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


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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.

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. End of Part 1 of 2.

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