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Reasons Why Holden Caulfield is Not A Normal Adolescent

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Adolescence is the time period between ages ten to nineteen where in many of our lives we begin to look to our parents for advice about our future as well as build new stronger connections with peers whom we depend upon. In J.D. Salinger’s famous novel The Catcher in the Rye the main character, Holden Caulfield, our 17 year old narrator who’s telling the readers about a series of events that happened in his life when he was 16 years old. However, Holden does not experience the typical psychological development standards of a regular adolescent. Unlike most individuals experiencing adolescents who develop socially and cognitively Holden seems to be entrapped in a static state of mental and cognitive instability.

It is very common for most individuals during adolescence to look to their parents for help and advice on which direction they should navigate their lives. This demonstrates a large amount of cognitive development (Eccles, Midgley,Wigfield et al.,1993) which is not found in Holden, who insists on only depending on himself and his views of life rather than respected and trustworthy individuals in his life who are attempting to help him. Holden’s behaviour is demonstrated in pages 17 and 18 of the Catcher in the Rye when Holden has a conversation with Old Spencer, one of his old teachers, regarding whether Holden has any concern for his future. Holden responds to this by saying “Not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess” (Salinger 17-18) which leads Old Spencer to respond to Holden in a concerned fashion and saying, “You will boy. You will when it’s too late” (17-18). Which makes Holden uncomfortable and unhappy. Through this interaction between Old Spencer and Holden it becomes clear that Holden has a plantain disregard for the advice of a concerned and respected individual in his life. Holden’s lack of cognitive development is revealed due to how Holden refuses any form of guidance from a caring person in his life which is an essential part of experiencing a healthy form of psychological development. In addition to that, Holden’s abnormal behaviour is once again demonstrated when he leaves Pencey Prep and arrives at Penn station contemplating whether or not to call his younger sister. He realizes though that it is late at night which indicates that his sister is likely asleep which causes Holden to make the statement that ‘‘The trouble was, she wouldn't have been the one that answered the phone. My parents would be the ones. So that was out” (66). This instance in the novel is when Holden arrives to Manhattan which is only a few miles away from where his family lives. He continues to refuse to make any contact with his parents; his limited cognitive development is clearly illustrated by his refusal to contact his parents and reach out for help regardless of his young age and being alone in a large municipal city. Holden, unlike most adolescents, does not look for the guidance of his parents or any experienced adults. In conclusion, through Holden’s interaction with Old Spencer and his lack of interaction with his parents, where in both situations he does not seek guidance provided by caring individuals in his life, Holden’s cognitive limitations are clearly evident due to his lack of interest in advice or help from any adults which is something most adolescents seek which further proves that Holden did not a typical adolescent.

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During the period of adolescence most individuals look to make strong bonds with peers and friends which shows social development during the period of adolescence (O’koon,1997). Unlike most adolescents, Holden does not fit the norm of being socially developed because he does not look to make strong bonds with friends, but rather he is simply satisfied with having any company which he eventually manages to drive away. One instance in which his behaviour is exemplified is when he was describing his roommate who he described by saying “I just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs” (Salinger 20). Through Holden’s description of his roommate as fake or someone who puts up a facade Holden’s lack of social development is clearly illustrated. Holden is incapable of making lovable friends even with people extremely close to him such as a roommate who a regular socially developed adolescent could likely do with ease. Overall, the typical behaviour of a socially developed adolescent would include making friends, and Holden’s incapability of doing that even with someone as close as a roommate reveals Holden’s lack of social development through how he does not have lovable friends and strong bonds with others.

Some individuals and critics of Salinger’s novel may make the argument that Holden was not an irregular or an abnormal adolescent who is incapable of making social connections, but rather he is an observant figure in society who is aware of the conditions of society. This claim may seem to be logical in “Resistance as madness in The Catcher in the Rye” by Sorour Karampour Dashti and Ida Baizura Binti Bahar which makes the claim that “Holden is not a madman but he is a social observant figure. Like a sociologist, Holden scrutinizes the society and he is aware of the impending danger of losing a genuine idea and intellect that results in losing individuality and authenticity” (Sorour Karampour Dashti and Ida Baizura Binti Bahar 2015). Although the concept and argument that Holden is not unstable, but rather he is an observer of the unstable and fake society may seem logical, it is not because throughout the novel most of the individuals who Holden interacts with he dismisses and refuses to acknowledge any help they are showing. This doesn’t even give him the chance to truly observe each individual. Holden’s limited social and cognitive growth as an adolescent member of society clearly reveals that the issues that arise in the novel are not due to society or how fake it may be but rather due to Holden’s unstable state.

To conclude, adolescence is an important stage in an individual's life, where there are a myriad of essential experiences such as looking for help and guidance from people you trust in your life which shows cognitive development as well as the experience of creating strong bonds with peers showing that an individual has socially developed as an adolescent individual. In J.D. Salinger’s famous novel The Catcher in the Rye the main character, Holden, who narrates a story that happened to him at age sixteen where it is clearly highlighted that he did not experience a normal adolescence through how he showed extreme disregard towards any advice or guidance that was given to him by individuals which were concerned about him such as Old Spencer and his parents which he does not contact entirely showing that he is not cognitively developed as a normal adolescent would be as well as how he is incapable of making friends and strong bonds even with individuals close to him like his roommate which shows his abnormal psychological development as an adolescent.

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Reasons Why Holden Caulfield is Not A Normal Adolescent. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Reasons Why Holden Caulfield is Not A Normal Adolescent.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Reasons Why Holden Caulfield is Not A Normal Adolescent. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
Reasons Why Holden Caulfield is Not A Normal Adolescent [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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