From The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The thing was, I couldn’t think of a room or a house or anything to describe the way Stradlater said he had to have. I’m not too crazy about describing rooms and houses anyway. So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up to bat. He’s dead now. He got leukemia and died when were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You’d have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class. And they weren’t just shooting the crap. They really meant it. But it wasn’t just that he was the most intelligent member in the family. He was also the nicest, in lots of ways. He never got mad at anybody. People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie never did, and he had very red hair. I’ll tell you what kind of red hair he had. I started playing golf when I was only ten years old. I remember once, the summer I was around twelve, teeing off and all, and having a hunch that all of a sudden, I’d see Allie. So I did, and sure enough, he was sitting on his bike outside the fence – there was this fence that went all around the course – and he was sitting there, about a hundred and fifty yards behind me, watching me tee off. That’s the kind of red hair he had. God, he was nice kid, though. He used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair. I was only thirteen and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don’t blame them. I really don’t. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand couldn’t do it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie. My hand still hurts me once in a while, when it rains and all, and I can’t make a real fist any more – not a tight one, I mean – but outside of that I don’t care much. I mean I’m not going to be a goddam surgeon or violinist or anything anyway.
The prose extract presents a fictional narrative where the use of first person has been employed to produce the inner psyche of a psychoneurotic teenager. The perception of a mentally challenged teenager has been deliberately used to hint at an inexplicit commentary on social images of a person which contradict the inner existential image.
J.D Salinger highlights the mental instability of his persona through his constant shifting and repetition of topics. Salinger reveals how his persona is not academically good where he changes the subject of his school essay from houses to a narration of his brother. Salinger moves from scenarios to represent the stream of consciousness where the narrator dictates his story moving from the present to the past and eventually to the future. The teenage diction is explicitly used with uncensored obscenities such that ‘crap’, ‘hell’, ‘goddamn’. This also signifies how despite his mental disorder, this character was like any other teenager, and most importantly he, too, was a human being. When he talks about his brother, the character remarks how his brother was ‘terrifically intelligent’ and how his brother’s teachers would write to his mother to praise Allie, and through that we are aware that this character does not receive the same treatment, yet he is completely indifferent to that. He highlights Allie with a profound fondness and presents innocent sincerity when he points out, through a hyperbole, that Allie was about ‘fifty times as intelligent’ than Holden was. This hyperbole is also suggestive of the contrast in social attitudes towards Holden and his brother, where his brother was likely more admired than he was.
The narrator remembers his dead brother by reminiscing on little details and specific events which present how truly attached he was to his brother. Salinger present how connected they were by showing how this character couldn’t concentrate on anything besides his brother and his character traits – acknowledging how the first topic that came to his mind when writing the academic essay was his brother. This also foreshadows that he would possibly given a bad grade but he didn’t care. This indifference also depicts how society has made him completely numb that he doesn’t even want a future, as presented in the last sentence where he mentions that he wasn’t going to be a ‘violinist’ or ‘surgeon’ anyway. Yet a person who has lost all passion in life can still latch on to his brother’s memory which brings about his big-heartedness. He has a very lively and intricate mind but society has refrained from acknowledging it – society can only identify him as mentally deranged by psychoanalyzing him and instilling in him the belief that he might not have a decent future.
Salinger presents an ideal 20th century writing where the tone is conversational. The writer also highlights specific character traits of the narrator throughout the text, presenting how remarkable his observation and memory were. He also points out at his extraordinary sixth sense when the narrator has a ‘hunch’ that his brother was behind him and sure enough, he was. These skills, however, are confined in the inner self where the writer contrasts the inner and outer identity –portraying how people aren’t always what they seem to be and there’s always an inner suffering that no one knows about. It’s absolutely clear that he didn’t have a charming superficial shell but inside the character’s head, he could remember the poems on his brother’s baseball mitt and how his brother would laugh so hard at the dinner table that ‘he just about fell off his chair’. It’s a beautiful way to highlight the social flaw in isolating someone who had such a big heart and an inexplicable ability to love, just because he was mentally challenged.
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