Holden Caulfield was a seemingly unsolvable anomaly. His life was complicated by the death of his younger brother, and the negative reaction that it invoked from his parents. He was pushed around from school to school, failing and being expelled from the majority of them due to his poor behavior. All of these factors contributed to the mental hardships that he dealt with on a daily basis. Throughout the novel, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield coped with the stresses of daily life by running from his problems, becoming physically violent towards himself and others, and contemplating the meaning of his existence.
Holden Caulfield was never very direct when it came to facing the problems that arose within his life. Rather than owning up to his mistakes, Holden worked hard to run from his problems. Holden’s antisocial personality made it easy for him to avoid dealing with the consequences of his actions head-on. Whenever Holden was feeling hopeless and particularly anxious, his mind would create miniature escapes to make him feel safe. Holden would allow his imagination to distract him from stressful situations often. During his fight with Maurice, Holden pretended that he had been shot and was bleeding out. Whilst crossing the street, he would say silent prayers to his dead younger brother, asking to make it to the other side safely. “‘Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.’ And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him” (Salinger 218). Finally, when Holden was drunkenly wandering around Central Park in the late hours of the night, he visualized what would happen if he had suddenly gotten pneumonia and died. Holden’s overload of negative emotions as he pushed through these low points in his life resulted in his mind creating hallucinations and daydreams to provide him with a safety blanket. Holden’s most important skill was his ability to evade anything and everything that affected him negatively.
Holden nearly crumbled under the stress of his busy, unpredictable life: but behaving violently towards himself and others brought him the mental relief that he needed. On one particularly notable occasion, Holden manages to get himself into a physical altercation with someone over debatably insignificant matters. After Stradlater refuses to explain the details of his date with Jane, Holden becomes furious and throws the first punch. The two fight it out, and the brawl ends in Stradlater’s victory. “This next part I don’t remember so hot. All I know is I got up from the bed like I was going down to the can or something, and then I tried to sock him, with all my might, right smack in the toothbrush, so it would split his goddam throat open” (Salinger 43). Holden took the opportunity to alleviate the stress of the situation immediately by confronting Stradlater with physical violence. This fight would allow Holden to spare himself from the burden of thinking about and handling the issue that he had with Stradlater dating, Jane. This entire situation could have been avoided if Holden had kept calm and thought about a rational solution. Instead of facing the problem directly by talking through it, he escalated the fuss into something much more serious. Acting impulsively and beginning a fistfight created an outlet for all of Holden’s negative emotions. It was a way for him to release all of his pent-up energy that originated from the stress of daily life.
For the duration of the novel, Holden felt lost. He didn’t know what it felt like to fit in and to have a purpose. As a way to minimize the stress of his own problems, Holden clung to the ideas that were the most important to him. One of the ideas that Holden held on to was his dream job to be the Catcher in the Rye. “What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them” (Salinger 191). The Catcher in the Rye is an image in which Holden sees himself as someone who would oversee children as they run around and play in a field atop a cliff, catching them as they get close to falling off the edge. This is an example of how Holden does not want children to surrender their innocence and grow up. At the end of the book, he realizes that there is no way for him to be able to protect the innocence of children forever and that kids will grow up no matter how hard you try to stop it. It is not his duty to protect these kids from something that is so entirely out of his control. His place in society is the same as everyone else’s. All he has to do is live in the moment and focus on himself and his well-being. Taking the time to think about his dreams and morals served as a distraction from the strain imposed on him from worrying about all of the stressful situations that bombarded his life.
Holden Caulfield’s methods of enduring the stresses of life from day to day were dodging his problems, resorting to violence, and searching for the significance of his life. He did an amazing job of warding off all of his issues by isolating himself from others and seeking refuge in the safety of his imagination. His impulsive choices influenced violent actions, which allowed him to decompress and distract himself from any conflict that might have weighed on him mentally. Thinking about the never-ending possibilities of the future and the role that he played in society also worked as a diversion from the stressful side effects that come along with growing up.