Библиографическое описание:

Вихарева К. Э. Multilayered approach to literary analysis // Молодой ученый. — 2016. — №4. — С. 889-894.


The author examines the content, form, style and language attributes of a fiction novel, considering as an example ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J. D. Salinger, through a combination of nine approaches to literature criticism. Such a multidimensional view on literary work enables to focus on adequate perception and comprehension tools relevant to each of the elements in critically induced interpretation of literature.

Keywords: literary work, multidimensional approach, literary criticism, linear perception, biographical narration, lexical typology.


Literary work as «the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing» (Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 1910–11) is usually perceived through the prism of analysis, though not primarily evaluative. Following a number of existing critical approaches to literature [9], we may reveal how or why a particular work is constructed, and which social and cultural implications it comprises. This appreciation of literary work as a multilayered and multifunctional construct brings about the need to approach literary criticism from a multidimensional interdisciplinary perspective [1, p. 23], incorporating the numerous attitudes into a layered system which would inspire the reader to reread, reconsider, and respond to enriching images and perceptions.

Critical approach to literary work — from linear perception to multidimensional layered overview

Among a number of critical approaches to literature there are nine which may serve to represent the most widely used views [8]. Alongside with the overview of some of these approaches we argue in this section that if represented separately they may never contribute to adequate analysis and perception of any literary work.

While formalist (Langbaum, 1987; Crane, 1952; Booth, 1961; Erlich, 1981), semiotics (Pavis, 1976; Greimas A. & Courtes J., 1982; Lotman Y., 1975), and partly narratological (Genette G., 1980; Barthes R., 1982) approaches focus primarily on intrinsic literary features — the words of the text, its formal features (style, structure, genre) rather than facts about the author’s life or the historical atmosphere in which it was written, on the contrary, historical (Greenblatt & Montrose, 2001; Jameson, 1982), psychoanalytical, and biographical approaches seek to understand a literary work by investigating the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it (a context that necessarily includes the artist’s biography), exploring human behaviour, and expanding our sense of how language and symbols operate by demonstrating their ability to reflect unconscious fears or desires. Reader response criticism appears to be of special importance as we express the attitude to the book depending on our perceptions, thus, literary texts do not exist independently of readers’ interpretations. As [14] put it, “the natural and sensible starting point for work in literary scholarship is the interpretation and analysis of the works of literature themselves.”

Since the various ways we use to critically approach literary work focus on its different characteristics — an insight into author’s biography, social content and historical background, psychoanalytic examination, language features, readers’ perception — adequate comprehension and interpretation of literary work depends primarily on an accurate use of a combination of approaches in a multidimensional perspective. Following [5], who believe that “reader-response criticism devotesconsiderable attention to the act of reading itself, particularly in terms of the many different ways in which readers respond to literary texts”, we suppose that this approach could be placed centered in the combination alongside with content-based criticism (Figure1).

Fig. 1. Combination of approaches to literary criticism in a multidimensional perspective


Readers comprehend the content of literary works via their values, beliefs and experience, influenced by historical background, biography, and narration of the author as well as language peculiarities the author chooses to convey the idea, which vividly manifest the speech and the character peculiarities of the main hero. The Catcher in the Rye as the subject of utmost literary interest and linguistic significance, may serve one of the best examples of author’s biography reflected in the text full of colorful language describing historical and social atmosphere of the time, which seem to foster connections between the approaches.

Critical approach to J. Salinger multidimensional layered overview

Psychological account and another detailed investigation into the novel [12, p.13] explore the rebellion of the main character in his desperate attempt to enter the world of adults because “he cannot accept sinfulness as the part of his nature….” [12, p. 15], and suggest that nevertheless, he can improve the world around him on condition that society helps him “in his attempt to fit the social order” (Ibid., p. 10).

Semiotics and narratological accounts [13] draw the reader’s attention to Salinger’s style of writing and comments on the structure of the novel, as well as the language [4] remaining the only linguistic investigation of the main peculiarities of Holden’s speech in the novel.

Critical literary discussions about Salinger and his literary works are still in demand among contemporary critics; therefore, a great number of such studies will probably be published in the very near future. A brief review of literature on the subject has shown that multidimensional overview approach to the literary works of J. Salinger has not been applied to the extent in which it would reveal the range and the insight of his talent.

