Words, the Mirror of Our Characters

The Catcher in the Rye takes on the style of a monologue by Holden himself. Naturally, we readers receive the narrations completely from Holden’s perspective. As a judgmental, agitative, and cynical teenager, Holden’s narrations are filled with his distinctive characteristics such as cuss words and sarcastic tones. The way Holden talks about the people and things around him directly reflects his personalities. Thanks to Salinger’s meticulous narrations, we can further detect a bewildered, lonely, ludicrous and pitiful teenager under his self-conceit. Salinger’s demonstration of teen-age speech is wonderful: the unconscious humor, the repetitions, the slang and profanity, the emphasis, all perfectly depict Holden as a sharp character. Holden’s mercurial changes of mood, his stubborn refusal to admit his own sensitiveness and emotions, his cheerful disregard of what is sometimes known as reality are typically and heartbreakingly adolescent through Holden’s words.

An interesting characteristic Holden displays through his words is sadness. “It was even depressing out in the street. Your couldn’t even hear any cars any more. I got feeling so lonesome and rotten, I even felt like waking Ackley up.”(pg.50) Even though he’s judged Ackley to be pimply and disgusting (and painted a portrait of him as a social outcast), Holden still reaches out to the guy when he feels lonely. Holden hates everybody, but he’s lonely. He ends up being sad for receiving a present.He rejects everything and everyone around him that his solitude and isolation could be increasingly sensed by the readers toward the end of the book, especially when his depressive moods deepened and his mental conditions collapsed.



When Holden is walking in nighttime New York, he feels “so lonesome and depressed” and keeps wishing that he “could go home and shoot the bull for a while with old Phoebe” (pg.81). In New York Holden’s nightmarish efforts to escape from himself by liquor, sex, night clubs, movies, sociability–anything and everything–are fruitless. Misadventure piles on misadventure, but he bears it all with a grim cheerfulness and stubborn courage. He is finally saved as a result of his meeting with his little sister Phoebe, the single person who supplies and just in time–the affection that Holden needs. Phoebe, the only person with whom Holden’s really connected throughout the book also seems to be the one that understands him the most. She points out to Holden that he could not “name one thing” that he likes, but she is simultaneously a patient listener and a good companion. Holden, sometimes hysterical, craves for human company deep within and all that hidden emotion if revealed through his words.

Holden’s Troubled Mental Condition

In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s word choice is highly characteristic, with countless slang words and cynical tone toward everything. In Walt Whitman’s Slang in America <Language and Composition>, he defines slang as “the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry”. It seems like Whitman holds a reverse attitude toward the viral slang words, perennial in modern world. Slang escapes from “bald literalism”, according to Whitman, demonstrating the froth of newly developed language. Holden doesn’t care much about conventional regulations or morality, just like slang words disobey the aesthetics of poetry and literature and instead pursue a fleeting trend. Holden’s forthright expressions directly help readers visualize a sharp character.

We can also view the fact that words directly reveal personalities from a scientific perspective. It is how an author expresses his or her thoughts that reveals character, asserts social psychologist James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin. When people try to present themselves a certain way, they tend to select what they think are appropriate nouns and verbs, but they are unlikely to control their use of articles and pronouns. These small words create the style of a text, which is less subject to conscious manipulation. Pennebaker’s statistical analyses have shown that these small words may hint at the healing progress of patients and give us insight into the personalities and changing ideals of public figures, from political candidates to terrorists.

Holden Caulfield, by Mesymes, Deviant Art

As the epitome of teenage rebels, Holden is a dynamic and complicated character with sadness, loneliness, hysteria, and struggle all revealing through his judgments and narrations. After describing an experience with meticulous details, Holden’s heated dispositions start to abate. Toward the end of the novel, Holden seems ready to surrender to the inevitability of growing up. He no longer wants to talk about anything. He is exhausted, physically and emotionally, ready to go home and collapse.

Work Cited: Dönges, Jan. “What Your Choice of Words Says about Your Personality.”Scientific American. Scientific American, 01 July 2009. Web. 08 June 2016.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s