One of the most distinctive qualities of Salinger’s prose in “Catcher in the Rye” is breezy, colloquial style of the language. In a way, Holden’s mode of self-expression follows in the tradition of Huck Finn’s, and the task of writing in a specific and believable vernacular is, I would imagine, very challenging — capturing the precise essence of a character’s voice without sounding grating. Mark Twain, of course, mastered it with perfection, and so, I believe, did Salinger.
“I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that’s all I told D.B. about, and he’s my brother and all. He’s in Hollywood. That isn’t too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. He’s going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe. He just got a Jaguar. One of those lithe English jobs that can do around two hundred miles an hour. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. He’s got a lot of dough, now. He didn’t use to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was ‘The Secret Goldfish.’ It was about this little kid that wouldn’t let anybody look at his goldfish because he’d bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.”
— “Catcher in the Rye”, chapter 1
I mentioned before that Holden’s voice enthralled me the first time I read it — and I have rarely laughed as hard at any book. I’m curious, though, what everyone else makes of his style. Do you think the use of 1940s and ’50s slang makes the prose sound dated, or do you think Holden’s message is universal? Has Salinger accurately captured the voice of a teenager, and does that voice still resonate? What were your initial impressions of the character?
Incidentally, I’ve noticed that since I’ve begun reading “Catcher” again, the word “phony” has crept into my daily speech with greater prominence…