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Eccentricity Of The Protagonist In The Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger

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In 1951, Jerome David Salinger published a novel ' The Catcher in the Rye', which has become a desktop book of more than one generation of Americans and not only Americans: according to the number of translations to other languages 'The Catcher in the Rye' occupies one of the first places in the post-war U.S. literature. Published in 1960 in Russia, Salinger's novel strongly influenced the so-called youth prose, which was made famous by the magazine 'Youth'. Even in a far from America country, such as China in the 1970s, the protagonist of the novel 'The Waves' by the Beijing poet and prose writer Jao Jin Kai talks about the Cultural Revolution in the language of Holden Caulfield. This novel bribed reader with the extraordinary sincerity of the narration, as its 'crazy story' is presented in the form of an internal monologue. Holden Caulfield's desire to talk about himself and others without hiding, desire to express literally everything that is going on in the soul, inconsistently speaks with intimate confessions of coarseness, jargonistic words, covering up vulnerability with irony and self-irony. Despite the outward uncomplicated nature of the teenager's narrative, Salinger's novel has in fact rendered a complex ambiguous work, which was manifested in varying respects by literary criticisms of Holden Caulfield, his main character and narrator. Therefore, this article attempts to find out the reasons for the contradictory interpretations of the Holden image.

Some critics have declared Holden Caulfield a rebel, almost a fighter against social order. It was the first reaction to Salinger's novel. They considered Holden Caulfield as a fighter who spoke out against the reigning lies in society, as he was not satisfied with the 'show', the lack of understanding between people and the most elementary humanity. They explained this revolt by the fact that Holden is endowed with a special seventh sense - a heightened reaction to 'falsehood' and 'fake' (what he calls phony), to the inconsistency of the actual and the seeming. Indeed, the scope of the rebuke in the novel is very broad. It includes the education system, cinema, business career, literature, art, army, life, all- the thickness of money, and most importantly - universal, pervasive falsehood, which the author emphasizes with a special persistence.

One might think that this is not a real reality, but only a pessimistic and self-burrowing young man. But, as Lidsky correctly pointed out, Holden is believed unconditionally even when he resents 'idiotic stories in magazines' and in all other cases. In his opinion, this is not only due to the ultimate sincerity of the hero: Holden has become so only because he lives in a world of lies, falsehoods and cruelty, in the world of those 'scum' and 'idiot stories'. This is the view of many researchers, calling the hero's protest a 'lone revolt' or 'an ethical revolt of a gifted person.' But they all agree that they see Holden as a lone rebel, protesting against conformist unanimity and consumerism. Indeed, none of the characters supports Holden's criticism - neither his peers, nor adults. Even his younger sister, Phoebe, who sympathizes with him, reproaches her brother for not liking anything. And the teachers to whom he turns for support warn him of the danger posed by his rebellion. Mr. Antolini, for example, stated that Holden was rolling into the abyss and the abyss into which he is falling is a terrible abyss, dangerous. Anyone who falls into it will never feel the bottom. He falls, falls endlessly. This happens to people who, at some point in their life, begin to look for something that their usual environment cannot give them. And Holden really suffered from his rebellion, since at the end of the novel it is reported that he is leading his story while in a sanatorium where a psychoanalyst works with him. As Vladimov notes, Holden is destined to become, as it were, a “separate conscience of people, of this unknown generation — torn, poisoned and bleeding. At least it’s not cheap for someone, but for Holden, in addition to everything, it costs health.

In this regard, an important characteristic of Holden is his awareness of the doom of his rebellion. This is manifested, in particular, in his disappointment with his older brother, whom he wanted to be like, since his brother changed his free writing vocation to a more profitable craft of a Hollywood screenwriter. He does not want to follow footsteps of his father, noting that lawyers are more interested in fees, expensive acquisitions and entertainment than the defense of the accused. As Koneva notes, Holden does not see anything but that gray everyday life that has already confused most of his peers in his networks, so any attempts to build his life in accordance with the norms of the humanistic ideal are doomed. Another feature of the Holden rebellion is noted by R.Orlova at the times the hero imagines how he takes revenge on his enemies, beats up the elevator, imagining people, who cheated and robbed him, it seems to him that he is beating up unknown vulgarities, which are covered with school and museum walls with obscene inscriptions, but all these battles are imaginary. Therefore, the critic presents Holden's rebellion as “childish,” recalling the actions of a person in a dream: convulsive attempts to run, hit, complete impossibility to do something, a sense of speechlessness and powerlessness.

