In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, how does the opening line "If you really want to hear about it..." intentionally lower the reader's expectations of the novel?

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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Holden Caulfield's tone of voice is both melancholic and unenthused in his opening sentence of the novel. Holden seems to be uninterested in his own story when he writes, "If you really want to hear about it..." (Salinger, 1). This is done intentionally to reveal the narrator's negative perspective on his own life, which may lower the reader's expectations of the novel. Beginning the story with this opening line suggests that the story is not worth reading, as Holden casually approaches the topic of his life. As the novel progresses, the reader learns that Holden Caulfield is a depressed, jaded, resentful youth who is struggling to accept his future. The opening line in the novel introduces the reader to the crass, confused narrator, who is obviously not enthused about telling his story. If the narrator is not excited about telling his own story, why would the reader want to hear about it?

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tinicraw's profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The opening line of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye could lower a reader's expectations of the novel because the tone of voice seems melancholy or despondent. Also, it seems as if the narrator's voice brings an air of disappointment right from the beginning, as if the story were a waste of time. However, the opening line might also strike intrigue into the reader to want to know more about why the narrator is so down on it. The book follows a type of writing style that most writers of the middle twentieth century describe as a stream of consciousness. The first thought seems to be the best thought to writers like Salinger because that is where the most honest feelings are presented. Along those lines, one might understand better that the story that follows those lines will be as honest as possible, although strictly from Holden's limited understanding of the world. Brutal honesty, no matter how crass or blunt, was a new technique used by writers to confront the "phonies" of the world who merely live life without truly dealing with life's issues.

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