What We See

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Photo ©2008 by Olga Berrios [CC by 2.0]

Our minds itself are an enigma, what goes on in our minds even more so. Of the thousands of things our minds are capable, nothing is more confusing than the feelings that we go through.  There are times when even we, ourselves, can’t know exactly how we feel, how can we expect others to know or understand either? The only way anyone can ever hope to scratch the surface of the enigma inside us is with the power of language, the words that we use to draw a picture of our thoughts give other people an idea of the puzzle inside us. Only then can we answer the question of whether the words we use to describe ourselves really how we seem to others.

Holden in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the very definition of an enigma; as the reader, we have no idea how Holden actually is, whether or not his narration is unreliable and/or biased. The language he and other uses in the novel gives us some insight of what others think of him and what he actually seems like others. In an insightful scene when he goes on a date with Sally, the reader catches a glimpse of the real Holden, without the biased fog of an unreliable narrative that plagues us throughout the novel. We learn Holden’s perspective of himself, as we read from his narration, is very different from how others see him. The words he uses to describe himself in this scene portrays him in a good light, one that shows him as fairly reasonable and level-headed. However, in the worlds of Sally, Holden is portrayed as delirious and irrational as he is ranting about all the things he finds wrong with the world and suggesting the immature idea of running off in the woods together and living together. Sally keeps insisting that Holden stops screaming at her but Holden states as the narrator that he isn’t screaming however the language suggests otherwise. In this scene Holden already shows hes in an irrational state of mind through his ranting and annoyance with the various problems of the world from phonies to people complaining about cars. In addition to the ranting, Holden repeats phrases such as “Why not” several times to Sally without giving her a chance to reply further supporting the fact that he isn’t in the right state of mind at this point.

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Photo ©2011 by Carmela Alvarado [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Through hints from his usage of words and the repetition of certain phrases, we get an idea of how Holden actually might seem to others, a view completely different from how he seems to himself. Holden’s perspective is that Sally doesn’t understand him, doesn’t understand his viewpoint of the world while in Sally’s perspective she just sees Holden as someone that simply had gotten mad over trivial matters. Holden’s unreliable narration once shows up again in his journey to find a person that understands when he is at Mr. Antolini’s house. In the novel, Holden falls and sleep but wakes up abruptly when he feels a hand on his head which turns out to be Mr. Antolini’s. Holden assumes that Mr. Antolini had perverse motives behind doing such things but if we look closer at the text, the words and language used suggests otherwise. Holden states that Mr. Antolini’s hand was on his head and as a reader we could tell that there was no sexual contact between the two as Mr. Antolini was simply sitting there with his hand on Holden’s head which could be for a variety of reasons. Holden, like with Sally, cuts off Mr. Antolini before he could fully explain and runs off with the idea that Mr. Antolini had perverse motives with him. Later on even Holden starts doubting himself which further emphasizes the cracks in his biased narration, that how he perceived himself is very different from how others perceived him.

The difference between a narrator’s perspective and those of other’s is also seen in The Great Gatsby where Nick’s narration is sometimes inconsistent with what his usage of language seems to infer. Throughout the novel Nick looked up to and revered Gatsby and his narration reflects that as he was always praising Gatsby’s actions and talking about how rich and famous he is. However, in the novel, we find out that Gatsby’s intentions and reasoning doesn’t make him the amazing person that Nick portrays him that. Although Nick give a biased account of Gatsby’s actions and intentions, the language shows the meaning regardless. Gatsby is simply acting the way he is so he could get back his love from five years ago, that he is stuck living in the past and can’t move on. Although Nick never explicitly states how Gatsby is forever living in the past, the reader can infer this from the words and language used, no matter how biased they may be. This is similar to Holden’s case as an outside perspective such as Sally gave the reader insight on what Holden is really like and in Great Gatsby, the words Nick uses betrays to the reader that Gatsby isn’t the great guy that Nick portrays him to be. In the end Gatsby simply turns out to be a liar that can’t escape from the clutches of the past.

In the Harry Potter series we view the entire plot line through the eyes of Harry and in the process adopt Harry’s thoughts and perspective too. In the novels, Harry firmly believes that his potions professor, Severus Snape, is conspiring to get him killed but in the end we find out through Snape’s words that he actually loved and cared for Harry. Harry’s perspective of him was wrong, his interpretation of Snape’s enigmatic intentions were wrong and it took Snape’s words to describe his true intentions. In the end, our perspective of our intentions may be very different from how others view us and without our words to explain our intentions those people will continue to believe that their perspective of us no matter how wrong it is. Whether you are Holden, Gatsby, or Snape, your words will always betray your true intentions to others if one decides to look closely enough.

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