Ambiguity in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Sylvia Plath’s The Ball Jar, and Richard Heller’s Catch 22

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Ambiguity in literature after World War II reflects and explores issues of self and society. These two ideas often work against each other instead of coexisting to form a struggle-free existence. J. D. Salinger, Sylvia Plath, and Richard Heller illustrate this struggle with their works. These authors explore ambiguity through different characters that experience the world in different ways. Identity, while it is an easy concept, can be difficult to attain. These authors seek out ambiguity with the human experience, coming to different conclusions. Ambiguity becomes a vehicle through which we can attempt to define humanity. J. D. Salinger’s novel, Catcher in the Rye, Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Ball Jar, and Richard Heller’s novel, Catch 22 explore ambiguity experienced through an attempt to find self. Each experience is unique, incapable of fitting a generic mold created by society.

J. D. Salinger’s novel, Catcher in the Rye explores the ambiguity of the adult world Holden must eventually learn to accept. Throughout the novel, Holden resists the society grownups represent, coloring his childlike dreams with innocence and naivety. He only wants to protect those he loves, but he cannot do it the way he desires. As he watches Phoebe on the carousel, he begins to understand certain aspects of truth. He writes:

“I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around, I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could have been there” (Salinger 213).

Holden realizes he must come to terms with how the world operates. ...

... middle of paper ... them how they should behave, and what they should feel. A sense of self is bigger than what one person or group of people can tell you; it is found from within. Salinger, Plath, and Heller capture ambiguity on a personal level; their characters must look within themselves and beyond the ambiguity to discover who they are. They could easily accept what society tells them, but they would be embarking on a journey of misery. They must be strong enough to resist what others tell them about war, themselves, and everyone else. The experiences are truly unique, even if they are painful. They reveal the journey of self.

Works Cited

Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. New York: Dell Publishing Co. 1961. Print.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Bantam Books. 1971. Print

Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1951. Print

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