Explain and give an example of diction in The Catcher in the Rye.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, through Holden Caufield, uses the following elements of diction:

  • Tone: Holden’s voice is implicitly male voice
  • American voice
  • Folksy voice
  • Youthful, teenage voice with adult voice behind it
  • verbal irony (sarcasm, overstatement, understatement): "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."
  • conversational style:
  • simple, direct language: "All morons hate it when you call them a moron."
  • colloquial (slang): calls homosexuals "flits"
  • lots of repetition: "phonies"
  • cussing: "Goddam money.  It always ends up making you blue as hell."
  • many digressions: "It's no fun to be yellow.  Maybe I'm not all yellow.  I don't know.  I think maybe I'm just partly yellow and partly the type that doesn't give much of a damn if they lose their gloves."
  • Narration: Holden is unreliable narrator
  • conditional opening: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me
  • non-autobioghical
  • anti-Freudian (don’t psycho-analyze Holden’s lousy childhood)
  • episodic plot (like The Odyssey, Huck Finn)
  • Anti-European: “…and all that David Copperfield kind of crap” (Dickens); most European characters define themselves in context of family; Holden is saying that he doesn’t define himself with others or the past (birth of the American rebel)
  • Use of Language
  • Anaphora: (repetition at beginning of sentence) : “It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomch.”
  • Metaphor: “Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them”
  • Alliteration: “crazy cannon”; “we can smoke till they start screaming at us”
  • Irony: It’s really ironical, because I’m six foot two and a half and I have gray hair.”
  • Hyperbole: “The one side of my head—the right side—is full of millions of gray hairs.”
  • Dramatic Irony: (dominant figure of speech in the novel)—although Holden acknowledges that he has faults and weaknesses, he fails to realize how immature and maladjusted he really it
Read the study guide:
The Catcher in the Rye

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