The Method of Narration Used in The Catcher in The Rye
The catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a novel which is written in the first person. The first person narrative plays a very significant part in the readers’ appreciation of the text. As the novel begins, the main character
Holden Caulfield prepares to tell his story to a psychoanalyst at a psychiatric home. As a result of the narrative the reader is also an analyst to Holden and he addresses each reader who reads the novel in a very intimate manner. The narrative always the reader to understand and see more clearly why Holden has a nervous breakdown this emphasises how important it is to the readers’ appreciation of the text.
The first person narrative allows the reader to get a very personal view of Holdens thoughts and feelings, making them feel very close to him. Holden also describes what he himself sees and experiences, providing his own commentary on the people and events he describes. Throughout the novel Holden never comments on his emotional state directly but he does however tell the reader at one point that he is undergoing emotional strain. Holden also tells us “I’m feeling lousy” which conveys to the reader that he is mentally and physically breaking. He simply describes his increasingly desperate state without much explanation. Salinger however cleverly manipulates Holdens narrative to signal to the reader that there is more to the story that Holden himself admits or describes.
Holden makes it very clear from the very beginning of the novel that he does not get on very well at school. An incident which shows this is when Holden does not attend the school football match with the rest of the school. “This game…was supposed to be a very big deal around Pencey. It was the last game of the year, and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if Pencey didn’t win”. This shows the reader that this game was very important to the people in this school but not to Holden. Holden choosing not to go with the rest of his school including his peers conveys to the reader that Holden is not like the other children at his school and maybe not like other teenagers, he may be a loner. The sarcasm about committing suicide in Holdens comment emphasises the matches’ significance to the school and the pupils and its insignificance to Holden. The narrative technique allows the reader to appreciate that Holden is maybe different from other teenagers. Holden also tells us “they kicked me out. I wasn’t supposed to come back after Christmas vacation, on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all.” This makes the reader sympathise with Holden especially when he tells us he also “had some difficulty at the Whooton School and at Elkton Hills” as this shows that this is not the first time that Holden has been kicked out of school. Failing school can make anyone miserable but being thrown out because of it can make them very depressed. As this is the third time it has happened to Holden it emphasises how unbelievably depressed he must feel and also how he may think that he is a failure. Salinger’s narrative technique makes it very obvious to the reader that Holden is depressed and thinks he is a failure who has let his family down. The narrative also allows the reader to understand why Holden has a nervous breakdown and how awful he feels, also making them appreciate why he act the ways he does.
Holden feels guilty about many of the things he does, He for instance feels he has let his parents and sister down as he has been thrown out of school yet again. “I didn’t want to go home or anything until they had got it and thoroughly digested it and all” this shows that Holden realises how angry and upset his family are going to be when they find out about his situation. Holden feels most guilty about letting his mum down as she is still fragile from his brother Allies death. “That depressed me. I could see my mother going into Spaulding’s and asking the salesman a million dopey questions – and here I was getting the ax again. Holden feels very guilty as his mum has gone through a lot of effort to get him a really nice present and he knows that he is going to break her heart again once she finds out he has been thrown out of school again. Holden also tells us about how he didn’t take his now dead brother out with him once in the past, which he feels awful about “It wasn’t that I didn’t used to take him with me when I went somewhere. I did. But that one day, I didn’t I keep thinking about it and all, when I get very depressed.” Holden loved his brother very much but just cannot forgive himself for this one mistake. Holden also tells the reader that now when he thinks about this day he amends it to him telling Allie he can come. This however makes Holden feel even more depressed as he knows this is not what actually happened. The first person narrative as well as word choice help the reader to see and appreciate why Holden feels guilty. This guilt is one of the main causes of Holden Caulfields nervous breakdown.
Holdens adolescence is revealed through the use of first person narrative and also the language he uses to describe his thoughts, feelings and experiences. Holden uses teenage language throughout the novel and when the book first came out the language in it caused quite a stir words like “phoniest bastard” and “sonovabitch” help paint a picture of a teenager in trouble. The swearing is used to convey a deep-seated insecurity in Holden. Therefore all of the language in the novel enhances thematic concerns and characterisation. The result is the reader fully understands Holden and the trauma he experiences.
To conclude Salinger’s use of first person narrative along with a variety of other features is very important to the readers appreciation of the text. This is due to many reasons but mainly because it allows the reader to fully understand what the main character Holden is feeling and experiencing.