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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Identify five literary devices in the first three chapters of The Catcher in the Rye.

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Salinger uses simile in the first chapter when he has Holden write,

Anyway, it was December and all, and it was cold as a witch's teat.

A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as." Here ,Holden compares the cold weather to a witch's teat, or nipple. This also characterizes Holden: it is typical of him, as he is a teenager who has girls on his mind, to compare cold weather to an icy-cold female body part. Another example is when he jumps on Stradlater:

I landed on him like a goddam panther.

Holden uses imagery as he describes visiting his elderly teacher, Mr. Spencer, in his home. Imagery is description using the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell:

He was reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops.

The above quote contains not only visual images, but also a scent image that helps place the reader in the scene.

Holden loves to use hyperbole, or exaggeration. He says of Stradlater:

It took him about an hour to comb his hair.

Holden is also a great lover of slang. Some of it sounds outdated to modern readers, but we are able to figure it out from context, such as when Holden says:

I read a lot of war books and mysteries and all, but they don't knock me out too much. What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours . . .

"Knock me out" is obviously Holden using slang for really loving and being impacted by a book.

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In The Catcher in the Rye, the following five literary devices are prevalent in Holden's narration.  In sum, they contribute to the humor and alienation in his voice and comment on the disillusionment of his episodic misadventure in post-war America:

A. Anaphora: (repetition at beginning of sentence) : “It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach.”

B. Metaphor: “Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them.”

C. Alliteration: “crazy cannon”; “we can smoke till they start screaming at us.”

D. Verbal Irony (sarcasm, understatement, overstatement): "It’s really ironical, because I’m six foot two and a half and I have gray hair.”

E. Hyperbole: “The one side of my head—the right side—is full of millions of gray hairs.”

P.S. Actually, hyperbole is an example of verbal irony, as it is overstatement, but I think it still counts...

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Salinger utilises a variety of literary devices to captivate and intrigue his audience, narrative style, colloquial language, anecdote, imagery and metaphor. There are many others.

We first encounter Holden as an unreliable first person narrator. Holden is vague, repetitive and ambiguous in his account of the events leading to his breakdown. He condemns his peers as 'phonies'  and not worth his time, and yet is fascinated by their personal habits and motivations - as he shows with his descriptions of his teachers and peers.

Holden's use of colloquial language contributes to the ambiguity of his statements and assists in supporting the idea that Holden is not clear who he - or anybody else - really is.

We see Holden demonstrating his affection for his teacher, Mr Spencer, in the anecdote about his indian blanket in chapter 2. The imagery surrounding Holden's visit is particularly vivid.

When Dr Thurmer discusses Holden's expulsion he refers to the metaphor of life being a game. It is not a game at which Holden has any skill and he can see the irony in the last event for him at the school being the failed fencing contest - a result of Holden's ineptitude.

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