Rhetoric, Sanity, and the Cold War:
The Significance of Holden Caulfield's Testimony
If, as it has been widely noted, The Catcher in the Rye owes much to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it rewrites that classic American text in a world where the ubiquity of rule-governed society leaves no river on which to flee, no western territory for which to light out. The territory is mental, not physical, and Salinger's Huck spends his whole flight searching for raft and river, that is, for the margins of his sanity. A relative term, however, "sanity" merely indicates conformity to a set of norms, and since rhetorical relationships formulate the normative world in which a speaker functions, a fictional text—whether or not it asserts an external reality—unavoidably creates and contains a reality in its rhetorical hierarchies, which are necessarily full of assumptions and negations. This aspect of fiction could not be more emphasized than it is by Holden Caulfield's speech, a speech which, moreover, reflects the pressures and contradictions prevalent in the cold war society from which it was forged.
An obsessively proscriptive speaker, Caulfield's essay-like rhetorical style- which integrates generalization, specific examples, and consequent rules-____________________