"The world loves an underdog," or the continuing appeal of the adolescent rebel narrative: a comparative reading of Vernon God Little, The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn

Ciocia, S. (2016) "The world loves an underdog," or the continuing appeal of the adolescent rebel narrative: a comparative reading of Vernon God Little, The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn. Children's Literature in Education. pp. 1-20. ISSN 0045-6713.

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Abstract

The early reception of D. B. C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little (2003) has been characterized by comparisons with two canonical literary antecedents: J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and, at a greater remove, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). The three novels capitalize on the subversive potential of disaffected teenage narrators, whose compelling vernacular voices, and distinctive position as outsiders in the adult world, are powerful tools for social critique.

This article offers an analysis of the continuities and discontinuities in the narrative tradition that links Vernon Little to Huckleberry Finn via the pivotal figure of Holden Caulfield, who is widely considered as the original, unsurpassed model of adolescent rebelliousness in modern literature. Grounded in an extensive exploration of the history of reception of the three texts, this study proceeds to highlight and explore the wider implications of Pierre’s provocative twist on his predecessors’ narrative template. Significantly, this deliberate departure is overlooked in most reviews of Vernon God Little – an omission which testifies to our deep investment in the idea of teenagers as liminal figures between childhood and adulthood, and thus still relatively untainted by worldly corruption.

Paradoxically, the persistence of this romanticized view of adolescence coexists with much less idealized representations of young people, especially in the media. This particular contradiction is tentatively teased out in a brief coda to the main argument, with reference to another idiosyncratic adolescent narrator who has managed to capture the popular imagination in recent years: Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003). Although his connection with Salinger’s text is less immediately obvious than Vernon’s, in some ways Christopher is a more legitimate heir to Holden Caulfield than Pierre’s protagonist.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Dr Stefania Ciocia
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2016 09:48
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2016 09:42
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/14658

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00