By comparing and contrasting appropriately selected parts of the two novels you have studied for this question, show how far you would agree with the ciew expresed above. Your argument should include relelvant comments on each writer’s methods and relevant contextual material on the twenty-first century reader. Reader reactions vary enormously with personality, society and morals. The personality of the reader will dictate the extent to which the reader engages with outsiders such as Holden and Mersault.
Whereas the society that the reader lives within ordains the reader’s interpretation of what it is to be an outsider. Ultimately it is the morals, products of both personality and society, each individual holds which influence whether any individual reader sides with the outsider. For a twenty-first reader, living in a pluralist society, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of individuals are generally more accepted and such things do not define an outsider in the modern world.
Salinger’s use of first person narration depicts Holden Caulfield as an outsider from the outset because of his repeated singular “I” and the absence of collectives such as “we” even when Holden is in the company of other people. The use of such enclaves encourages a true and personal renditition of the inner teenage voice. According to Costello this “authenticity” is revealed in the idiosynchrasies of Holden’s ‘inside’ speech patterns (that do not feature in his direct speech) such as the use of fragmented comments and the informal repetition of expletives such as “goddam” and “bastard”.
Repeated phrases surrounding such expletives like “goddam phony bastard” induce a fondness from a sympathetic modern reader. Although swearing is still used in the ‘traditional’ sense of cursing, it is becoming a more tolerated style of speech and does not provoke censorship it did at the time of The Catcher in the Rye‘s publication. Introductions of The Catcher in the Rye by school library boards into mainstream education after such controversy over the books blasphemes and expletives alone acknowledges the conversational style’s appeal to younger readers. The teenage voice appears to be
accessible and familiar and thus increases the likelihood of an adolescent reader “sid(ing)” with the outsider. The informal, direct address of Salinger’s episodic narration also spans an age of readers who find the assumption of a relationship with Holden due to the use of “you” and the retrospective narrative, that so often transforms into a stream of consciousness, more believale, and so are more likely to “side” with him. However, like the typical contemporary 1940s reader, particular morals held by a twenty-first reader could disapprobate siding with Holden because of such a writing style.
His informal language, where swearing and blasphemes frequent much of his unstructured voice, could offend many readers regardless of their surrounding society and in fact Catcher in the Rye is still censored in many American schools today despite its critical acclaim. Ironically, and with a laughable hypocrisy, such outrage at expletives is also seen in the character of Holden himself, “I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written “Fuck you” on the wall”.
Holden’s fury at this expression could have the power to bring those readers alienated by the informal use of “bastard” with the revelation that Holden does have moral standards. His rage to this, as seen in “I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it… kept picturing… how I’d smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody” paradoxically shows Holdens respect for others in that he recognizes the use of such language to others is offensive to most people. But yet again Holden’s explosive, hyperbolic reaction has the power to alienate a twenty-first reader.
Whether his reasons fo such a reaction can be admirable, the presence of violence throughout the twenty-first world – Syria, computer games such as “Call of Duty”, the recent mass murders inspired by comic vigilante Batman – polarizes the reader by personal ethics to such topics and so one cannot simply state that twenty-first century readers are always on the side of the outsider, although many will be. Similarly the impersonal vioce of Mersault as he describes a shockingly unmotivated murder has the power to alienate the twenty-first reader because of the fathomless lack of emotion in “the trigger gave”.
This is in stark contrast with Holden’s explicitly violent reaction that arises from an indignation rooted in the human condition; Mersault seems almost sub-human and primitive in his actions “because of the sun”. The lack of emotion in the character of Mersault is alienating and so the reader finds it harder to “side” with Mersault as such an outsider. Camus’ simple diction in “the trigger gave” shows Mersault’s own absence of empathy with the world. In Part One Camus offers a critical window for readers to look upon the absurdity of life without meaning and the dangerous reprecussions of not giving it meaning.
In Part Two Mersault acknowledges the absurdity of living a life without meaning, “realising I sounded ridiculous, I said quickly it was because of the sun. ” This psychological revolution, although subtle, offers a deep sense of apprecation of an Absurd life. Just as Part One has the unfortunate power to disapprobate a twenty-first reader, Part Two has the power to engage the reader, if not with the character of Mersault, but his philosophy to create meaning for himself.
In the last pages of The Outsider Mersault, exasperated, asks “Didn’t he understand? Everyone was priviliged. There were only priviliged people. ” In a modern world where atheism has risen in the face of brutal natural disasters – the tsunami of 2006, hurricane Sandy – and equally brutal disasters of a man-made world, many arising from religous arrogance – 9/11, the July 2007 bombings throughout europe, and the continuing ‘War on Terror’ where many think the hypocrisy of a war for peace is hiding a western conquest for money and power.
It is comforting for such a twenty-first reader disillusioned by such events to find that even the most primitive of beings (like Mersault) have the capacity for such a concrete faith in mankind, and mankind’s ability to create meaning for itself. Although this aspect of Mersault’s character could bring many twenty-first readers to side with him, the outsider, there are many who find his Marxist attitude alienating, specifically readers with strong religious faith, and so would not side with the outsider.
