THE COLD WAR
If, as has been widely noted, The Catcher in the Rye owes much to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1 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. 2 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—prevails throughout the book, subordinating to it most of the description, narration, and dialogue by making them examples in articulating the principles of a rule-governed society. In one paragraph, for example, Caulfield tells us that someone had stolen his coat (example), that Pencey was full of crooks (generalization), and that "the more expensive a school is, the more crooks it has" (rule) (4), In a longer excerpt, from Chapter 9, we can see how the details Caulfield sees from his hotel window— "a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at one another"—become examples in a series of generalizations, rules, and consequent evaluations:____________________