A Synthesis Essay on Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye
Holden Caulfield experiences several drastic changes in his life. As a teenager who was ultimately striving to escape “phonies” and the harsh reality of life, he faces several obstacles, some of which he walked into consciously. Holden experienced a tragic death of his brother, Allie, who he held very dearly and described as joyful and full of life. Allie died when he was quite young, and this incident took a toll on Holden’s mental stability.
Due to the excessive bereavement that Holden was exposed to, it is quite likely that he suffered from major depressive disorder, which is prevalent through his day-to-day actions and his thoughts.
As Allie died when he was quite young, the situation came with more grief than what would’ve been if he was old, and expected to pass away. This caused Holden to evaluate his own life. As he grew up, Holden passed the age at which Allie passed away, which only worsened his fears of abandonment of his childhood and death. Holden begins to see himself in Allie during certain parts of his life, and he is crippled with fear of not being to experience life, like Allie. According to Dr. P.G White, one of the effects of sibling loss is “the fear of death led some children to believe that death would come to them next.” In this case, Holden fears that he will suffer the same way Allie did.
He fears having to step into the world where things are not censored for children, and he is constantly faced with reality. One example of this thought process occurs when Holden aggressively tries to the erase the profanity from the walls of a museum he often visited as child. He states that “you can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any.” The museum was a cornerstone of Holden’s childhood, and seeing such harsh words all over the walls gives Holden a reality check. He realizes that the darkness of the world will ultimately affect even the most “innocent” parts of one’s childhood, and he isn’t able to cope with this realization.
His childhood friend, Jane, was another part of his “innocent childhood” that came back to haunt him. Holden discovers that Jane had been romantically seeing one of his friends, who was notorious for being sexual with girls. When thinking about Jane in this manner and trying to process that she could’ve done such things, Holden inflicts more pain on himself. He had only remembered her as a little girl who he spent innocent time with in his childhood, and to see even her growing up and partaking in activities meant for adults, makes him feel as if he is being left behind. To make the problem worse, Holden is clearly not ready to let go of his childhood at this point. This notion that Holden has contributes to validating his massive depressive disorder. Holden seems to have given up hope on finding peace, and realizes that there are always obstacles. Unfortunately, he feels as if he cannot face them.
Holden often refers to the ducks in the pond that seemed to know exactly where to go where the pond froze in the winter. Even when he would be having conversations with people, such as Mr. Spencer, his former teacher, he has the ducks in the back of his mind. (Salinger 13). Holden uses the ducks as a symbol of his peers throughout his narration. The ducks always seemed to know where to go, and Holden, looking from the outside, has no idea how or where they would go. This type of feeling is often prevalent in a teenager who is facing the various transitions into adulthood, but Holden was not ready to face this, which only led to further frustration. According to “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” feelings of isolation are symptomatic for massive depressive disorder, and Holden’s consistent mention of the ducks, while he exempted himself from the latter, all contribute to reasserting the point.
Furthermore, when he is staying at hotel, he invites in a prostitute, but rather than engaging in any sexual activity with her, he merely asks to talk. This shows how lonely and distant Holden was feeling from the masses. He only wanted someone’s company, and was not interested in the common pleasures that a person might desire. This tendency adds to the validation of Holden’s depression.
Holden went through a number of schools and prestigious institutions throughout his life. He would always do really poorly in school, but was apparently intelligent according to his teachers and himself. Holden’s problem with school can be directly attributed to his apathy towards the system. According to DSM, “failing performance and missing school or work” and apathy towards work all indicate severe depression. Another aspect of his behavior with external forces is his tendency to place blame on others. He would constantly talk about the several faults of his friends, peers, and even strangers that he encountered, like the ladies in the bar. He saw himself as being on a higher level of higher, which, according to DSM, could be a form of denial for his own issues, indicating depression.
Holden Caulfield experiences several ups and downs in life. He had to deal with the tragedy of losing a loved one, and also feeling isolated and distant from his peers. All of these unfortunate aspects of his life ultimately contributed to excessive bereavement, which led to major depressive disorder.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company, 1951.
White, P. Gill. The Sibling Connection–Counseling, Support and Healing Resources for Grieving Sisters and Brothers.2011, www.counselingstlouis.net/index.html. Accessed 15 Apr. 2015.
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