First dimension — psychoanalytical perspective of the biographical narration in the first person

It may be assumed that any literary work represents a kind of reflection of the author’s thoughts, emotions, world outlook and even language. This can manifest itself the most strikingly in an autobiographical book, where the author reassigns the narration to the main character of a “the first person novel”, just as in The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger — the writer whose work is more than usual powered by his autobiography, which can easily be traced throughout his novel. Just like Holden Caulfield, Salinger led “a double life,” especially at Valley Forge Academy. He was cheerful, smart chap and “regular guy” in the presence of others but he became quiet, aloof and sarcastic when he was outside company. That is why, although most of Jerry’s contemporaries remember him as mocking and subversive, his teachers believed him to be quiet, thoughtful, always anxious to please.

Second dimension — content, form and language layers

Accuracy of readers’ comprehension and response to a literary work presupposes not only the search for equivalents between the expressive means in two languages (correlations between the meanings and the stylistic nuances of the words, word order, morphological forms, etc.) but also the understanding of the content (theme and idea), form (compositional structure and method) and language peculiarities. The subject that the author delineates in the work together with the appreciation that he or she gives to this subject compose the content of the work of art. The content includes the spirit of the literary work, that is, the overall emotional background of the work of art, which finds expression in the author’s appreciation. There exist at least seven types of the spirit of the literary work — heroic, dramatic, tragic, satirical and humorous, the spirit of sentimentality and romantic spirits. The content always consists of the representation of the subject (theme and idea of the work) and the means of expression of such representation (the form of the work — compositional structure and method). Therefore, the content, which manifests itself in the representation of the subject in the literary work, is found in the close connection with the form of the work of art. As Belinski said “when the form of the literary work is the expression of its content, it (the form) can be found in such a close connection with the content that if you try to separate one from the other, you will destroy the content and vice versa….” [3]. Despite division between the form and the content is conventional, we made such a division in order to investigate the content and the form of The Catcher in the Rye separately.

It may be stated that defining the spirit of this novel we come to face the signs of both dramatic and tragic spirits. While dramatic spirit reflects the struggle between the main character of the literary work and the world around him, tragic spirit deals with the inner conflict of the character. It is not necessarily true that dramatic spirit is to depict an open clash between the interests of a person and social interests, it sometimes reflects only in the personal emotional experience of the character (“the inner dramatic conflict”), which creates a character with no established position, without any ideals, just as the main character of the novel, Holden Caulfield, rejects the society which he considers “phony,” however, he is too weak-willed to take up the open struggle. Dramatic conflict develops within the character and grows into his tragic conflict. Holden has to choose — either to give up and accept social rules or to leave the world in which he lives and refuse to lead the “phony” way of life. The Catcher in the Rye is the novel where the content has both dramatic spirit (reflects in “the inner dramatic conflict”) and the tragic spirit. The author’s conception in this case is to present the emotional experience of an individual as “the symptom” of conflicts within society, which, though it has no direct reference to the novel itself, we could possibly find ground for in [6]:

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backwards; and the hand may be a little child’s (p. 36).

The Catcher in the Rye is the novel in which two main themes are posed. First, is the problem of alienation of the teenager in the world of adults (that is, the inability of the young people to regard themselves as part of society, to act according to the social rules) — the problem of adolescent-adult relationships. Second, is the problem of loneliness that is the result of alienation, which is not regarded as an after-effect of the deficiency of contact with people. This exerts influence upon his character and behavior when inner struggle (to accept the rules and give up or to forget about his social origin and live his own life) results in nervous breakdown and derangement.

The content of the work of art always has its expression in the form of this work (that is, genre, compositional structure and method). The author finds the subject (the theme and idea) and then chooses the appropriate way to expound it according to the content, the goals, and the type of the reader of the literary work. The structure of the text is the correlation between the author’s speech and the speech of the character (or characters) of the literary work. These two “parts” of the text differ not only according to their aesthetic functions (the expression of the author’s conception and the speech description of the characters) but also according to the linguistic means of expression they use.

The context is the combination of the social and historical conditions in which the author lives and which he reflects in his works. This context can be also named “the reality” (context 1). The author perceives the reality, comprehends and interprets it in the literary work according to his conception [2, p. 112]. Therefore, the work of art has its own structure and its own context (context 2).

Based on the typological structure of text types in fiction by [7, 9], the following overview of three main text types could be presented as follows (Figure 2, Figure 3).

