Arvin R. Wells
SITUATION OF THE HERO
As three fairly recent articles have testified, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and J, D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye are two books with strong affinities. 1 Yet—what is less insisted upon but equally true—even as these two books are drawn together in the mind, each in relation to the other asserts its own uniqueness.
The similarities between them are readily perceived. In both novels the immediate interest is the personality of the teen-age protagonist, whose colloquial language and moral sensibility give the reported events their color. In both the narrator-protagonist goes upon a semi-comic odyssey through the heart of darkness as this is manifested in his time and place. In both the central conflict is an ethical and emotional one within the narrator-protagonist. But more important than any of these similarities is the fact that both Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield are in some sense pariahs in the society to which they belong by birth—outsiders uncertain about the necessity and desirability of becoming insiders. Moreover, their pariah status suits them for the role of social critic which each more or less unconsciously assumes and to which each brings a fine moral instinct. Their critical responses spring from the same fund of assumed values—sincerity, simple decency, and respect for whatever survives of inherent dignity in human beings.
There is finally, however, a great difference between these books, and it is one which goes far beneath stylistic matters of idiom and colloquial structure and far beneath the contrasting details of life in the backwaters of a still moving frontier and of life in mid-twentieth-centuryManhattan.It is a difference in point of view, in underlying assumptions, that ultimately amounts to a difference in kind. Whatever one may think of the concluding horseplay, Huckleberry Finn gives us a truly comic resolution; it leaves us laughing and rejoicing over Huck's moral triumph. On the other hand, for all the laughter it provokes, The Catcher in the Rye approaches tragedy; it brings us to the verge of despair.____________________