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Comparison Of Two Coming Of Age Novels: The Catcher In The Rye And Looking For Alaska

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The following will closely focus on the analysis of the two Coming of Age novels The Catcher in the Rye and Looking for Alaska more the first-person narration, language and symbols used to depict the personal grow of the respective protagonists Holden Caulfield and Miles Halter from immature adolescent to young adults. Literary analysis has always ben a vital part of fully grasping the underlining message of novels. Therefore, the following paper focuses closer on the link of these rhetorical and linguistic devices and the development of the main characters. The first part gives an overview of the genre Coming of Age novels, also called “Bildungsroman”, followed by the individual developments Miles and Holden are faced with throughout the literary pieces.

Additionally, aspects of the first-person narration, such as use of italics, linguistic devices such as anaphora and symbolisms, important for the depiction of the protagonist, such as the red hunting cap or the labyrinth, are discussed in detail. While at time the link between the rhetorical devices and the development of the main characters was not always immediately apparent, with much research and determination, a substantial connection could ultimately always be found. The findings of this exploration definitely indicate however that the topics of interest are vital to the portrayal of the main characters traits and their growth throughout the novel.

Without them the message would get lost as we would not see the complexity of these characters and why they behave in their fashion. specifically how barriers were crossed and what the overall result of the discussed aspects, Introduction P.T. Barnum once stated, “Literature is one of the most interesting and significant expressions of humanity” . One cannot get better insight into the human condition nor into individual human struggles from any other genre than from Coming of Age novels. Raw emotions, human flaws and personal growth are elaborated particularly in Coming of Age novels. The two novels that I chose to analyze J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” (1946), an all-time classic of this genre and John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” (2005) are no different. If one looks closer at intentions behind certain character traits, symbols and other rhetorical devices, the depth of the characters becomes very apparent and broadens understanding of humanity. From prior knowledge I was aware that authors often use rhetorical devices and first-person narration in order to create multidimensional characters that readers can relate to.

The first time I read these books I solely focused on the plot of the works rather than on their characters. While I found the storylines compelling, I felt as though I had not fully grasped the authors’ underlying intentions. Did I perhaps not focus enough on the significance of the symbols and language used? How important were these stylistic devices in comprehending these Coming of Age novels? Therefore, I decided to focus closely on these core areas: first-person narration, emotions conveyed through language and symbols presented in the novels, all aspects that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the individual lead roles and their evolving character traits. I chose to solely focus on the protagonists, as their development is the most significant theme for Coming of Age novels.

A comprehensive analysis of the side characters seemed excessive to me and beyond this paper’s scope. Even though I noticed many linguistic devices used in both novels, I concentrated on those that had a significance to the depicted development of the main characters. 1. Plot Summaries The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a 16-year-old named Holden Caulfield, who over a period of three days leaves his boarding school and embarks on a solo journey in New York. Along the way he meets and interacts with many side characters, one of which is his little sister Phoebe who berates him for leaving school and for his immature behavior. This encounter ultimately leads him to realize that he has never grown up and that the passing of his late brother has had a profound effect on him. Through the course of the short time period, Holden reflects and narrates the entire storyline, giving the reader key insights into his character traits.

The novel Looking for Alaska depicts the story of its protagonist Miles Halter who attends a boarding school. There Miles meets Chip Martin and Alaska who he later closely befriends. His crush on the wild-child Alaska incentivizes him to join on their escapades. These experiences ultimately make him open up and take risks. This adventure, however, ends abruptly when Alaska is involved in a fatal car accident after a drunken night out. The mysterious circumstances of her death cause Miles to search for the truth behind her death. Through this discovery Miles must come to terms with reality and grow into a mature adult. 1.

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Bildungsroman as a Genre Upon further research on the genre, I stumbled upon a quote that perfectly summarized the essence of Coming of Age novels: A Coming of Age story also called a Bildungsroman, is all about the protagonist's journey from being a child to being an adult. It is a journey that takes a young person from naïve to wise, from idealist to realist, and from immature to mature. The path of the protagonist, or main character, can vary from story to story. The German literary genre “Bildungsroman” focuses on how and why characters develop physically and morally . As stated in the quote above, Coming of Age novels follow one general formula that resembles that of a “Bildungsroman”: the protagonist evolves from an inexperienced individual to a more knowledgeable young adult. Both novels I chose to analyze are no exception. Literature has always been a tool to reach the reader on an emotional level. Coming of Age novels are no different from this. Adolescence is a time where everyone goes through a changed that ultimately results in us becoming mature adults. These novels show us the broader picture of our journey that often runs parallel to our own transition into adulthood.

The reason why Coming of Age novels are so important, is because we see ourselves in these novels, we reflect on our own experiences through these characters. This is mainly the reason why there is typically only one character that is the focal point of such novels. It enables us to only focus on one character and their journey, rather than on other irrelevant side plots. Coming of Age novels often lean on each other, copying character traits or ideals from other novels of this genre that resonate with the audience. John Green himself has stated in numerous videos on his YouTube-channel that he was heavily influenced by it, going so far as to basing elements of the novel on the classical piece . More than once has he stated admiration and love for this piece of literature. He has made multiple descriptive videos focusing on the plot, symbols and main character of the novel. 2. The Development of the Main Characters Both Holden and Miles evolve as the storylines unfold, but they do this in different ways. Miles gradually evolves from an introverted, shy boy to a more confident adolescent who has to work through a tragedy that ultimately makes him more conscious of responsibility into a self-confident individual who learns that growing up is just part of life. At the end of both novels these two characters come to their respective realizations, which are both triggered by pivotal events in the story.

