One of the interesting things about literature is that comparisons can often be drawn between different works based upon prevailing themes in those works. In the case of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, important correlations can be drawn between the two important works because of their social significance. Some works choose to deal with unimportant matters, but both of these authors chose to take on difficult themes head-on and without hesitation. Specifically, the books deal with how young people deal with the changing world around them. The one not obvious connection that can be drawn between the two books is that, in both, relationships play an important role in shaping how the main character develops in the changing and dangerous world around them.
In The Catcher in the Rye, some serious social themes are addressed in terms of personal development. If one wants to consider the development of this important theme in this work, they need to look no further than Holden and his ideals on the world. Understanding this character at large is essentially important if one is to completely understand his world view. Holden is a character that does not like the changing world around him. In particular, he is scared of some of the changes that he not only has to see, but also has to experience adjust to. If he had his way, the world would be concrete and it would always stay the same. This is not reality, though, as the world around Holden is constantly changing. Each and every day when he wakes up, Holden has to wonder about what will happen to him and this is something that makes him uneasy. This has an impact on how he treats relationships. Though Holden is not good at relationships and never really has any success in relationships, they are incredibly important to him. They are also important in terms of the overall work, as they offer Holden every opportunity to break out from the isolation that becomes his overriding characteristic. The problem, of course, is that the character allows his own fear of putting himself out there to stop any chance that he would have at maintaining and creating new relationships. Throughout the story, the reader is treated to opportunity after opportunity where Holden seeks out new relationships and it looks as if he might be finally starting to get it. Then, when things look like they might finally go right for him, Holden reverts back to his old isolationist ways and kills any chance that he had of fostering a meaningful bond with another human being. Ultimately, this holds the character back and provides for an extremely fascinating inner-conflict that the reader has to process.
In Their Eyes were Watching God, the author also emphasizes relationships in order to make the primary character’s life go. The lead character in this story, Janie, does not share too many similarities with Holden in terms of personality, though. While Holden is extremely cautious and almost comes across as a bit of strange hermit, Janie goes about relationships in a little bit different way. Still, there is a prevailing theme that unites these two stories and unites the head characters. The thing that one can take from reading both of these stories is that no matter how different two characters are and how different their life view is, relationships are still the powering force behind their existence. It is the basic human need that makes people reach out for other people in order to receive as well as give friendship. It is easy to see in The Catcher in the Rye that Holden has absolutely no idea what makes a good relationship. He wants the world to stand still so that he does not have to put up with some of the dangers that it presents. He does not want to have to make decisions on the fly and he certainly does not want people to hurt his self-esteem or his feelings by responding to some of his concerns. In this way, he is a clear representation of a person who desires a one-way relationship where there is no risk. In Zora Neale Hurston’s work, the ideal of the perfect relationship is presented much differently. For Janie, the need for new relationships is there because she is always throwing others out. She understands that relationships have to have some give and take, but over the course of the story, the reader is treated to her particular brand of give and take. At times, she is not willing to invest in relationships if they are not giving something great to her. She throws away relationships with Logan and Jody because she is searching for something more. She is willing to invest a lot in relationships, but demands a lot out of them. This is a fundamental difference in her and in Holden from The Catcher in the Rye.
The connection that can be drawn between these two works is a strong one. Each of these characters has their entire existence decided by their relationships in one way of another. In this way, it can be said that these two works represent relationships as a great equalizer. It does not matter how weak or how strong a person is. It does not matter if a person is ready to take on the world or if they would rather live in isolation or fear. For each of these people, there exists the basic human need for interaction. When a person is not getting that, they will reach out and try to find it at any cost. With Janie, this comes down to getting herself out of relationships that she would deem as being “bad” or unfulfilling. For Holden, it comes down to simply being the problem in all of his relationships and having to try to create new ones with whoever he happens to meet in the future.
All in all, these two works present some interesting social themes and they explore some very difficult ideas about human and personal development. This means that the two authors were not shy about exploring some of the items within culture that can be controversial. Relationships are something that bring people together, no matter what culture they are from and no matter what their background might be. No one can get away from them, no matter how many times they try to hide from interaction and no matter how often they throw away new relationships. In these two stories, the need for relationships powers each of the primary characters and motivates them, as well.