"Catch Me Up and Hold Me": The War on Adolescence in All Quiet on the Western Front and The Catcher in the Rye

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Weathers, Jeffry Kyle
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University of the South , School of Letters Thesis 2023 , School of Letters , war , adolescents , soldiers , trauma , youth , age , education , victims , phoniness , inauthenticity , movies , theater , games , voice , camaraderie , companionship , catch , hold
This thesis examines and compares similar passages between J.D. Salinger’s seminal novel on Holden Caulfield’s adolescent dissolution into “madness,” The Catcher in the Rye, and Erich Maria Remarque’s astounding World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which exposes the effects of trench warfare on its adolescent narrator, Paul Bäumer. Both books, likewise, are aligned with passages from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, revealing a shared lineage. Although there is not any scholarship linking Salinger’s novel to Remarque’s, one of his own letters includes the statement that “I think his war books and postwar rubble books are better than anyone’s. His are the only ones that move me anyway.” Still, much evidence for this thesis rests on Andy Roger’s Dissertation, The Veteran Who Is, The Boy Who Is No More – The Casualty of Identity in War Fiction, which argues that The Catcher in the Rye is Salinger’s transmutation of his war experiences into the adolescent experiences of his protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Further evidence relies upon biographies and scholarship that help link both novels to Hamlet and to Salinger’s war experiences, which influenced the writing of his only novel. The primary result of this study is the speculation of influence of Remarque’s novel upon Salinger’s through a close study of five key themes: the conflict between youth and age; the ways that education makes victims of the young; the inauthenticity of theater and movies; the disparagement of games; and (most extensively) the longing for voice and companionship that is at the heart of both novels, in very different ways. Additional study, via the Appendix, compares a few of Salinger’s early short stories about Holden Caulfield and Babe Gladwaller with passages in All Quiet on the Western Front, suggesting an influence that might have helped him evolve his own ideas within his short stories into his final version of The Catcher in the Rye; however, due to lack of definitive evidence, this thesis limits its argument to speculation. The ultimate claim argues that Salinger’s novel breaks the metaphorical fourth wall and makes the reader a character in the book who will catch up Holden and hold him during a shared experience in telling one another what they are each doing in a sanitorium near Hollywood, though the book, obviously and necessarily, only reveals Holden’s narrative.