“Recognition Is a Form of Agreement”
The Workings of Self-Narration in The Catcher in the Rye and Invisible Man
Pages 603 - 626
Theories of recognition provide an understanding of selfhood as based on narrative identity. In striking up and maintaining a relationship with the Other through telling my story, I am acknowledged as a conversation partner and as a self, endowed with a personal history and biographical experience. The driving force of this process is the hope or struggle for recognition, for being seen and acknowledged by the Other.1 This essay uses Paul Ricoeur’s concept of recognition to read fictional first-person narration as a scenario of encounter between narrator and addressee. It draws from narrative psychology, autobiography theory, and narratological concepts of reader positioning to consider how readers encounter a fictional narrator. The relevance of such a reception-based model is illustrated by revisiting two classics of twentieth-century American literature featuring narrators who raise their voices from the margins: J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. By reading these novels as narratives of recognition, I argue that the rise to iconic status of the narrators, Holden Caulfield and the Invisible Man, can be related to the intense scenario of address that calls readers to recognize these fictional tellers.