eir ThemesComparing Catcher in the Rye and Pygmalion and theThemes They Represent In J. D.
Salingers novel TheCatcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield,muses at one point on the possibility of escaping from theworld of confusion and phonies while George BernardShaws main character of Pygmalion, Eliza Dolittle,struggles to become a phony. The possible reason for thisis that they both come from opposite backgrounds. Holdenis a young, affluent teenager in 1950s America whoresents materialism and Eliza Dolittle is a young, indigentwoman who is living in Britain during the late 1800s tryingto meet her material needs and wants. These two seeminglyopposite characters do in fact have something in common:they, like every other person, are in a constant pursuit ofhappiness. This commonality is the basis for the themesthese two stories present.
Some of these themes gounconsidered and this leads to many misunderstandings inthe world. This is why Pygmalion and Catcher in the Ryeare not just stories but, in fact, lessons that are presented intheir themes. These themes teach that being middle orupper class does not guarantee happiness, treating otherswith good manners and equality are important, andpronunciation and terminology can put you in your placein terms of class. Throughout the worlds history,pronunciation and the way a language is spoken indicatesones place in society. This is quite apparent in Pygmalion.Eliza is a classic victim of being put into her place basedon the way she speaks.
She goes to Professor Higgins inhope that he will give her lessons on how to speak in amore refined. She says she wants to be a lady in a flowershop stead of sellin at the corner of Tottenham CourtRoad. But they wont take me unless I can talk moregenteel (23). This is precisely why she comes to HenryHiggins. He knows quite a bit about the study of speech. Infact, he is a professor of phonetics.
He can pronounce onehundred thirty vowel sounds and place any man within sixmiles of their homes (15). Sometimes he can even placethem within two streets of their homes. When Eliza hearsthis, she decides to take advantage of Higgins ability andtake lessons from him. She learns a new form of speechand this newfound way of speaking helps to pass her off asa duchess at an opera. Holdens speech also manages tocategorize him: not class-wise, but rather age-wise andpersonality-wise. He captures the informal speech of anaverage intelligent adolescent. This speech includes bothsimple description and cursing. For example, in theintroduction, Holden says, Theyre nice and all, as wellas, Im not going to tell you my whole goddamautobiography or anything (1).
The term nice is anextremely broad term Holden uses to characterize hisparents. He does not want to disrespect them yet he doesnot feel right praising them either. This opening to Holdensstory shows Holdens unwillingness to share his views.However, this gradually changes and he opens up.
He usesthe terms and all and or anything regularly throughoutthe novel and because not everyone speaks like this, theseterms make Holdens speech unique. Holden also feels hehas to confirm what he is saying because he does not quitebelieve himself. For example, he says, Im a pacifist, if youwant to know the truth (26). When Holden is particularlyangry, he swears more often. He says That guy Morrow isabout as sensitive as a god dam toilet seat (55). Hisinability to properly communicate without have to rely onprofanity to express himself shows Holden as a boysuffering from what some might call teenage angst.Holden, however, rarely shows his angst publicly.
For themost part, he is composed in front of people; especiallyadults and strangers. If annoyed about something, hemanages to say what he thinks in such a polite, disguisedway, the people he talks to do not even notice. Holdenbelieves in manners and treating everyone equally. BeforeHolden leaves for Christmas Break, Mr. Spencer inviteshim to his house and asks about what the headmaster, Dr.Thurmer, said to him.
Holden replies that Dr. Thurmerspoke of life being a game, and that one should play itaccording to the rules (8). Holden shows no animosityabout Dr.
Thurmers speech. He accepts it as part of theeducators duty even though he knows that life is only agame if you are on the right side, where all the hot-shotsare. Mr. Spencer also lectures and proceeds to go throughHoldens history exam with him.
Holden did poorly both inclass and on the exam and feels guilty because Mr.Spencer is infatuated with history. Holden tells his teacherthat he enjoys listening to his lectures in class but he didntcare much for history because he doesnt want to hurt hisfeelings (11). Robert Ackley, the boy living in the roomnext to Holden and Ward Stradlater, Holdens roommateat Pencey Prep, are seemingly exact opposites of eachother. Ackley is a boring, homely loner while Stradlater isan exiting, handsome athlete. However, Holden sees themas being quite similar. Primarily, they are both slobs.
Ackley is a blatant slob: He has lousy teeth theyalways looked mossy and awful and he had a lot ofpimples (19) while Stradlater is a secret slob. He alwayslooked all right, but you shouldve seen the razor he shavedhimself with . rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs(27). They are also uncaring and self-absorbed. Forexample, Stradlater does not care about Holdens feelingsfor Jane Gallagher. After the two fight about her, Holdengoes to Ackleys room to talk.
