Adolescence in "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Vernon God Little" - A comparison

Term Paper, 2011
25 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents


2. Plot summary
2.1 The Catcher in the Rye
2.2 Vernon God Little

3. External conflicts of the main character
3.1 Holden Caulfield
3.2Vernon Little

4. Internal conflicts of the main characters
4.1 Holden
4.2 Vernon

5. Language of the main characters
5.1 Language of Holden
5.2 Language ofVernon

6. Historical context of the novel
6.1 The Catcher in the Rye
6.2Vernon God Little

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography


The term “adolescence” describes the phase of life between late childhood and adulthood. It contains not only the physical maturation but particularly the psychological and mental development from a child to an autonomous, responsible adult.

Also literature has ever and anon created adolescent protagonists who have to deal with typical problems of coming of age. A prime example for such a novel of initiation is “The Catcher in the Rye”. This novel nearly fulfils all aspects a novel of initiation has to deal with. Although “The Catcher in the Rye” was published sixty years ago, it still finds general approval to people all over the world.

Another very successful novel of initiation is DBC Pierre"s “Vernon God Little” which was written in 2003 and won the Man Booker Prize in the same year. The Daily Mail described the 15-year old protagonist Vernon Gregory Little as “one of the most engaging narrators since Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield”[1] and Sam Sifton from the New York Times says that Vernon Gregory Little is a “Holden Caulfield on Ritalin”[2].

There is no doubt that these two novels have considerable similarities: In both novels, the main character is a male adolescent who tells his story as a first person narrator. Both stories have their sets in the United States and both deal with issues concerning adolescence. I want to research which further similarities these two books have, in particular concerning adolescence. Therefore I am going to take a deeper look into typical issues these two adolescents have to deal with. First of all, I am going to give a short overview about the plot to the reader so the reader understands further issues of my work. Then, I will examine typical signs for adolescence like external and internal conflicts and language use of the protagonists of “Vernon God Little” and “The Catcher in the Rye” as well as the historical context of these two books. I am going to examine all these aspects in order to find out how the two novels explore the problems associated with adolescence and the narrators" messages regarding society.

2. Plot summary

2.1 The Catcher in the Rye

The 17-year-old protagonist and first-person narrator Holden Caulfield starts to tell his story from a mental institution in order to recover from a mental breakdown. From there, he begins to report about a weekend he spent in New York one year earlier when he was 16:

After being expelled from Pencey Prep boarding school because of failing in four of five subjects and after a physical altercation with his roommate Stradlater, he decides to leave school four days early for Christmas break. His parents don't know about his difficult school situation, so he decides not to go back home but to wait in a hotel in New York until his parents have digested Holden's expulsion.

After trying to get in contact with his friends, he takes a hotel room in New York. Not satisfied with the Hotel Bar he visited, Holden wants to call Jane Gallagher, a girl with whom he spent a lot of time one summer and whom is very important to him. He doesn't know how to get in contact with her, so he takes a taxi to the nightclub “Ernie”. He meets some girls there and dances with them, but he is disgusted by them and returns to his Hotel, where the elevator boy Maurice and a prostitute called Sunny betray him. Next day, he meets some nuns at the train station and has a date with his former girlfriend Sally. They go to the theatre and ice-skating. In a restaurant, Holden asks her to run away with him, but she doesn't want to. So Holden insults her and they get apart.

Holden gets depressed and he thinks ofhis brother Allie, who died of Leukemia when Holden was eleven years old. He visits the cinema to watch a sad movie and calls a boy called Carl Luce. After a short, failed conversation with Carl, he gets drunk in a bar. He wanders aimlessly through the Central park until he decides to go home because he wants to see his little sister Phoebe. After a conversation with her, Phoebe gives him money and Holden decides to stay the night at his teacher's house, Mr. Antolini. In the middle of the night, Holden wakes up by Mr. Antolini touching his head. Holden suspects Mr. Antolini molesting him and so he precipitately leaves Mr. Antolinis house. He stays at the central station for the rest of the night. The next day Holden decides to go away from home and tells this to his little sister Phoebe. As Phoebe then appears in front of the art museum and tells him that she wants to go with him, he refuses his plans to go away.

2.2 Vernon God Little

Vernon Gregory Little, a 15 years old high school student, is the main character and first-person narrator of the novel “Vernon God Little”. He lives together with his mother Doris and his brother Brad in Martirio, Texas, a town close to the Mexican border. His father disappeared when he was a child.

Vernon is the only conscious survivor of a high school massacre that was caused by his best friend Jesus Navarro, who killed himself and 16 people in his school. During the story, Vernon becomes America's most wanted “criminal” because everybody thinks he was the abettor of his best friend Jesus, although he was not. The only evidence in his favor is his unexpected bowel movement but he is too ashamed to mention this disease in publicity.

It seems that everything he does or ever has done works against him: The deputy sheriff arrests him without any evidence, the TV reporter Elalio Ledesma first befriends him and then betrays him, the psychiatrist who has to write an examination about him seems to have the intention to abuse him,. To make matters worse, his mother starts a love affair with Eulalio. So Vernon flees to Mexico after meeting the girl of his dreams Taylor Figueroa in Houston. But he doesn't get far: Taylor follows him to Mexico and sells him out to the police in order to get a media job. Back in Martirio, he is condemned to death, but his lawyer finds a piece of evidence in Vernon's favor and he survives.

