Catcher in the Rye, By J.D. Salinger is the best selling book that has never been adapted into a film, and living in such an image saturated world, how a book like this has managed to stay relevant without a movie adaptation is a interesting question. With movies and TV shows today, it is hard to imagine a world without images. We often have the bad habit of viewing books as poorly crafted movies; the words only offering visual narratives in our heads.
It is as if we have strayed so far from language that we now solely base our opinions on a book through its actions, we forget to appreciate it’s pure, unadulterated text. Holden was aware of this, he too lived in a image based world; His opinion on the image saturated world that he lives in, his unique colloquialism, and techniques to create distance makes his voice sound authentic almost sixty years after the book was published.Holden also lives in a world whose artistic field is so wholly comprised of images. In fact, he mentions his hatred of movies in the very beginning of the novel; I mean, he calls his brother a prostitute for abandoning book writing for Hollywood at the very beginning of the book ” Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute” (Salinger 4). Holden appreciates books and book writing, he holds them to a higher standard than the crushing phoniness that exist in movies.
He says “It’s pretty hard to knock someone out, except in the goddam movies” (Salinger 51). The fact that he hates the movies and holds word/books on a higher level is unique and hard to find and is still applicable to today’s image saturated world.In the world we live in today we can appreciate a novel being carried on by nothing but the functions of plot; Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel, only a fool would deny that, there are ready made scenes and choices that are chosen to pull on our heart strings, but the weight of the book is in the nonstop peculiarities in Holden’s voice. All these emotions and experiences that Holden writes about are obviously important, he is ,in fact, writing about the things that lead him to be institutionalized. But the intensity of these emotions are masked by Holden’s tactics of his narration; he subtly hints at potential sexual abuse after a potential sexual advance by a trusted adult, “That kind of stuff’s happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid. I can’t stand it”(Salinger 213).
We see many coping mechanisms that Holden uses, some of them being the minimization of language, and change in tense. He calls Ackley “sort of a nasty guy” (Salinger 23), just like he “…sort of struck up a conversation” (Salinger 91) with the cab driver about the ducks in the pond when winter comes. Holden says “sort of” constantly in the novel, these small repetitive phrases make Holden’s voice still sound authentic sixty years after its publication. But even with all these techniques used to create distance, they just make it easier to empathize with him, especially when his defenses start to break down.Holden uses passive voice constantly in the novel.
When talking about the football game at Pencey Prep he laments “The reason I was standing way up on Thompson Hill, instead of down at the game, was because I’d just got back from New York with the fencing team” (Salinger 5). Holden uses passive voice as a coping mechanism; the whole reason teachers do not want you to use passive voice is because it creates distance,whereas active voice feels more immediate and real. Holden needs to distance himself from the reality of his pain, I mean, the whole reason he is not standing down at the football team with his classmates is because he had just forgotten the fencing team equipment on the train and caused them to lose the big match without even being on the team. Another example of Holden creating distance is when he talks about Allie, he says “The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he would have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now” (Salinger 43). A present tense sentence in a past tense novel, the change in tense is the real gut punch at the end.
We go from imagining a kid standing in the outfield to knowing that this same kid is dead; not that he died or passed away, that he is, in fact, dead. The present tense reminds us that the dead do not stop being dead, and that is how they haunt us.