The most difficult thing is to present Holden as a rebel at the end of the novel, when he reports that after the sanatorium he will return to school, that is, he will return to the society that he hates. Ahead of the hero are waiting for new tests, but he does not know whether he will be able to adapt to social falsity or not:

“A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I'm going apply myself when I go back to school next September. It's such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you're going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don't. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it's a stupid question”.

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The hero’s words mean that the denouement of the ideological conflict is absent in the novel, since he does not know whether he will be reconciled with social hypocrisy or will continue to struggle with it. However, A.M. Gavrilyuk believes that the Holden rebellion has a logical conclusion, because, instead of fleeing to the West, he and Phoebe remain in New York, because Holden is sure that running is always easier than staying and upholding his humanistic ideals. He does not yet know which personality will emerge from him, but he is already firmly convinced that “a person cannot live”.

A. Mulyarchik presents the end of the novel differently, coming to the conclusion that Holden's revolt against reality does not bring to its logical conclusion, but his sister Phoebe, who, with a huge suitcase, was going to run away with her brother to the unknown far West. According to the researcher, they seem to change roles: the ten-year-old Phoebe is ready to rush headlong towards a new life, and Holden unwittingly searches around himself for elements of stability, connection with the past. In the researcher’s proof, such elements for him are the smells of his native school, music on the carousels in Central Park two steps from the house, millennia-old mummies in the Museum of Natural History, which are accumulated in the final chapters of the book. Another group of critics is T.L. Morozova, R. Orlova, A. Elistratova and others, consider Holden a fugitive, who, faced with social problems unacceptable to him, seeks to hide from society. As Elistratova notes, Holden Caulfield’s plans are more like fleeing the battlefield. Indeed, the hero was thinking about fleeing when he invited Sally Hayes to go with him to Massachusetts, to Vermont, to get married and live “somewhere by the stream”, where he himself would cut firewood. But the calculating girl replied that she would marry him only when he graduated from university.

Nevertheless, even after Sally's refusal, the disappointed Holden dreams of hiding somewhere in the wilderness, settling in a wood cabin, pretending to be deaf-mute, so that there is no need to talk to anyone, marrying a deaf-mute girl who will not guide him on the true path, but children, if they appear, 'hide from everyone.'

The main reason for the hero’s flight, according to A. Meshkov, is the lack of his own positive worldview, since he has nothing to oppose to the false ideals of society. That is why his rebellion is imaginary, and is characterized by researchers as 'eccentricity' or 'childishness.' To find a solution to moral conflict, Holden is constantly looking for communication. He is trying to find an echo from taxi drivers, from random fellow travelers, from schoolmates, from restaurant neighbors. He calls different people, including unfamiliar ones. But there is no echo. As Orlova notes, Holden is capable of deep, sincere feelings, he longs for complete truth, purity of naturalness in relations between people, he longs for communication, but stumbles on blind walls, sees that everything is polluted by calculation, falsehood, mutual alienation. And then the young man closes himself more and more into himself, the surrounding becomes intolerant to him. As Orlova observes, everything he talks about is accompanied by the words “disgusting”, “damn”, “damned”. The inability to change the hateful hypocritical “rules of the game” of society leads Holden to despair, as a result of which the hero experiences an acute moral crisis, when, as Orlova notes, the collision with the surrounding reality turned out to be unbearable for him. In particular, the hero refuses to accept the laws governing the relationship of people in conditions of social inequality. He is very painfully experiencing the property division existing in society. He is “angry” that the headmaster speaks differently with the parents of the students, depending on how who is dressed or he is “upset to hell” when he sees that his roommate, a boy with whom he wants to be friends, envies his expensive suitcases and because of this no friendship between them is obtained. The reason for the moral crisis is the awareness of his own alienation, which Holden is experiencing acutely, because, according to Morozova’s observation, he is distinguished by a complex spiritual organization, deep impressionability, in which even minor irritations from the outside can cause a violent reaction. It is the alienation of the hero that motivates his desire to withdraw from society and causes him nervous depression, because of which, obviously, he finds himself in a sanatorium.