Ackley keeps telling Holdento be quiet and go to sleep even though Holden alwayslistens to his problems. Holden also condemns a formerheadmaster who is especially courteous to well-dressed,well-to-do parents and less courteous, to less sophisticatedand powerful parents. This disgusts Holden and he resentsthat someone he is supposed to respect is such a primeexample of the materialistic society he lives in.
Eliza alsobelieves that all people should be treated equally. Includingherself, she greatly dislikes the patronizing way people oflow-class society are treated by people of high-classsociety. In an attempt to equal herself with others insociety, Eliza wants to take lessons on how to talk moregenteel (23).
Even though she has virtually no money, sheinsists to Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering that she hascome to have lessons, I am. And pay for em too: make nomistakes (23). She does not believe that she should begiven any special considerations just because she cannot asreadily afford the lessons as others. These lessons, shebelieves, will change her life and she will then be a happierperson. In the beginning of Pygmalion, Eliza is a younglow-class woman selling flowers on the street corner sothat she can make enough money to survive. Even thoughthis is the only way of living she knows, Eliza sees that thereis more out there and she does not have to be a low-classwoman forever.
She wants more out of life and will notallow herself to be stomped on by others. She is a veryproud person and when Henry Higgins orders his maid,Mrs. Pearce, to take all of her clothes off and burn them,Eliza replies angrily, youre no gentleman, youre not, totalk of such things. Im a good girl, I am (27).
The burningof her old clothes marks the beginning of a series ofchanges for Eliza. In the hopes of achieving a better life inhigh-class society, she must say good-bye to everything sheknows and this she does with mixed emotions. After hertransformation, though, she discovers that life is not aswonderful as she thought it would be. Eliza realizes thatso-called proper people have problems as well.
Nowthat she has achieved her goal, she does not know whatshe is going to do with her life. She does have secret hopesof marrying Henry Higgins, however, but these hopes aredestroyed during a fight in which he reveals to her that hehas no intentions of marrying her. He tells her she mightmarry, you know. You see Eliza, all men are, not confirmedold bachelors like me and the Colonel. Most men are themarrying sort (poor devils) (77). After this realization hits,Eliza leaves Professor Higgins home. Soon after, she getsinvolved with Freddy Eynford Hill, a poor but classy,intelligent gentleman.
He is clearly in love with Eliza andthey marry. From this point on, they live a simple life,working in their own flower shop. Throughout hertransformation, Eliza loses sight of her original goal which isto own a flower shop. She begins to think she needs moreto b happy. Ironically, however, at the point in her life whenshe has the most materially, is the point she is unhappiest.This is not to say that she resents all that she has learnedbecause now she realizes that achieving her original goal isall she needs.
Holden presents this theme in a different waythan Eliza. At the beginning of the novel, he states that hedoes not want to explain where I was born, and what mylousy childhood was like, and how my parents wereoccupied and all before they had me, and all that DavidCopperfield king of crap (1). Even though he comes froman affluent family from NYC, he has problems of his own.He does not live a free and easy lifestyle, as some wouldexpect. In fact, the life he leads could typically be expectedby society to be that of someone of a lower class. Forexample, he is repeatedly expelled from schools for poorachievement. In an attempt to deal with his latest expulsion,he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, andgoes to New York to take a vacation before returninghome to deal with his parents.
Throughout his journeyhome, he describes bouts of deep depression, impulsivespending and erratic behaviour prior to his nervousbreakdown. Despite his material wealth, Holden does notappreciate what he has; he feels guilty. For example, hisroommate at Elkton Hills, Dick Slagee had veryinexpensive suitcases. He used to keep them under thebed, instead of on the rack, so that nobody would see themstanding next to mine.
It depressed holy hell out of me, andI kept wanting to throw mine out or something, or eventrade with him (108). Holden is a prime example that allpeople are human beings; one is not any better than anotherbased on which position in society they hold. He is notpretentious because of his wealth, but actually, if acomparison of the two is going to be made, Holden is of ahigher class than Eliza but he leads a more melancholy lifethan she.
Therefore, wealth does not create happiness.These two authors, J .D. Salinger and George BernardShaw have created two stories that are effective in manydifferent ways. They are not only great literary pieces ofwork written with great intelligence but they are also gearedtoward the average reader. This method of creating a storythat virtually anyone can read and find interest in is a greatway to attract readers.
When readers are attracted, theauthors messages get across much more clearly and to alarger number of people. When Catcher in the Rye andPygmalion were written, the authors had the same themesin mind. These themes provoke thought and when thoughtis provoked, many good things can happen. For example,people can realize what they are doing wrong and changetheir ways.
As these stories show, being middle or upperclass does not guarantee happiness, being well manneredand treating people equally is important, and people shouldnot always be judged based on the way they speak. Ifpeople read these stories and realize that they are not justgreat literary works but also important messages, muchmore can be learned than the mechanics of writing. Ifpeople begin to take these themes and apply them toeveryday life, these stories could be considered more thanjust literatureCategory: Book Reports