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The Catcher In The Rye: Holden's Struggle With Mental Illness

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Some adolescents have trouble coping with struggles they have faced because they are more vulnerable to being traumatized than adults. In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D Salinger, at just eleven years old, Holden Caulfield endured the loss of his brother. This devastating event unknowingly sent him down a path of turmoil. Holden struggled to connect with both adults and peers because he believed them to be all “phonies”. This internal battle left Holden unable to bridge from childhood to adulthood effectively. Which meant this vicious cycle left Holden running from his problems instead of facing them. The loss of Holden's little brother is what led to his struggle with mental health.

Throughout this novel, Holden disengages himself from almost everything around him. Holden has a hard time genuinely interacting with others, he believes almost everyone is a phony. Barton Swaim agrees with this: “His favorite epithet is 'phony.' He denounces everything that has a trace of 'phoniness' about it, which of course includes just about everything and everyone. 'If s full of phonies,' he says of a school from which he was ejected” (Swaim 2). This indicates that Holden may think everyone is a phony because they aren't exactly like him;therefore, he pushes everyone away which may have started when Allie died (SP1A). This may have lead to his difficulty in school because while he struggles with his schoolwork, interacting with others is also a big part of attending school. He doesn't try to get along with his classmates because according to Holden, they are all big “phonies” which is what he uses to refer to people who are fake. The person outside of Holden's family that is talked about the most is a girl named Jane Gallagher. While she is talked about quite frequently, it appears that Holden pushed her out of his life and all he has left is the memories. He is still very protective of her: 'You don't even know if her first name is Jane or Jean, ya goddam moron!' 'Now, shut up, Holden, God damn it--I'm warning ya,' he said--I really had him going. 'If you don't shut up, I'm gonna slam ya one.'” (Salinger 24). He is willing to get in a fight over her but later in the book Holden can barely find the courage to pick up the phone and call her. This may be the only girl he has felt an actual connection with and Holden is scared and doesn't want to acknowledge that she still exists. Holden doesn't introduce many characters in this novel because he is disconnected with them, he may do this as a defense mechanism since he is scared to get close to someone and lose them like what happened with his little brother.

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Holden was unable to successfully cross this internal battle from childhood to adulthood. Although Holden is not an adult yet, he embarks on a journey that brushes him with the reality of real adult life. This leads to him hating adults “phoniness” even more and wants to protect himself and his sister from becoming an adult. Holden describes his dream to his little sister: “I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean- except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff- I mean, if they’re running and they don’t know where they’re going. (Salinger 93).” This demonstrates that to him, maturing is as bad as falling off of a cliff. Therefore, Holden wants to be the protector of children from reaching adulthood. Which is why he is obsessed with his little sister and his deceased brother Allie. He remembers what it was like when he was their age and misses not seeing the world as deceitful. While Holden is fixated on preserving innocence, he also tends to portray himself a lot older than what he actually is.

While he is roaming around New York he displays maturity when he is able to keep enough money to keep himself alive, he also spends his money on more grown-up items like alcohol and a prostitute. Despite the fact that Holden tries to grow up he finds that he is not quite ready. In one article it explains how he has trouble interacting with adults: “In the hotel, he does not do anything to Sunny. He is too nervous to have sex at that moment and having sex with a prostitute does not seem right to him. (Qi)”. When he is with Sunny he realizes that he is not quite ready to move onto another step of adulthood. This also reveals his inability to handle adult relationships and interaction which makes him an outsider. The loss of Holden's ability to interact with others is triggered by his immaturity. His immaturity and lack of being able to accept reality like his brothers death is holding Holden back from making a smooth transition into adulthood.

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The Catcher In The Rye: Holden’s Struggle With Mental Illness. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“The Catcher In The Rye: Holden’s Struggle With Mental Illness.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
The Catcher In The Rye: Holden’s Struggle With Mental Illness. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2023].
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