Translating Metaphores in the Catcher in the Rye

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MICHAEL O’MARA Catholic University of Valencia San Vicente Mártir 57

In spite of the novel's position among the American Library Association's list of the one hundred most frequently censored books, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J.D. Salinger, is widely considered to be one of the most significant literary works of the twentieth century, frequently found in high school literary curricula throughout Europe and North America. The controversy concerns its alleged profanity, vulgar language and treatment of sexual themes, elements that typify Holden's use of the English language, or his idiolect. Idiolect refers to individual speech. It is based on grammar, word selection, phrases, idioms, and includes pronunciation. Of particular note is the author’s use of italics to denote emphasis, or where accents fall when considering rhythm in, and among, certain words. It is possible that this practice was brought almost to perfection in The Catcher in the Rye, in replicating speech patterns in written language. Quite possibly, it has not been matched since. The author’s ability to capture rhythm and colloquial speech is, indeed, quite remarkable. This is especially obvious for readers who are fluent in, or are native speakers of American English. Consider how the author stresses groups of words: "Wuddaya mean so what?" (p. 41) "You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to" (p. 41) "She was blocking up the whole goddam traffic in the aisle" (p. 87) miscelánea: a journal of english and american studies 35 (2007): pp. 57-75 ISSN: 1137-6368

Michael O’Mara

Other times, certain words are stressed:
“What the hellja do that for?” (p. 41) “Well, don't get sore about it...” (p.82) “Which is something that gives me a royal pain in the ass. I mean if somebody yawns right while they’re asking you to do them a goddam favor” (p.28)

Finally, and perhaps most characteristic, the author stresses parts of words: “I mean I’m not going to be a goddam surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway” (p. 39) "It's not paradise or anything...” (p. 55) “For Chrissake, Holden. This is about a goddam baseball glove" (p.41)


Preserving the uniqueness of Holden Caulfield's idiolect has been a challenge for translators seeking to preserve the effect and the flavor of the discourse using the techniques that Salinger originally used, namely, stream of consciousness and dramatic monologue in which, directly and intimately, Holden tells his story in retrospect to the readers. This technique has the effect of reproducing the inner workings and thought processes of Holden —disjointed and random— and also provides dialogs that are remarkably fluid and natural. To represent Holden and his frustrations using the same register in another language is a daunting chore, indeed, especially since Holden attaches his own meanings to the language that he uses. Costello1 reminds us that Holden appropriates common expressions from his period and makes them his own. For example, his free and loose use of "and all" to end thoughts along with the affirmative "I really did" or "It really was" are repeated throughout the novel, helping to forge Holden's own distinct personality. Other authors have commented upon the importance of Holden’s speech in defining his character in relation to the readers: “... his language, his own idiolect, full of idioms and colloquialisms, is the main feature that will contribute to Holden’s development as a character in his transition from adolescence to adulthood and his relationship with the reader”2. Although translating Holden's idioms may present challenges, it may be one of the most important aspects of preserving the flavor of his idiolect and effect it has on readers. Holden Caulfield's idioms Like other languages, English is full of idioms such as "to...
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