Type 1. The situation when the two characters participates in the communication (Figure 2):

Fig. 2.Type 1 text type structure (dialogue)


Type 2. The situation where the literary work is written as monologue, where the only main character is the narrator created by the author. In this case the addressee can be either the hypothetical listener (when the character addresses the hypothetical listener by dint of the internal monologue) or the reader as in The Catcher in the Rye (Figure 3).

Fig. 3. Type 2 text type structure (monologue)


Type 3. The mixture of the first two types. In this case either the dialogue or the monologue serve to be the main ways of narration.

The Catcher in the Rye is the novel in which the main form of narration is monologue; dialogues can be found quite seldom, and their only function is to show the character and the emotional experience of the main hero. Thus, The Catcher in the Rye seems to represent the third type of the textual structure.

As to compositional structure of The Catcher in the Rye, is appears a carefully planned web of events, which reveals the essence of its theme and idea. The compositional structure of The Catcher in the Rye is the sequence of events from the personal life of the main character. The novel is divided into separate chapters, where some of them are connected with each other, and the following chapter becomes the logical continuation of the previous one. The first person method of writing that Salinger used in his novel lends verisimilitude to the details.

On the basis of the aforesaid investigation of the content, form and language of The Catcher in the Rye we may therefore state the following:

  1.              The content of The Catcher in the Rye includes dramatic and tragic spirits. The dramatic conflict develops within the main character and grows into the tragic conflict. These two spirits reflect the overall emotional background of the novel;
  2.              The theme of the novel is the problem of alienation of teenagers (the problem of adolescent-adult relationships) and the ways of the adolescents’ adaptation in the world of adults. The idea of the novel is to depict a young man who has the problem that similar to those of the teenagers in general (that is, to turn this image into collective (general) image of adolescents);
  3.              The Catcher in the Rye belongs to the epic literature and represents a novel with the framed compositional structure. The method of the novel is the reassigned narration of the naive hero who addresses hypothetical listener (the reader);
  4.              The language of The Catcher in the Rye represents the substandard lexical units (substandard Americanisms). They fulfil two main stylistic functions:

a)                depict an individualised image of the teenager and reflect his attitude to the world around him;

b)                reflect the teenage vernacular of the 1950s (to turn the image of a teenager into the general image of the adolescents.

Critical overview of the multidimensional layered approach to literature

Since one-sided critical review of a literary work obviously lacks objective perspective and adequate analysis, it appears that multidimensional approach enables to widen horizons of literary criticism.

As [11] notes, “Literature, like music, is an art of time…: it takes time to read or listen to, and it usually presents events or the development of ideas or succession of images or all these together in time.” (p.139). Likewise, it takes time to read, assess, get an insight into a literary work, and delve in multilayered structure or content, or colourful language work of the text. It takes a reader a skilful approach to adequately appreciate literature, retrieve a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction of reading. Multilayered approach to literature contributes to guided engagement with the arts allowing the reader to develop and further apply all the acquired skills of multidimensional literary analysis.

Nevertheless, such an exposure to the broader benefits of literature may deprive the reader of the pleasure of communication because the experience of reading is not passive as it requires forcing yourself to reflect on what you read, paragraph by paragraph.


From the standpoint of the literary studies, the author expresses his conception in the compositional structure and genre. From the standpoint of linguistics, the content of the work of art is expressed in its language. Inasmuch as the idea of The Catcher in the Rye is to depict an authentic image of a teenager, the language of the novel represents an example of teenage vernacular (substandard language layer). Substandard lexical units, which compose the language of the novel, perform two main functions. The first one is connected with the literary peculiarities of the novel (stylistic functions). The second reflects their linguistic expression (contextual functions). All the lexical units which belong to substandard language layer (colloquialisms, slang terms, jargon, and vulgar words) perform two main stylistic functions in The Catcher in the Rye — they depict the individual character of the protagonist and at the same time they are the means of the generalisation (typification) of the character and language peculiarities of a social unit or the whole generation. As to contextual functions, each type of substandard lexeme has its own function that depends both on the meaning of this particular word (denotative or connotative) and on the context, which this word is used in. Linguistic analysis of The Catcher in the Rye indicated that all the types of substandard lexical units to a different extent are able to reflect expressiveness and to appraise the subject as well as to characterise the speech of a person or a social group.

Critical examination of a work of art in a multidimensional way is a necessary tool to acquire and appreciate the multilayered peculiarity of a literary work, which enables to avoid misleading the reader by one-sided view on either narration or language, form, and structure. While focusing on either of the components in combination we should not forget to enjoy the pleasure of reading itself.




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