"I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."
- J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye
In the world of literature their exist many unique writers and storytellers. However, it takes much talent indeed for a writer to develop that same unique style and manner of storytelling. Through practice and patience, some writers simply come to develop their own unique and instantly recognizable style of writing. And, as is the case with most gifts, few writers can command this unique writing style forever. However, perhaps one of the most easily recognizable authors still read with great popularity today is J.D. Salinger. Within his novel, The Catcher in the Rye, one can notice many writing accents and techniques, some of which are subtle and some which are blaringly obvious, that help to give both the writer and the novel a unique style and narrative.
Perhaps the most unique device that leads the reader to identify Salinger's style is the viewpoint from which he writes. Note that Salinger writes directly from the eyes of Holden, the main character of the novel. In the selected passage above, that style can be especially noted. There are many literary devices, which help to identify this unique style. Mainly, the sentence structure of the writing, quite simply, is not written in the style of an adult. Not only are a major portion of the sentences in both the above passages in the novel as a whole run-on sentences, there are also many breaks and sudden changes in ideas. These characteristic switches in both tone and subject matter are as much the signature style of an adolescent as they are of one suffering from some type of emotional condition, as does Holden in his story.
Therein lies the beauty of Salinger's writing. He does not really write as one traditionally writes a coming of age story, instead, The Catcher in the Rye is written simply as a retelling of a series of experiences that have affected the main character at various times during his life. As a result, many examples can be found within the novel that helps to reveal and develop this signature style of writing. Note that word choice is one very important aspect of this telling. Reading through the book, it becomes apparent that the word and adjective choice with which Holden expresses his feelings are somewhat limited. He refers to most matters regarding the adult world as being "phony". This repetition of words can also be seen in the above passage, as many of the phrases used are simply repeated again and again. Interesting to note is that this technique is used repeatedly during certain segments of the novel in order to emphasize certain passages. In the scene in which Holden yells at Sally, his arguments appear to be poorly constructed and randomly put together. This schizophrenic style of writing is just one of the trademarks of Salinger's unique style.
Another instantly recognizable element in Salinger's work is the tone with which he writes his characters speeches. Within The Catcher in the Rye, rarely are Holden's opinions or observations on life and people far from cynical or otherwise uncaring. Holden's progressive descent into loneliness throughout the novel is well documents by Salinger's cynical and obviously teenage tone. The tone of the passage shares this tone in its ideas as to the ideal life of children, and their perilous fall into the world of adults and growing up. Holden's want to stop the innocence of the world from fading is a recurrent theme throughout the novel, and it is again brought up here. The tone that much of the novel shares is simply one more element that identifies the author's unique style.
Another major component of Salinger's work is the symbolism that he includes within his writing. Although there is little symbolism in the above passage, beyond the widely discussed "Catcher in the Rye" poem, there are many other sequences within the novel that contain a wide variety of symbolism and meaning. Note especially the duck pond that Holden often thinks of when remembering his younger brother Allie. Also of interest in terms of symbolism is the history museum that Holden visits. To him, that museum represents an ideal world, a place where things can stay as they have always been, and a place where time is really meaningless. There are many other works by Salinger that contain this same focus on symbolism and hidden meanings. However, within The Catcher in the Rye, the symbolic nature of the work is just one more element that helps to identify the style.
Likewise, it is mainly the speaking style of Holden, both in the above passage and throughout the novel that help to best identify the author's unique style. The Catcher in the Rye is written from the eyes of a sixteen year old, and Salinger does his best to write in that same style. In
the above passage, it becomes very apparent that it is not an adult who is speaking to the reader. Instead, it is a child, albeit an intelligent one, that has little experience expressing his ideas to the outside world and to others around him. The incomplete and run on sentences, the lack of proper grammar, the sometime obvious use of slang and lack of extensive word choice are all elements that can be found in both the above passage and throughout the novel that help to identify the signature style of Salinger.
In the same manner as John Lennon was said to be a spokesman for his generation, so too perhaps, can it be said that Salinger was a spokesman for the youth of the post World War II era. His novels and short stories are unique in that they are written from the very perspective of their main characters and intended audiences. There are few passages, which, if pulled from The Catcher in the Rye, would fail to be recognized by any alert reader. This instantly recognizable style is due in large part to Salinger's creative use of many writing elements, notably sentence structure, word choice, symbolism, and tone. Although Salinger's work may not be the best known among contemporary authors, his style is doubtlessly one of the most unique.