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The Stages of Grief In The Catcher In The Rye

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The five stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with what we’ve lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling, but they are not stops on a linear timeline in grief (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). In some point of life, grief will be experienced creating effects that vary based on the person. Grief can break, dent, change, or simply make a person lose themselves. In “The Catcher in The Rye” by J.D. Sallengier, the main character, Holden Caufield reveals the various characteristics that can be adopted through grief, J.D. Salleniger displays grief through Holden Caulfield’s experiences, perceptions of the world around him, his impulsive actions, and as well as how Caulfield undergoes the 5 stages of grief.

The action of declaring something to be untrue is known as denial, the first stage of grief. Caulfield reveals his denial throughout the book from his thoughts and actions. “What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed.” (Sallinger 110). Holden is aware and knows that his brother is dead, but deep down he is in denial and has not truly accepted it. He speaks so nonchalantly about Allie and his death, and as the readers learn more about Caulfield and his mind it is clear that he is disconnected from reality. He uses this method as a defense mechanism to protect himself from grief. This quotation reveals that his extreme pain and struggle from Allie's death took a control on Holden and his life. A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility is the meaning of the anger. Anger is displayed in this novel through the various actions Holden took, and is the second stage of his grief. “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage. I don't blame them. I really don't. I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddamn windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn't do it.” (Sallinger 44). Anger is a normal, and human reaction towards a death especially for teenagers and it's a difficult reality check. Holden expresses his pain, and frustration through lashing out. Caulfields actions is an example of one of the many impulsive decisions he makes throughout the novel and his journey of grief.

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A line of defense that is against the emotions of grief is known as emotion bargaining, the third stage of grief. Holden reveals bargaining throughout the novel. “Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie don't let me disappear. Please, Allie.” (Sallinger 218). This quotation exhibits how Holden is destabilized after his brothers death. Holden feels lost, and using the act of make believe as a coping mechanism. Allies death triggered Holden’s depressive state. Feelings of severe despondency and dejection is known as depression, this is the fourth stage of grief. This stage is by far the most prominent, and damaging stage of grief. “I still had that headache. It was even worse. And I think I was more depressed than I ever was in my whole life.” (Sallinger 214). In this point of the novel the readers can fully understand that holden is mentally unstable and is going through severe depression. Holden heavily relies on the two most harmful substances, alcohol and tobacco to cope with his grief and pain. He uses it to “escape” his reality. Holden uses most of his money for alcohol. Throughout the novel, Holden goes out at night, wandering, going to bars illegally displaying isolation, and depression. Holden continually makes impulsive decisions like this because he feels lost and is disconnected from reality. In the novel it is revealed that Holden fantasizes about his own death. “Anyway i'm sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. Ill volunteer for, I swear to god I will.”(Sallinger 156). This quotation exemplifies holden’s depression and how he does not show fear or dislike the idea of his own death. Holden continues to make claims of his views towards his own death. “I swear if there's ever another war, they better just take out and stick me in front of a firing squad.” (Sallinger 156). These quotes give insight on how Holden’s depression is hindering his ability to glimpse the future and adulthood.

The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered is referred to as acceptance. The 5th and final stage of grief is acceptance. Near the end of the novel, Holden shows signs of acceptance. “I know he’s dead! Don’t you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can’t i? Just because somebody’s dead, you dont stop liking them, for God’s sake - especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that are alive and all.” (Sallinger 189). This quote can be described as Holdens break through, his younger sister gives Holden a reality check and wake up call through her better sense and grasp on the situation. Through this quote it is revealed that Holden is showing signs of accepting his grief and moving forward. Towards the end of the novel, Holden finally shows signs of grasping reality and maturing into adulthood. “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. That's all id do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy.” (sallinger 191). This quote is significant because it alludes to Holden slowly entering adulthood and accepting and moving on from grief. His sister Phobe had a remarkable impact on Holden. Phobe gave Holden hope, and truly helped him.

Throughout the novel J.D. Sallinger displays the 5 stages of grief, the characeteristics that can be adopted through grief, and how grief impacted Holdens actions and perceptions of his reality. Grief can have significantly negetive effects on a person and can create life long damage. In some point of life grief will expirenced by everyone in a variety of different ways. The 5 stages of grief will help us frame and identify how we are feeling, but they are not stops on the linear time of grief.

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The Stages of Grief In The Catcher In The Rye. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Stages of Grief In The Catcher In The Rye.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
The Stages of Grief In The Catcher In The Rye. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
The Stages of Grief In The Catcher In The Rye [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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