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The Catcher in the Rye

Nobody would deny such a fact that discourse is a major area of interest within the field of modern linguistics. Needless to say, discourse is a behavioral issue, which reveals an asocial, intellectual, and cultural background of an individual. To be more precise, a person renders particular signals, which define an attitude towards the subject being discussed. The particular choice of words and sentence structure involves a pragmatic aspect taking into consideration. Moreover, it is worth admitting that discourse is an act of communication with a social purpose represented via such a recognizable speech event as a conversation. In other words, it is a study that focuses upon the issue of the language used in a particular context.

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In essence, the detailed discourse analysis contributes to a sound understanding of the intended meaning of a speaker. Interpreting the linguistic features of an individual is a strategic tool to identify the implications and thus comprehend the sense rendered. It is increasingly important to linger upon the discourse analysis, as it serves for revealing the human character as well as an ideological position. Hence, within the field of literature, discourse analysis is employed for a proper understanding of the characters’ inner world. Therefore, the author’s message is conveyed by some means of various connotations as well as phonetic, lexical, and stylistic devices. It is essential to tackle the issue of discourse in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by Jerome Salinger in order to reveal Holden’s and Phoebe’s characters in a process of communication with other personages and demonstrate the ways these characters are constructed in various contexts.

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According to the manner of presentation, the novel The Catcher in the Rye is a first-person narration interlaced with the dialogues of personages. Hence, one may conclude that the book is written in a subjective style, which depicts Holden’s reality and mindset. The language of the main character, Holden Caulfield, belongs to the common colloquial vocabulary interwoven with some slang and vulgarism. Furthermore, regarding the particular context, his language is conditioned by the relationships established between him and an interlocutor (Paltridge 58).

In the conversation with his history teacher, Mr. Spenser, his answers are rather evasive. It can be regarded as some reluctance to communicate and a state of boredom:

“What did Dr. Thurmer say to you, boy? I understand you had quite a little chat.”

“Yes, we did. We really did. I was in his office for around two hours, I guess.” (Salinger 5)

The analysis of the utterances within the context implicitly reveals the rebellious nature of an adolescent. In fact, giving the wrong answer may also presuppose the fact that Holden was not listening carefully, as he had dismissed the teacher’s ideas as not worth thinking about. Subsequently, the anaphoric repetition used by the author in Holden’s responses, “I know it is. I know it” creates an image that he does not want to continue the conversation. He gets tired of teacher’s moral admonitions about life (Salinger 6). To a larger extent, the stylistic device promotes a certain view that the main personage is an opinionated individual being able to decide on his own what is right for him (S. Pinsker and A. Pinsker 134). It is increasingly apparent that the following conversation can be regarded as one-sided for many reasons. Indeed, Mr. Spenser’s utterances are predominately interrogative, while Holden’s ones are affirmative. In addition, Holden Caulfield tends to give laconic answers, whereas the teacher uses extended sentences to moralize his student.

The notable example of Holden’s categorical judgments about the people surrounding him may be observed in the conversation with Ackley, his dorm neighbor. It is obvious that he is frustrated and irritated by his presence. That is why the language of the character is affected by the highly colloquial words being peculiar for adolescents with their need for self-assertion. The constant repetition of the word goddam may characterize him as a person with a poor educational background (Salinger 29). Though Holden failed four schools, he has acquired a keen intellect. It is also evident from his replies to Ackley.

To be more concrete, his ironical utterances provide the indirect elements of his inner state and some information about his environment. It needs to be mentioned that the relationships established between him and Ackley in a narrative situation are rather complicated. That is why Holden has no intention to answer on a quite simple question about the book that he is reading at the moment. Instead, he prefers to use an ironical expression to finish a conversation: “This sentence I'm reading is terrific” (Salinger 31). The following irony suggests that the character has some apathy towards an adult world imposing its phony and boring rules and standards (S. Pinsker and A. Pinsker 101).

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However, when Holden Caulfield endeavors to enter the adult world, he experiences a failure. That is why the conversation with a prostitute Maurice is a peculiar issue to touch upon in terms of discourse analysis of Holden’s personality. It is necessary to outline a drastic change in Holden’s behavior within the discourse. Having communicated with the prostitute, he realizes that she is of his age and faces difficulties regarding her occupation. Initially, Caulfield deliberately lies about his identity. However, eventually he is eager to hold the conversation further.

Thus, it is essential to consider the grammatical features of the following discourse. In fact, Holden’s language includes the modality providing a sense of respectful and polite attitude towards Maurice. The insertion of the modal verbs would and could may express Holden’s willingness to communicate with her without any discrimination of her personality (Salinger 88). Moreover, such stylistic device as aposiopesis is employed to express his nervous state, when Maurice threatens him. Namely, his reply “I’m sorry…I really am” defines him as a person, who is capable of sympathy (Salinger 92).

Regarding Holden’s conversation with his teacher, Mr. Antolini, it needs emphasizing that despite a wide discrepancy in their age and status, their relationships are informal. The characters use predominately the words, which belong to the common and special colloquial vocabulary (Powers 45). To be more concrete, Holden is allowed to use an informal word goddam to express his indignation. Moreover, the teacher does not mind him giving a negative evaluation to other people in the utterance “you could tell he didn’t have too much brains” (Salinger 124).

In such a way, he expresses his thoughts to the person, whom he considers to be an equal one. Namely, Holden finds that Mr. Antolini is a sincere person, whom he may share explicitly his existing beliefs. The usage of such phrases like “I think,” “I mean,” “I guess,” “What I think is” defines Caulfield as an individual with the developed critical thinking (Renkema 78). It is worth mentioning within the following discourse Holden is characterized as the person caring about the surrounding environment. In fact, it is for the first time, when he is concentrated upon his affections. It is evident that Mr. Antolini affects him substantially.

Concerning Holden’s sister, Phoebe, it is necessary to analyze this character in terms of the discourse with Holden Caulfield. Despite her young age, it can be assumed that she performs the role of a teacher for Holden. For instance, she gets irritated every time, when he is swearing. She uses the imperative mood in the sentence “Don’t swear so much” to instruct her brother and influence his childish behavior (Salinger 115). Though Phoebe does not state it explicitly, it is apparent that she understands the reason her brother rejects such an idea of entering adult life. The repetition of the auxiliary verb in the negative form in her response: “Because you don’t. You don’t like any schools. You don’t like a million things. You don’t” reveals the character with the strong opinions and mature judgments (Salinger 116). The chain of repetitions demonstrates the fact that Phoebe cannot stay indifferent in the situation.


To conclude, it is important to emphasize that the following paper has made an attempt to analyze the characters’ language in terms of discourse. The analysis gives evidence of the language affected by a certain context. Thus, a drastic alternation in linguistic features may be observed depending upon a particular situation. The language of the main hero Holden defines his ideological positions and, therefore, provides a vivid image of his moral standards. A proper discourse analysis has contributed significantly to understanding the message conveyed by the author. Jerome Salinger strongly criticizes such nature as insincerity, arrogance, boredom, and malice. All of them have been reflected in the language of participants of the analyzed discourse, namely, Ackley and Mr. Spenser. Furthermore, the author lingers upon the problem of maturation.

The main character, Holden Caulfield, is inclined to think that most adults are deprived of such qualities as kindness, generosity, and sincerity. For this reason, he refuses to act as an adult. His language is conditioned by the high school age. Moreover, the characters’ images are constructed by the means of stylistic devices, a special colloquial vocabulary layer, grammatical and syntactical features.

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