." Holden...