Looking back, one can now discern at least four phases in Salinger's career. His early stories generally portray characters that feel estranged and marooned because of World War II. The Catcher in the Rye and Salinger's attempt in that book to deal with estrangement and isolation through a Zen-inspired awakening and lonely benevolence represent his second phase. The third phase, seen in Nine Stories involves bringing together the principles of Zen art and the tradition of the short story. The fourth phase is one of which Salinger's work becomes more and more experimental, resulting in the philosophical mood of his last two books, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters: and Seymour: An Introduction. These four stages indicate that Salinger should be read as a writer who is seeking solutions, as a writer who is trying to give direction to his thought based on an initial disturbing event; that event being World War II.
(Encarta CD-ROM). The Catcher and the Rye appeared in a sober and realistic time, a period when there was a general disenchantment with ideologies, with schemes of solution of the world. Salinger's novel, like the decade for which it has become emblematic, begins with the words, If you really want to hear about, words that imply a full, sickening realization that something has happened that perhaps most readers would not want to know about. Salinger questions life, survival, and adolescence throughout the story. That Salinger deals with these questions in one way or another points to a problem with The Catcher and the Rye that has often been ignored or simply not taken seriously; that the climate of ideas surrounding the novel is dense, and that the book is not just about the extended and anguished cries of a wise-guy adolescent whose main trouble is that he does not want to grow up (Lundquist 81). The way Salinger sees the world is stated in the novel's most famous line: If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn t rub out even half of the f you signs in the world.
(Salinger 262) It is ironic that this sentence is the one that is most responsible for the various banning's of the novel in the years following its appearance. The Detroit Police did not understand Salinger's point at all when they pulled the book out of the city's bookstores, that controversial line, instead of being obscene itself, is directed, as almost all of Slinger's fiction is, against obscenity. It is Salinger's use of language that is one of the most distinctive qualities of The Catcher and the Rye, and an analysis of that language is essential to an appreciation of just what Salinger accomplishes artistically in the novel. Given the point of view from which the novel is told, Edward P.J. Corbett argues in a sensible article on the whole matter of The Catcher and Rye censorship, and given the kind of character that figures as the hero, no other language is possible. The integrity of the novel demanded such language.
It is not simply a matter of realizing that Holden's language would not seem at all unusual or shocking to a real-life prep-school boy. His swearing is habitual and so unconsciously ritualistic that it contributes to, rather than diminishes the theme of innocence that runs through out the novel. In addition, Holden is characterized as a desperate bravado; he wants o appear older than he is. His rough language fits in with his concept of the corrupt adult world. With Corbett, Holden's way of talking is, it must be realized a device.
Salinger's genius does derive in large part from his ability as a literary ventriloquist. He is a writer concerned with messages, with stressing moral points and suggesting ways to move from despair to illumination. Holden Cau field thus comes to embody Salinger's thought, but the language Salinger chooses to give him is so artfully controlled that the vice seems to come from some other source that the author. The problem a ventriloquist must always get around it to make his audience forget that the figure on his knee is just a wooden dummy, not real and this is what Salinger succeeds in doing in The Catcher and the Rye. A close look at the language in The Catcher and the Rye, lends to a conclusion stated memorably by Costello: The language of The Catcher and the Rye is an authentic rendering of a type of informal, colloquial teenage American spoken speech. It is strongly typical and trite, yet often somewhat individual; it is crude and slangy and imprecise, imitative yet occasionally imaginative, and affected toward standardization by the strong efforts of schools.
But authentic and interesting as it may be, it must be remembered that is exists... as only one part of an artistic achievement. A major theme in the New Testament is that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must have the purity of heart that can be achieved only by becoming like little children (Holy Bible). Or, as Robert G. Jacobs has stated it, For Salinger, childhood is the source of the good in human life, it is that state human beings are genuine and open in their love for one another. It is when people become conscious in their relationships to one another, become adults, that they become phony and logical and to love the reasons for more than the loved person. That Holden himself sees childhood, as a source of good in human life is indicated in the title of the novel. He goes to Phoebe and tells her, I thought it was if a body catch a body, I said.
Anyway I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around nobody big, I mean- except me. And I m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff- I mean if they re running and they don t look where they re going I have to come out from some where and catch them. That's all I d do all day. I d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy.
But that's the only thing I d really like to be. (Salinger 225). The fall he is talking about is the fall from innocence of childhood into the obscenity of adulthood. The influence of Holden's example on an entire generation of readers is impossible to measure, but it is sufficient to ignore in considering the development of the American youth in the 1960's.
However extensive the influence of Sali 8 n ger's most notorious character, he is a major reason for Salinger's fame and popularity. In the real and relevant idiom of Holden, Salinger caught and dissected modern society through a symbolic structure of language and motif, and episode that is as masterful as anything I n contemporary literature. Salinger fights obscenity with an amazing and divine mixture of vulgarity, existential anguish, an it does this through a style that moves the narrative effort ly along a colloquial surface that suddenly parts to reveal the terror and beauty of the spiritual drama that Holden enacts. It may be Salinger's only novel, but it is still one of the best we have.