There is also an opinion that Holden’s flight also means Holden’s search for the meaning of life, which is allegorically expressed in the ridiculous question “where do ducks go from the park in winter?”, That is, where to go from the cold of misunderstanding the environment. Belov’s opinion is proved by the fact that in Holden he sees not a rebel, but a loser. Heroes, as you know, are figures, he noted. Holden is tragically incapable of acting, even the trivial thing. It is no accident, the researcher believes, that at the beginning of the story, Salinger makes the hero make a snowball: Holden will choose a target for a long time, but he will never choose it, and in the end, at the request of the conductor, he will be forced to simply throw a snowball on the ground. According to this model, Holden’s further actions are constructed, the critic asserts. He does not sit still, he wants to do something now and then, but his feverish activity ends in nothing, for any attempt. He goes as the captain of the school fencing team - he forgets the equipment in the subway, he will let his comrades out. Proudly says goodbye to his former fellow practitioners - 'Good night, cretins' - but then slip on a nutshell and almost curl his neck. He will write an essay at the request of Stradlater’s boob, but not on the right topic, and then, offended by the incomprehensibility of the customer, he will tear up what has been written. He will buy sister Phoebe her favorite record - accidentally break it, hand over some fragments. Only in dreams Holden is the master of the situation. Only in the imagination he is able to famously crack down on the scoundrel lifter Maurice, to give up the reserves of tenderness and kindness, to establish the right relations with the oppressed society (pretend to be deaf and dumb, according to the old American tradition, flee to the West, live in the forest, etc.) . In reality, everything goes head over heels. The world around is as if taking revenge on his young criticism for arrogance, completely disobeying it. Belov noted: “Completely incapable of reality”. Consider Holden and other researchers ,Denisova sees the hero as a sacrifice in his complete disappointment in the society of which he is an integral part, and sees in Holden’s story the tragic cry of a man lost in a strange world, helpless, blind. Holden's criticism of society is permeated with pain and man and faith in the possibilities and needs for humanity inherent in him. From this point of view, in her opinion, an imperfectly old hero is a sensitive seismographic apparatus that determines the state of society, but at the same time it is another victim and a product of this society.

Finally, there is a fourth group of critics, which includes those who notice the most negative aspects in Holden — a spoiled, selfish teenager who is experiencing a transitional crisis, after which he will turn into an ordinary consumer who has come to terms with public falsity. V. Panova belongs to this group, although it must be emphasized that all researchers notice the negative traits of Holden - both those who consider him a rebel, and those who see him as a fugitive and victim: N. Anastasiev, A. Elistratova. For example, Koneva notes that Holden is far from the ideal that he is lazy, untruthful, inconsistent, selfish, that he himself admits this, calling himself “abnormal”, “unadapted”, “eccentric”. Anastasiev believes that Holden’s youthful rebellion is bold and honest, but concludes that Holden’s protest is groundless and that his rebellion is futile. Elistratova claims that Holden Caulfield is not a hero, and to see in him, at least in the bud, the future conscious and courageous fighter for a new America, means introducing into this image features that the author did not give him. But Panova is the most categorical in her assessment of the novel “The Catcher in the Rye”, declaring that it is a novel about a loafer, a liar, a dude, a bang, about a strange unlucky young creature. The analysis of critical works showed that all the presented interpretations of the image of Holden are unambiguous, and that they all have a right to exist, since Salinger’s novel is ambiguous.

Ambiguity is manifested in the structures of the text of the novel, creating ideological uncertainty. Such structures include, first of all, the narrative form: the sincere, confessional internal monologue of the narrator evokes sympathy and sympathy, but at the same time this monologue is the hero’s speech, which functionally characterizes himself, providing an opportunity to look at him from the outside All marked unambiguous interpretations of the image of Holden have a socially critical sound, and therefore deprive the novel of its inherent ambiguous philosophical meaning. The fact is that in the work of Salinger posed the complex problem of the conflict of individual freedom and public morality. This conflict is most clearly expressed in the symbolic image of the abyss, which is mentioned by Mr. Antolini, and which is put in the title of the Russian translation of the novel. In his presentation, Holden divided society into two parts - children and adults, he himself is in the middle. The children are attractive to him: he worries about a boy who is walking along the edge of the bridge, not paying attention to cars passing by, he loves Phoebe and his brother Alli. Children, who personify sincerity for him, play in a rye field in his imagination, and he stands on the edge of a cliff, that is, is in danger, and he considers the hypocritical adult society dangerous. The hero does not want to follow the example of even close people - his father, older brother, Mr. Antolini and teacher Spencer, since he cannot forgive them for unworthy actions. The middle position of the hero suggests that he is faced with a choice: either to reconcile and accept the false morality of adults, or to reject, while remaining childishly sincere. This position of Holden reflects the uncertainty of ideological conflict, which logically combines with the moral uncertainty of the hero. Finally, there is no denouement in the novel, as Holden declares that he does not know what decision he will make in the future and what he will become. This means that in the final of the novel the hero remains morally undefined, and the ideological conflict is unresolved. Thus, based on the structural correlation of the moral uncertainty of the hero, the uncertainty and unresolved ideological conflict, the ambiguity of the novel “Catcher in the Rye” was created, which implies a plurality of readings.

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Eccentricity Of The Protagonist In The Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Eccentricity Of The Protagonist In The Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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