Use of Language in The Catcher in the Rye – Salinger – Literature

Use of Language in The Catcher in the Rye – Salinger – Literature

Holden often leaves his sentences hanging with words like “and all” and “or something.” Often he uses these phrases to expand on some indescribable emotion or action such as “…how my parents were busy and all that before they had me” or “…they’re nice and all.” But many times there is no meaning to expressions like “…was in the Revolutionary War and all,” “It was December and all,” and “…no gloves or anything.” (Salinger 5-7)

Holden has many expressions that appear consistently throughout the novel. In some places the expressions only serve to make Holden more realistic, in other places Holden tries to reinforce his values. Holden has repeatedly commented on his hatred of fakes. This is something Holden hates more than almost anything. This may be why he often confirms a statement with “I really do,” “He really does,” or “if you want to know the truth.” He also confirms the comments by repeating them twice like “She likes me a lot. I mean she likes me very much.” (Salinger 141) or “He was a very nervous man—I mean a very nervous man.” (Salinger 165) He uses different phrases and styles to give more factual support to his comments, thus preventing him from coming across as fake.

Holden’s speech is usually not vulgar or obscene. Every time he says words like “ass” it’s just teenage talk about a part of the human anatomy. He’s not saying it to be offensive. “Ass” is just another word that Holden uses to better convey ideas. He can mean coldness by saying “freeze my ass,” or incompetence “in a half-assed way,” or even incredulity, “Game, my ass.” His vocabulary contains many words that are religious but are not used in this way. Holden says “damn” means “pretty much” when describing something: “We had a great time,” “devilish old,” “devilish playful.” He uses words that refer to the divine, such as “for God’s sake,” “God,” and “hell,” but he never means it in a blasphemous way. They are only parts of his speech. He uses these words casually when talking about his “damn hunting hat” or when he says someone is a “damn idiot”. For more emotional occasions, Holden reserves “Chrissake” or “Jesus Christ.” Although Holden is not too religious, he never uses “Chrissake” unless he is depressed or angry. For extreme anger, Holden keeps “sonuvabitch” ready. After his fight with Stradlater, Holden constantly calls him an “idiot son of a bitch”. His anger is also reflected in the sudden increase in the occurrence of “hell”. Although the words Holden uses may not be appropriate, he is not trying to be sacrilegious. Salinger simply uses language to make Holden seem like a normal teenager and also reflect Holden’s state of mind.

Although there were some critics who thought that The Catcher in the Rye should be banned, it still became the greatest novel since World War II. JD Salinger’s ingenious use of language throughout the novel made Holden Caulfield human. Thanks to the accurate representation of a teenager, the reader can get to know Holden’s characteristics, making him seem more realistic. By bringing Holden to life, Salinger was able to create one of the most memorable characters in all of literature. End of part 1 of 2.

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