CRITICAL ESSAYS

Donald P. Costello


THE LANGUAGE OF
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A study of the language of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye can be justified not only on the basis of literary interest, but also on the basis of linguistic significance. Today we study Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (with which many critics have compared The Catcher in the Rye) not only as a great work of literary art, but as a valuable study in 1884 dialect. In coming decades, The Catcher in the Rye will be studied, I feel, not only as a literary work, but also as an example of teenage vernacular in the 1950s. As such, the book will be a significant historical linguistic record of a type of speech rarely made available in permanent form. Its linguistic importance will increase as the American speech it records becomes less current.

Most critics who looked at The Catcher in the Rye at the time of its publication thought that its language was a true and authentic rendering of teenage colloquial speech. Reviewers in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, the London Times Literary Supplement, the New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Saturday Review of Literature all specifically mentioned the authenticity of the book's language. Various aspects of its language were also discussed in the reviews published in America, the Atlantic, the Catholic World, the Christian Science Monitor, the Library Journal, the Manchester Guardian, the Nation, the New Statesman and Nation, the New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, the Spectator, and Time.1 Of these many reviews, only the writers for the Catholic World and the Christian Science Monitor denied the authenticity of the book's language, but both of these are religious journals which refused to believe that the 'obscenity' was realistic. An examination of the reviews of The Catcher in the Rye proves that the language of Holden Caulfield, the book's sixteen-year-old narrator, struck the ear of the contemporary reader as an accurate rendering of the informal speech of an intelligent, educated, Northeastern American adolescent.2

____________________
From American Speech 34, No. 3 ( October 1959): 172-81.

-41-

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Holden Caulfield
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Major Literary Characters *
  • Holden Caulfield *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 5
  • Critical Essays 41
  • The Language of the Catcher in the Rye 41
  • Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield: the Situation of the Hero 50
  • On J. D. Salinger's Novel 58
  • The Saint as a Young Man 64
  • Character and Detail in the Catcher in the Rye 74
  • Allie and Phoebe 80
  • The Catcher in the Rye 87
  • "Don't Ever Tell Anybody Anything" 105
  • Against Obscenity 114
  • In Memoriam: Allie Caulfield 132
  • Adlerian Theory and the Catcher in the Rye 144
  • Holden and the Cold War 153
  • Contributors 166
  • Bibliography 169
  • Acknowledgments 173
  • Index 177
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