Profanity, Disgust, and Dangerous Literature: A Hermeneutical Analysis of the Catcher in the Rye and the Chocolate War
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Varying levels and types of colloquial language are considered inappropriate, especially profanity. Obscene language is one aspect applied to the R-rating for movies and television shows. Profanity also plays a large role as a deterrent in books; consequently, profanity is a popular motive for banning books in schools and libraries. What if instead of turning away from profanity, readers could analyze and understand the reasons and meaning behind the profane words? Hermeneutics, used as a philosophical lens, allows for deeper understanding of textual language. If interpreted through educational and historical context with the aid of hermeneutics, profanity becomes a useful literary element within the text. Rather than banning books from high school curricula, educators and students can interpret the meaning and underlying purpose of profanity in literature. This study utilizes hermeneutics as a lens for understanding the role of profanity in two young adult novels: The Catcher in the Rye and The Chocolate War. Profanity usage in both novels is indicative of the realistic nature of the characters’ lives and struggles. Students need to know that their interpretation—of a text, of the world, of themselves—is important. The reader-response approach to literary criticism allows for an intimate relationship to develop between the reader and the object of interpretation— in this case the text. Analysis and discussion of the experiences that human beings have and our ability to share these experiences through language and fusions of horizons in Gadamer’s hermeneutics allows for true education—ensuring understanding can take place.
Smith, Mychelle (2015). Profanity, Disgust, and Dangerous Literature: A Hermeneutical Analysis of the Catcher in the Rye and the Chocolate War. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from