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Importance of Language in The Catcher in the Rye Essay

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    The Catcher in the Rye, like many other great works, was met by scornful criticism and unyielding admiration. However, many literary critics also marveled at Salinger's use of language, which was used to make Holden Caulfield, the main character, extremely realistic. Such language includes both repetition of phrases and blatant cursing, in order to capture the informal speech of the average, northeastern American adolescent. Through Holden's thoughts and dialogues, Salinger successfully created a teenage boy.

The language used in The Catcher in the Rye has long been a topic of controversy in the literary critic's realm. Holden Caulfield's thoughts and comments serve to deepen his personality and to provide entertainment. Salinger wanted to create a typical teenager while keeping Holden as an individual at the same time. Like most teenagers, Holden speaks in trite sentences. However, he also uses words in places that were then uncommon. Holden often leaves his sentences dangling with words like "and all" and "or anything."

Often he uses these phrases to extend some indescribable emotion or action like, "... how my parents were occupied and all before they had me" and "...they're nice and all." 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) Not only does Holden speak like this at the beginning of the novel, but also throughout the entire novel, making this pattern a part of his character. Therefore, the "and all" and "or anything" tags to Holden's speech serve to make his speech authentic and individual.

Salinger intentionally used such speech repetition to individualize Holden...


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...oughout the novel made Holden Caulfield human. Due to the precise representation of a teenage boy, the reader is able to become intimate with Holden's peculiarities, therefore making him seem more credible. By making Holden come to life through repetition of dialogue and thought, Salinger was able to create one of the most unforgettable characters.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bloom, HB. Major Literary Characters: Holden Caulfield. Chelsea House Publishers. New York, 1990.

Costello, DP. The Language of the Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield. Cambridge, New York; Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Gwynn, F. The Fiction of JD Salinger. University of Pittsburg Press. 1958

Salinger, J.D.  The Catcher in the Rye.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1991.

Salzman, J. The American Novel: New Essays on the Catcher in the Rye. Cambridge University Press, 1991.


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