In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger tells the journey from adolescence into maturity for Holden Caulfield. Adolescence is the stage in one’s life in which maturity into adulthood occurs. The story starts off with Holden getting kicked out of the fourth preparatory school he has gone to, Pencey Prep. Instead of waiting for his Christmas break to officially start, he decides to leave school early. He heads towards New York City by himself to go home. Holden’s journey turns out to be anything but ordinary. Every event is described through his point of view. The readers are able to see Holden’s character and how he changes as a person. Holden seems to be a troubled adolescent having difficulty maturing into an adult. Throughout the book, Holden is shown to be an abnormal adolescent as he replaces interaction with others with drinking and smoking and demonstrates emotional imbalance in his frequent depression. The death of a loved one only helped to develop his strange character. Holden is a unique character like none other seen before.
For Holden, drinking and smoking are regular pass times. He indulges in alcohol when he can. At one point, Holden admits that he used smoke a lot. This is abnormal for ordinary adolescents. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that adolescents are less likely to smoke and drink alcohol if they are close to their families (Developing Adolescents). The only family members that Holden was close to were his little sister, Phoebe, and his brother, Allie, but Allie happened to pass away early on in his life. Holden doesn’t get to see Phoebe that often, so he really has no friends or family he can turn towards to have a genuine conversation. He makes up for this hole in his life by drinking alcohol and smoking when he is given the opportunity. This is especially true when he went on a journey all by himself. While trying to pass the time in a hotel, Holden remarks, “I must’ve smoked around two packs since I left Pencey”(112). He is dependent on smoking to pass the time. Since he had no friends to talk to through his journey, he smoked more than we would’ve normally. When Holden reunites with Carl Luce, he talks with him while drinking. Their talk doesn’t go as planned since he says,“I was sort of afraid he’d get up and leave on me if I didn’t shut up. So all I did was, I ordered another drink. I felt like getting stinking drunk,”(160). He resorts to drinking until he was drunk because he couldn’t properly keep the conversation going. Holden doesn’t have proper healthy relationships and can’t manage to properly build any new connections.
Holden experiences an abnormal amount of depression in his journey. Throughout most of the second half of the book, Holden keeps reminding the readers that he feels depressed. Major depression can be caused by low self-esteem, difficulty while concentrating, sleep trouble, stomach aches, and headaches (Major Depression). Holden experiences trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on his journey. His self-esteem seems to continuously lower. At one point in the story he begins to cry randomly. The only explanation he can give is that he was feeling “so damn depressed and lonesome”(169). Nothing is going the way he wants it to go. His spirit is slowly being torn apart. The list of causes continues to build as Holden later says, “I had a headache and I felt lousy. I even had sort of a stomach-ache,”(203). He almost hits rock bottom as he struggles to escape his current way of life. No matter what happens, he just ends up feeling depressed one way or another. His constant depression shows how different he is behaviorally from normal adolescents.
Holden could be a normal grieving adolescent, but his behavior shows that he has more problems than just being bereaved. Holden demonstrates that Allie was very near and dear to him. Frightening behavior for adolescents dealing with the loss of a loved one are chronic depression, sleeping difficulties, and low self-esteem (Wolfelt). This can explain why Holden experiences many troubles as an adolescent. He went through a big loss while he was younger. Holden is just experiencing the symptoms that follow the death of a loved one. He needs help to get over Allie’s death. Although, it seems it is too late to truly help him cope. Holden states, “I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist,”(44). It is clear from this action that some strange behavior was beginning to manifest. His parents failed to see this and ignored him. This lead to Holden questioning the people around him and having no ability to think about his future. He develops an inability to see other people as genuine (Wendell). This is why he sees almost everyone as a phony. He thinks that anyone he reaches out for help will just let him down like his neglectful parents. As a result, he keeps his emotions to himself. Also, he has no idea about his future. Even after years since his brother’s death, Holden still feels pain in his hand from when he broke the window. It left a huge impact on him as he says, “I mean I’m not going to be a goddam surgeon or a violinist or anything anyway”(44). For adolescents his age, their level of thinking should allow them to think about their future, evaluate some alternative, and set some personal goals (Developing Adolescents). This inability to plan for the future shows his insufficient cognitive development. The trauma from his brother’s death has clouded his vision for his future. Holden was never the same since Allie’s death.
Holden Caulfield is no ordinary adolescent. Drinking and smoking are part his character. His level of depression rises throughout his trip back home. Some would say that Holden is just a normal adolescent that is still grieving his brother’s death, but his death was just the trigger for the change of Holden’s character/personality. Adolescence is a difficult time for anyone. It is not something that is set in stone. Holden’s journey is a prime example of this shift.Some may have it easier than others. At the end of the day, adolescence is the process by which people realize who they really are and how to change. Holden’s coming of age was different from the rest, a story to be remembered through the years.