Miles In Miles’ narrated time span of 273 days the deciding factor of his development seems to be the death of his close friend and love interest Alaska. He develops from an “naïve” adolescent who turned away from any social interaction, to a realist. Miles introverted nature is challenged by his classmates Alaska and Chip, also called Colonel. He is a student that goes by the book and doesn’t like to fall out of line. When his friends first offer him a cigarette, he is concerned about getting caught , later on in the novel he disregards the warning he is given by the principle as he is not scared about going against the rules anymore, stating that he gets a thrill from it. An example of this behavior is his statement when he drinks with Colonel: “For me, it was just fun, particularly since we were risking expulsion.” . This could be seen as a negative development, as he decides to act rebellious and reckless, something common among teenagers. Miles mainly shows character growth however: By learning how to express his true feelings and not internalize his anger and frustration to an almost childish degree “I hated sports. I hated sports, and I hated people who played them” he finds his place. A good example for this would be his friendship with Colonel. Miles is initially nervous around Colonel, “’Uh, okay,’ I said, but I could hear the words catch in my throat.” , but as his confidence grows, the two became equals who support each other after Alaska’s death. His search for the Great Perhaps stays with him until the end of the novel. The Great Perhaps is first introduced in the first chapter as the final words of Francois Rabelais. Miles decides to change school in order to fine his meaning in life-the Great Perhaps. . In the novel the Great Perhaps for Miles embodies Alaska and how she’s changed his life. Indicating that he has the idealistic belief that she is his meaning in life “For she had embodied the Great Perhaps – she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave my minor life”. He also states that now that she was gone his belief in it also left. In the last chapter however he states “So I still believe in the Great Perhaps, and I can believe in it in spite of having lost her” meaning that he understands that in reality she is not his whole world and decides to make the rational decision to still believe in his dreams. This shows a growth in character. He has become wiser and understands that her death doesn`t mean the end of his world. In the end of the novel Miles reflects on what he has learned over the last 273 days. While he still doesn’t have the answers to all of his questions, he seems finally at ease. He reaches acceptance and ends his reflective narration on a very positive note and optimism for the future.

Holden In comparison to Miles, Holden narrates only three days of his life, in which he develops into a mature young adult. His most prominent flaw seems to be his lack of drive and waning to stay in the past, taking on little to no responsibility for his actions. The traumatic experience of his brother’s death is most likely the cause of his issues. He is expelled, because he shows no interest in his academic achievements, failing every subject except English, rather than for doing something illegal such as vandalizing school property. He has not yet reached the stage of acceptance in the grieving process, which is reflected in his behavior. In chapter twenty-five Holden mentions repeatedly pleading to his brother Allie: “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie don’t let me disappear.” when he crosses a street in New York. The despair that Holden feels in this moment shows how desperately he is hanging onto the past. He turns to Allie, a past memory, the one only person he believes that can help prevent his youth from disappearing. His yearning for the past is also shown when he thinks about Jane Gallagher. Instead of making the effort of greeting her and facing his romantic feelings for her, he brushes it off, saying he is not in the mood to go greet her. Holden also doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and prefers to take the immature route when faced with problems. He invites conflict with others such as Stadler. Instead of voicing his anger, Holden provoked a physical fight between him and his roommate by insulting him repeatedly. He himself acknowledges his immature behavior “And yet I still act sometimes like I was only about twelve.” Shortly after saying this he also states that “Sometimes I act older than I am - I really do - but people never notice it.

People never notice anything.” In the short timespan of the narration he often chooses to be alone, by for example getting into a confrontation with his roommate, subsequently pushing him away. His red-hunting cap also stands for his individuality as he is the only one that understands the importance of it. He proudly wears his hat while every other character sees it as any other hunting hat. When his sister tries to go with him after he comes back Mr. Antolini’s house, he refuses to let her do, even though he has run away many times before. He truly cares about the wellbeing of his sister and acts like a mature adult, insisting that she does not repeat his mistakes. Instead of leaving, they visit the park together, where Holden reaches clarity. When we see his sister trying to reach for the golden ring on the carousel, he realizes that he has to let go of his childhood. The never-ending carousel represents his desire never to grow up and take on responsibility. Just as he doesn’t acknowledge having to grow up, he doesn’t truly acknowledge the death of his brother and the effect it has had on him.

In the final part of the novel we learn that he is narrating the story from inside a psychiatric ward, making the story come full circle in the end: The narration starts in the present and catches back up in the present. We learn that he has finally come to terms with reality and no longer follows this idealistic assumption that he can stay young forever. Holden states that he truly misses his friends and has plans to attend high school again in fall. Even though Holden doesn’t go into detail as to how he has reached this state of mind, it is clear to the reader that Holden has found the help he needed to overcome his trauma and become a young adult. What is important to note is that not all characters follow the same character development. As stated in the quote above, characters in Coming of Age novels follow different transitions: while Miles does not seem to show immaturity, this is one of Holden’s most prominent features. By facing the reality, the character’s journey from child to adult begins. While Holden finally accepts the inevitable fact that he is growing up, Miles accepts the truth behind the tragedy of Alaska’s death. In order to convey these complex emotions that both main characters experience, I believe certain tools are used to convey emotion.

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Comparison Of Two Coming Of Age Novels: The Catcher In The Rye And Looking For Alaska. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“Comparison Of Two Coming Of Age Novels: The Catcher In The Rye And Looking For Alaska.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
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