The Power of Words in Catcher in the Rye, a Novel by J. D. Salinger

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It’s been estimated that there are 237 uses of the word “goddam” within J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, 58 of “bastard.” 31 of “Chrissake,” and six of “fuck.” The importance of this comes from the feeling of power and control cursing can give someone. Holden, the protagonist, utilizes these words as he struggles on his journey of finding himself, which is most clearly represented through imagery, diction, and symbolism.

Salinger uses imagery because the detail and description that is given builds onto Holden’s character and the idea that he is lost. Depression and isolation keep’s Holden from moving forward in his life and from finding himself. “New York’s terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed.” Holden’s depression is created from the idea of being alone and trapped with himself inside. The picture of a quite, empty New York with only a laughter running through it helps the reader understand Holden’s depression. “I remember around three o’clock that afternoon I was standing way the hell up on top of Thomsen Hill…. You could see the whole field from there, and you could see the two teams bashing each other all over the place.” Holden is guilty of isolating himself from others around him, he feels the need to distance himself because he does not know who he is.

Holden’s word choice molds him as a character, because it shapes who he is and adds onto the blur occurring within him. “One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That’s all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life.” A word the occurs in close to every chapter of the book is “phony”, the importance of this comes from people acting fake. Holden may not know exactly who he is developing into, but he knows he is not a phony. “I have about fifty aunts – and all my lousy cousins. What a mob’s be there. They all came when Allie died, the whole goddamn stupid bunch of them.” The word “goddamn” and Holden’s annoyed tone is generated from the depression he faces when it comes to his brother’s death. His sadness turns to anger because he is having a hard time trying to clearly express himself.

Salinger uses symbolism as a way of displaying habits of Holden that result in his lost soul. “If you want to know the truth, I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and all, but I’ve never got around to it yet. Something always happens.” Holden’s virginity is a symbol for the protection of his youth. Holden lost his brother at a young age, which damaged him, he wants to preserve his own innocence. “I had the most terrific trouble finding that lagoon that night. I knew right where it was it was right near Central Park South and all – but I still couldn’t find it…” The lagoon is a place special to Holden because of his protection of the innocent, he cannot find the lagoon because he cannot find himself, and you must help yourself before you help others.

Salinger’s use of imagery, diction, and symbolism display the challenges Holden is up against because he is lost. Despite Holden’s battles with isolation and depression, his protection of innocence and youth help mold him as a character. Holden cannot find this wat through his life, but more importantly, he cannot find his way through the darkness.


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The Power of Words in Catcher in the Rye, a Novel by J. D. Salinger. (2023, May 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-power-of-words-in-catcher-in-the-rye-a-novel-by-j-d-salinger/

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