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Literature and Composition

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Brianna Cueva

AP Literature and Composition

Period 4/ Ms.Tito

16 January 2016

In the course of life, one encounters the inevitable hardship that will lead to his/her triumph or despondence. Through the following works of literature, The Catcher in the Rye and Black Boy, authors, J.D. Salinger and Richard Wright, introduce two young characters by the names of Holden Caulfield and Richard Wright who are faced with both shortcomings and fortitude. In spite of their challenges, both Holden and Richard have individuals in their lives who serve as a mental and emotional determination to push through and surpass their difficulties. Without a doubt, a character’s strength or absence of strength dictates whether he/she is capable of surviving predicaments in a relentless world. It is evident that one of the two thrives in this aspect more than the other. As their journeys come close to an end, the authors provide clarity as to whether or not the protagonists are content with the outcomes of their long struggles.

        In both the The Catcher in the Rye and Black Boy, the young protagonists face obstructions where their personalities were put to the test to navigate through them. Both Richard and Holden possess rebellious personalities that affect how they deal with their difficulties. Holden has an unruly personality when it comes to school and life. When discussing his expulsion from school, Holden shows an unconcerned and disaffected personality when he says, “They kicked me out. I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas vacation on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all. They gave me frequent warning to start applying myself--especially around midterms, when my parents came up for a conference with old Thurmer--but I didn't do it. So I got the ax”(2). In this situation, a character without a disobedient personality would  take responsibility in regards to their academics and take the opportunity to improve rather than brush it off the way Holden does. Richard also exhibits this trait in his person. He displays this through his behavior with his grandmother. Growing up in a religious atmosphere, Richard’s grandmother has her mind set on making certain that Richard embrace her same religion. Richard being the way he is makes it difficult for her to carry this out. He declares, “You see, granny, if I ever saw an angel like Jacob did, then i’d believe”, he then follows ups by thinking to himself, “That ought to hold her off for a while, I thought..Feeling that my plan was working, I resumed my worship…”(117). It is clear that he had no intention of truly grasping his grandmother’s wishes in regards to religion, but rather says whatever he deems necessary to keep her off his back. Aside from straying from his grandmother’s beliefs, he insists on reading despite her constant scolding for doing so. There defiant attributes had an impact on their journeys throughout each novel. In Caulfield’s case, he did everything in his power to avoid going home and facing his parents and the consequences that would come as a result of his impulsive behavior. In Wright’s circumstance, his impetuous actions were a distraction from the South’s prejudice. His conduct was a means to evade growing up in such discrimination.

In these classical novels, Salinger and Wright bring to life characters who fit the molds of unmanageable personalities in which the essential component of strength is identified in one more than the other. Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Richard always displayed a hunger for education and to be his own man. He was surrounded by whites who were empathetic towards him or downright belittled him for the color of his skin and by blacks who disliked those that tried to rise above the social norms. Richard slowly but surely grew physically and intellectually. He realized that in order to aspire in life, he would have to leave home where he was being held back from learning. After moving in with Mrs.Moss, a woman he met as soon as he arrived in Memphis, he reasons, “I had learned to know these people better in five hours than I had learned to know my own family in five years” (214). Richard’s presence at home had constantly been disregarded and after moving in with strangers, he finally felt a sense of appreciation and support. He finds work in a clothing store, optical shop, and even a hotel. As time passes, he builds himself a name, he earns his living and pulls through it all. Richard exhibits a profound sense of strength throughout his journey. On the other end of things, Holden Caulfield lacks stability in his excursion. Holden is notoriously known by his teachers for his poor grades or repugnant behavior as evident by multiple expulsions from private schools. It is safe to say that his family played a toll in the way he dealt with his emotions. The death of his younger sibling, Allie, often haunted his thoughts where he would find himself remembering the good times they had. In spite of having company by his side, Holden always felt alone. Soon after an encounter gone wrong, Holden says, “What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would've done it, too, if I'd been sure somebody'd cover me up as soon as I landed” (116-117). When alone, isolated, he tends to have thoughts of suicide. He would feel there was no point to living when things would only get bad in the future. It is clear he struggled to return home because he couldn’t face responsibility and getting help. Caulfield’s frailty and Wright’s fortitude are crucial when it comes to survival in a harsh world.

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