3. External conflicts of the main characters

3.1 Holden Caulfield

Within his story, Holden gets into various conflict situations. These external conflict situations often reflect the insecurity of Holden towards his fellow human beings. He often doesn't know how to act in certain situations because ofhis lack of experience.

The first significant conflict Holden has is the one with his roommate Stradlater. Holden takes Stradlater for “a very sexy bastard”[3] and for a typical womanizer. As Holden finds out that Stradlater has a date with his secret “crush” Jane Gallagher, he worries about Stradlater and Jane coming closer.[4] When Stradlater returns to his room after the date with Jane, Holden gives rein to his jealousy and affronts Stradlater. This verbal attack leads Stradlater to batter Holden and so Holden leaves school the same night.

The conflict between Holden and Stradlater makes apparent that Holden has special feelings for Jane Gallagher. Although Jane is Holden's secret crush and he really wants to meet her, he's not brave enough to really get in contact with her.

After escaping from Pencey Prep, he takes a hotel in New York in order to avoid a conflict with his parents. His parents don't know anything about Holden's failed school career.

Just arrived in the Hotel in New York, Holden receives an offer from the elevator boy Maurice. He asks Holden if he is interested in a five-dollar- date with a prostitute. Holden approves Maurice's offer and the prostitute called Sally visits Holden in his room. But as Sally divests herself, Holden loses courage and proposes Sally to have a talk instead of having sex. Sally becomes irritated by his proposal, takes the 5 dollar and leaves the room. That's the moment the second conflict begins: Maurice and Sally return to Holden's room and claim for further money. Holden refuses further payments and suddenly gets in trouble: Maurice beats him.

Furthermore, Holden has a dispute with his former girlfriend Sally Hayes, when he asks her to run away with him. As she refuses his plan, he gets angry and affronts her. So they get apart.

During the whole story, Holden encounters a lot of people, hoping to feel less lonely. The most people Holden meets just hold cursory conversations with him. Besides his dead brother Allie, with whom he holds imaginary conversations, he only has got deep conversations with his beloved sister Phoebe. But even with Phoebe he has an argument: At the end of the story, when Holden tells Phoebe of his plans to run away, she wants to go with him. He refuses Phoebe's plans and they argue. However, they agree after a short time as Holden decides to stay with her in New York.

3.2 Vernon Little

Vernon doesn't come into any physical conflict with other people. In most of the external conflicts he is the rather passive participant. By his passive behavior he increasingly becomes the scapegoat for the people around him. Vernon is often annoyed about the perfidy of his fellow men. This also becomes obvious in various statements he makes about people in his hometown to the reader.[5]

On the contrary, Vernon doesn't directly complain to the people around him, also because they don't give him any chance to speak. Even before his execution he doesn't speak out on the reproaches against him. He rather tattoos his message to the others on his chest so everybody can see it on TV: “I take off my shirt. My skin is mostly healed now, from my art project. Tattooed in big blue letters across my chest are the words „Meves y sufres"-„Seeme and suffer"”.[6]

4. Internal conflicts of the main characters 4.1 Holden

Coming of age is always connected with the accomplishment of internal conflicts, also in case of Holden Caulfield. Within the story it quickly becomes apparent that Holden is contemptuous of the adult world. He describes adults as “phonies”[7] and doesn't by any means want to become like the adults in his surroundings. He uses the word “phony” very often in his narration. Moreover, as William T. Noon points out in his essay, “phoniness covers all the signs of hypocrisy, cant, fraud, and selfish insincerity with which Holden is obliged to collide”.[8] That Holden sees “phony” people all over the place and he describes them in a sarcastic and ironic way: “You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were [...]”.

Holden is afraid of becoming an adult and so he tries to separate himself against the adult world. He loves children and childhood and sees his life-task in the prevention of childhood for all children. His wish becomes particularly apparent when he points out that he wants to be “The Catcher in the Rye”, who helps children to not fall down the “crazy cliff’. The “crazy cliff’ symbolizes some kind of abyss into the adult world which children fall down when they grow up. On contrast to dissembling adults, children act naturally and earnestly.

Holden himself stands between adulthood and childhood and it's hard for him to allocate himself to one of them.


[1] Daily Mail. Flap Text in Pierre, DBC. 2003. Vernon God Little. Faber and Faber Ltd.

[2] Sifton, Sam. "Holden Caulfield on Ritalin" in The New York Times on 63 (accessed March/20/11)

[3] Salinger, JD. 1951. The Catcher in the Rye. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, p. 28.

[4] Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye,p.29

[5] Pierre, DBC. 2003. Vernon God Little. Faber and Faber Ltd, p. 41

[6] Pierre, DBC. Vernon God Little

[7] Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye, p. 8

[8] Costello, Donald P. (1957). "The Language of The Catcher in the Rye" in: Bloom, Harold (ed.), Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations: The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Chelsea House: 11-21, p.18

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Adolescence in "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Vernon God Little" - A comparison
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Amerikanistik)
20th Century Adoles/Scenes
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Catcher in the Rye, Vernon God Little
Quote paper
Katrin Karle (Author), 2011, Adolescence in "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Vernon God Little" - A comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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