Analytical Comparison- Theme of rejection in Huck Finn and Catcher in the Rye
AS English Literature and Language
The Analytical Comparison - The Theme of Rejection
The extract from The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger consists of the protagonist ‘Holden’ catching a train from Pencey, the school he’s just been kicked out of, to New York. On the train he speaks to a schoolmate’s mother and creates a new personality under the name of ‘Rudolf Schmidt’. The extract is an example of how Holden rejects society and his opinion of himself. By confidentially and continually lying about his own name, his opinion on a schoolmate and many other details, it’s one of the first obvious cases of Holden’s bleak self-perception. Holden goes about lying in a way that suggests it’s fun for him, as he says he starts “shooting the old crap around”. I chose this extract because it is, in my opinion, a perfect illustration of Holden’s immense rejection of himself and society. The extract from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain involves the protagonist ‘Huckleberry’ going into a town to find information about the situation he’s in. He also tries to obtain the gossip of what’s going on around the ‘murder’ of Huck and the disappearance of Jim. In order to do this, they decide that Huck should dress up as a girl named “Sarah Mary Williams”. Huck’s nerves and improvised attempt at being a girl is spotted near-enough straight away, saying that he “shook like a leaf”. Again, this is a perfect example of Huck rejecting himself and society’s rules, except he approaches it in a more childlike-way.
Both extracts are exemplary of the theme of rejection and there are many examples of different interpretations of the word ‘rejection’ throughout both extracts. The most obvious form of rejection in both of these extracts is the fact that they’re both lying about their identities. In Holden’s case, his new and adult alter-ego Rudolf Schmidt may be a form of self-protection or a way to feel superior to the “bastards” around him; both of these reasons seem more heavy than Huck’s comic plan to find out information from a village, yet Holden often lies for entertainment and personal reasons, whereas Huck only lies when it’s for the greater benefit of others and himself. In Catcher, the adjective “conscientious” is one of many of Holden’s more advanced words. Holden’s lying may be perceived as a rejection to his immaturity, so using words from a more technical vocabulary could be interpreted as an example of Holden’s attraction to majority and intelligence. Huckleberry’s “afeared” response and feeling “cornered” by the situation highlights the age difference and his naivety in lying to this scale. Huck’s vocabulary is much more limited than Holden’s because of the setting of the novel and his age, so his choice of words is restricted yet still more developed than many people around him. He uses more intellectual words, which are correctly spelt, such as “comfortable”. This highlights a similarity to Holden as they are both attempting to reject stupidity and unintelligence as they choose their words.
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Both extracts are structured similarly around the form of rejection. The first part of each extract is where the character of each novel begins to form their lie. Huck’s “M-Mary Williams” and Holden’s “Rudolf Schmidt” are both revealed to the reader and the other person in the conversation in the first part of both extracts. Holden has more control over his lies as he’s the one that’s causing it to progress, solely for entertainment purposes and his rejection of society’s rules is by choice and to simply humour himself. Huck on the other hand has no control over where his lies take him in this scenario and it’s probable that he didn’t want it to progress any further. He doesn’t at any point in the novel lie for entertainment, but only practical reasons, as when he lies to Judith his lying in this extract is just to get information so that he can help to keep his and Jim’s freedom. Huck’s rejection of society’s rules are more of a demand and although it’s not the best way to deal with it, become completely necessary. The second part of each extract is the point in which the lies begin to take off and become the start of a crescendo. Holden begins “shooting the old crap” whereas Huck begins to get anxious as he wishes he wasn’t there. The crescendo of lies represents rejection as again they’re beginning to consciously, whether they want to or not, deny and get further away from their actual personalities, rejecting themselves, their portrayal of themselves and how they want others to perceive them. The final structural point in both extracts is different between Huckleberry and Holden. Their differing responses to the situations highlight many distinctions between both protagonists. Holden continues to lie, fully in control and fully enjoying the situation as he carries on “chucking it”. With Huck, there’s bathos when his lies catch up to him, as Judith realises he’s a boy.
Similar to Huckleberry Finn, Catcher uses many linguistic features to represent the theme of rejection. Holden uses lots of oxymoronic adjectives throughout the extract such as “terribly good” and “terrifically nice”. He’s rejecting his own opinion as he often contradicts himself and he can never fully decide on his opinion on something. Holden’s insincere opinion on Ernest is another example of this. He calls him the “biggest bastard” to the reader, as he tells Mrs. Morrow all about how loved her son is. Holden displays a rejection of peer interaction from when he was at school by saying Ernest would be “snapping his soggy old wet towel at people’s asses”. He implies that he was never part of a group of friends, and his spiteful verb “snapping” and adjective “old” really shows a level of jealousy towards the connections of his schoolmates, suggesting that he, or they, rejected each other. It could also suggest that Holden had no interest in making friends at Pencey, as he didn’t want to become reliant on them, rejecting change and relationships. Holden’s consistent hateful words towards Pencey and Ernest also suggest this. The adjectives “crumby” and “goddamn” show his default pessimism on everything, when there really is no reason for him to hate the school so much as Holden said it’s “as good as most schools”. The adverb “really” that is used by Holden throughout the entire novel, is used when he wants to exclaim a point that he really believes. As Holden assumes nearly everything in the world is pure phoniness, he really tries to ensure some validity when he means something with the word “really”, even if he is lying. Huckleberry’s minor sentences and short responses such as “yes’m” when he’s responding to Judith indicate his nervousness and inferiority. He feels immoral and anxious about lying and shows this by attempting to be as quiet as possible.
In conclusion, I chose these extracts as I believe that they both portray the theme of rejection on a level of different ways, mainly how Twain describes (with an unfailing wit and brilliantly communicated language and dialect) how a young boy in the 1840s lied about his identity as was required to save his life, yet still rejecting the morals and rules of the society he lived in. This is opposed to Salinger’s description of an older boy in the post–World War 1950s who lives in a society that’s brimming with social rules. He is rejecting the morals and the importance of social norms within society for no other reason than his own personal pleasure; in spite of him knowing that it was morally wrong and mentions to the reader of his guilt. I found that the structure of both extracts and the crescendo of their lies represent and reflect the rejection of themselves and others in their own individual society.