An Introduction to The Catcher in the Rye. Advanced Composition & Novel Mrs. Snipes. J.D. Salinger.
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Advanced Composition & Novel
Drafted in 1942 and trained in England, Salinger participated in the D-Day invasion. He continued to write during this period and more stories appeared in print. There was also an alleged marriage to a Frenchwoman, which supposedly ended in divorce in 1947.
Salinger moved to rural New Hampshire and lived as a recluse. He only saw local youngsters, whose company he enjoyed. Although the success of his one novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), brought him unwanted attention, he kept the public eye at bay by refusing all visitors. However, whenever he was trapped, he offered conflicting information and often totally false biographical data.
The novel offers realism in its use of language, its use of social criticism where it is due, and its presentation of real problems which adolescents face in the process of achieving maturity. The book also offers romanticism in its view of the innocence of childhood, its quest for truth, idealizing the past, and its emphasis on individual discovery and growth.
Consider: how is Salinger’s intimacy of Holden’s voice feels effortless. Part of this comes from Salinger’s extraordinary ear for speech. Which you also get in, for instance, his great Glass family stories. But it’s not just technique operating here. It’s an inhabitation of character so complete that it amounts to soul ventriloquism—full blown…I don’t think there’s a single other book in American literature in which the narrator so badly needs the reader to understand him and cure his solitude, and there’s no American book in which the novelist creates the illusion of solidarity between his character and the reader more successfully. In fact, the illusion is so strong that it doesn’t feel like illusion at all: Salinger dreamed Holden Caulfield right into our lives, and 50 years later, he still feels right here, red hat on, striding the American blast, needing us more than ever.” –Cornel BoncaThe Catcher in the Rye a perfect example of a picaresque novel? As you read, be looking for evidence and examples.
Also consider, what is Salinger’s message to his audience and how is Holden a vehicle to convey this message?
Much of the power of Salinger’s novel arises from the honesty and convincingness of his main character. Holden’s narrative voice lures readers to become actively involved with his actions and attitudes. Through a skillful use of vernacular and truthful observations, Salinger makes us believe in and ache for Holden. He becomes on the one hand, a unique character and on the other, a universal Everyman.
In this respect, Holden serves as a character like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who can be reinterpreted each generation. The comparison with Hamlet is particularly apt since, like the Prince, Holden’s major dilemma is trying to cope with society’s corruption and deceit. In both cases, the characters do find peace, but only within their own souls.
Read in this light, honesty and convincingness of his main character. Holden’s narrative voice lures readers to become actively involved with his actions and attitudes. Through a skillful use of vernacular and truthful observations, Salinger makes us believe in and ache for Holden. He becomes on the one hand, a unique character and on the other, a universal Everyman.The Catcher in the Rye becomes a coming-of-age story. Like Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby, Catcher implies that a loss of innocence is essential if a child is to become an adult. This process is painful, but inevitable.
Other critics have categorized Catcher as a picaresque novel—a book dealing with the adventurers of a wanderer. Still others see Holden as a Christ figure, lunatic—even Peter Pan. The diversity of views only increases the novel’s literary merit.
Then this morning I went to the bookstore and bought The Catcher in the Rye. I’m sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book. The small part of me must be the Devil.