Such disapprobation would be created in the first episode with the magistrate where violent language is associated with his religous acts, “he took out a silver crucifix and came back towards me brandishing it”. “Brandishing” is especially pejorative and menacing and suggests Camus’ personal belief, in accordance with Karl Marx, that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. Opiates are substances that are halluconegenic; inducing false senses of ecstacy, dulling the mind to reality and sedating all passionate impulses;
images like this can be seen in the priest’s abstract image “suffering oozes from these stones… a divine face emerging from the darkness”. These images are directly opposed by Mersault, opposition that compliments an aspect of the theory of the Absurd, that religion is merely a comfort in the face of death. Such concern with the meaning of life and God was sparked in writers like Camus after post-war France was utterly devastated by the huge loss of life and gruesome nature of trenchwar, just as recent tragedies provoke the same worldwide concern in the twenty-first century.
Holden Caulfield suffers with similar ideas of disillusionment as seen in his distasteful judegement of his brother; “Now he’s out in Hollywood, D. B. , being a prostitute”. The extreme nature of Holden’s choice of diction swings on a fine line of disapprobation and empathy. Hoever the twenty-first century reader is more than likely to find this dark humour very comical and so would be more likely to side with Holden. The theme of people ‘selling-out’ and straying from their true selves is a common exasperation of the twenty-first world, and so more people would identify with Holden, and side with his ideas of disillusionment.
Twenty-first century readers would also sympathise with Holden’s disillusionment with adult life as seen in the idealistic symbolism of the ‘catcher in the rye’ where Holden takes on a fantasy role as a protector of children “Thousands of little kids… And I’m standing at the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff”. In this dream world Holden can metaphorically protect childhood innocence, ensuring that they do not ‘fall’ in the traditional sense of corruption.
This image echoes Mr Antolini’s haunting warning to Holden himself “This fall I think you’re riding for – it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling is not permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. ” The fact that Holden places himself at the edge of this cliff suggests he too feels susceptible to corruption, and is very much afraid of “falling” and letting others “fall” like D. B. , who Holden feels has sold out and “fallen”.
Such fears are realised in the prostitute episode where Holden is offered sex, a very adult concept to him, and says yes even though “It was against (his) principles and all”. In the end Holden cannot go through with the arrangement and this gives us an insight into Holden’s views on the world. It appears Holden views adult concepts, and the process of growing up, and “falling” as much the same thing. This can be seen in Holden’s misinterpretation of the words to a Robert Burns poem.
Holden hears the lyrics as “if a body catch a body”; building a fantasy around danger and death rather than around the love and personal relationships described “gin a body meet a body… gin a body kiss a body” in the true poem. Holden sees only death, disappointment and corruption in the adult world and is thouroughly disillusioned, he fails to see the joy that the natural progression of love and other relationships can bring with the process of growing up. A twenty-first century reader, especially one in adolescence, finds this image endearing as it is a fear most people have.
This fear is magnified in today’s world where work is increasingly competitive and making a living from your dreams is a rareity; most young people will go on to do jobs they did not dream of as a child, just as D. B. writes scripts instead of the novels Holden believes he is destined for. And so a twenty-first century reader sympathises Holden, this sympathy only heightened by the knowledge of Holden’s traumatic childhood and the fact he is currently recieving psychiatric help in an institution of sorts. With increasing understanding and acceptance of mental illness this too adds to the probability of a modern reader siding with Holden.
Conversely, The Outisider’s true, realistic representation of life is just as attractive as the idealistic fantasies of Holden’s imagination. The twenty-first century reader finds comfort in the beauty of Mersault’s realism and the fact that it really is the ‘little things’: “the room was bathed in beautiful, late-afternoon sunshine”, “I’m very fond of white coffee”, “I had the whole sky in my eyes and it was all blue and gold”, “I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.
And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realised that I’d been happy, that I was still happy”. Mersault’s happiness in the face of the gravest of fates offers a reassuring optimism to a twenty-first century reader. In conclusion, I believe that one can only describe whether they would always side with the outsider themselves. In a personal reaction to the characters of Mersault and Holden, I find Mersault’s attitude to life the most admirable and so I often side with his status as an outsider.
However, I too find Holden’s very personal stream of conciousness endearing, and through the course of The Catcher in the Rye I developed a fondness which clouds any logical argument of weighing up sides. Mersault although admirable in many aspects, was very difficult to find ‘endearing’, and yet I still found myself sympathetic to his situation despite his apparent lack of regard in Part One. Personally, I believe a twenty-first century reader cannot help but side with the outsider due to the innate human reaction of empathy.
We cannot help but sympathise with Holden’s suffering and Mersault’s mistreatment under the justice system. We cannot help but want to help the seemingly helpless, and so I believe we will ultimately side with the outsider, no matter our society, morals or personality. There will be moments when we reject the outsider, and these moments are dictated by our society, morals and personality. But these moment(s) of rejection are pivotal in our recognition of the outsider status, and it is ultimately this recognition that leads us to their side.
Courtney from Study Moose
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