The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is about a boy named Holden Caulfield and his struggle with life. Like any other teenager, he is simply looking for his place in the world. However, it is shown that Holden is no ordinary teenager for he displays many signs of depression. His depression seems to escalate throughout the novel. For example, many nights he has trouble sleeping, he also is quite the alcoholic and a heavy smoker, he doesnt feed his body with the proper nutrients and he talks of committing suicide at various points in the novel. Holden feels he has been alienated his whole life and that after losing his brother Allie, there was really no place for him anywhere. Holden Caulfield is a complex character that is in need of some real therapy because the problems he faces are not those of a normal boy his age, but are more serious in that hes really hurting himself and he is not nearly aware of these circumstances.
Holdens signs of depression are very strong throughout The Catcher in the Rye. One of these prominent signs are the fact that he hardly every sleeps. It is known that sleep deprivation is one of the major signs of depression. Holden finds it hard to sleep even late at night, most of the time he claims to not even be tired. He says, It took me quite a while to get to sleep- I wasnt even tired- but finally I did. (104) Holden had a quarrel with Maurice that night about a prostitute and how Holden didnt pay her enough money. Holden feels sorry for the woman because when she got there he didnt feel like having sex with her, especially because before she showed up he wasnt even sure he wanted to give up his virginity at all.
Holden is indecisive about all the things he should have his mind made up on, which partly explains why he has such a problem sleeping. If Holden could simply clear his mind for once, he would be able to get a good nights rest. However, there are always things running through his mind which prevent this. Holden has insomnia and if he were to have seen a psychiatrist he would be able to retain help for this problem. Holden needs to learn just how to relax without drugs and how to get his mind off everything that is keeping him awake.
There is no doubt in anyones mind that Holden is addicted to alcohol. Throughout the novel he spends most of his time drinking and smoking. The reason he is able to receive all these horrible things is due to his appearance. Holden has grey hair and is strikingly tall for his age; he uses these attributes to order himself drinks. Holden enjoys getting drunk and says, Boy, I sat at that goddam bar till around one oclock or so, getting drunk as a bastard. I could hardly see straight. (150) Holden feels that he can drink a lot before he really gets drunk. He claims he has a terrific capacity and says, I can drink all night and not even show it, if Im in the mood. (90)
However, when Holden does reach this sort of capacity he imagines himself with a bullet in his guts and him just bleeding everywhere. He would hold his wound as if he were actually injured. The way Holden drinks is defiantly a cause of his depression since alcohol is a depressive stimulant. When Holden pictures himself wounded it is a sign of depression because he imagines himself hurt physically while he is hurt mentally. Holden needs to learn that what he is doing to himself is really dangerous not only for him, but the people around him also. Holden could make great use out of a psychiatrist because they could first off, help him with his alcohol problems, they could also help him learn about the effects of what he is doing to his body with every drink he has, and give him options of dealing with his problems other than alcohol.
Holdens depression had affected him to the point that he just does not eat. Even though he doesnt have that much money to spend on a lot of food, he does have enough to feed himself a couple of meals a day. He simply opts against this and all he really does is drink and smoke, and thats how he gets the full feeling of eating. For instance he says, I felt pretty hungry as soon as I had a cigarette. The last time Id eaten was those two hamburgers I had with Brossard and Ackley when we went in to Agerstown to the movies. That was a long time ago. It seemed like fifty years ago.(105) Although Holden is aware that he hasnt eaten in quite some time, he just hasnt felt hungry. Holdens nutrition is just all over the place. His depression has forced him to do crazy things. For example, after a night of drinking Holden says, I puked before I went to bed, but I didnt really have to-I forced myself.(90)
This shows that Holden is hurting his body in defiantly more ways than one. Holden is also aware that he is somewhat depressed due to his lousy feelings and inability to eat much of anything. Holden is on a walk when he says, Id feel better if I had something to eat. So I went in this very cheap-looking restaurant and had doughnuts and coffee. Only, I didnt eat the doughnuts. I couldnt swallow them too well. The thing is if you get very depressed about something, its hard as hell to swallow.(196) This just goes to show that Holden is very depressed and it effects the way he handles simple tasks such as eating. Even though he is aware of his depression, Holden does not speak of seeing a psychiatrist for serious issues such as his malnutrition even though he should really see one.
An obvious sign of Holdens depression is the fact that he talks of committing suicide at various points of the novel. Every time Holden is feeling really lousy he would talk about how he would kill himself or just about his death in general. For example, while Holden is sitting in bed after having a quarrel with Maurice, he says, What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window.(104) Whenever Holden isnt occupied with something he gets into his lousy feeling. One time he was just standing in the lobby and said, but I was feeling sort of lousy. Depressed and all. I almost wished I was dead.(90) He had not had much of a reason to say this, but after all, he really was depressed.
Another example of when Holden speaks of his death is when he says, If theres ever another war, Im going to sit right the hell on top of it. Ill volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.(141) Here, he is talking about what a great invention the atomic bomb was and for some reason he claims that he would sit on top of the next one if there was another war. This is a clear sign that there is a part of him that wants to die. Holdens only hope really is to see a psychiatrist. With all these thoughts running through his head he can hardly think straight. He needs the guidance of a psychiatrist to get his life back on track.
Holden Caulfield is the main character in J.D. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye. The story follows his struggle with finding out who he is, and his road of depression. Throughout the book his depression becomes more prevalent as one reads on. Holden faces the issues of insomnia, alcoholism, malnutrition, and the fact that he is suicidal. Holden does somewhat recognizes this, however, he never feels the need to seek help through a psychiatrist even though it is clear he is in need of one. Holden never felt that there was a certain place for him in the world which also led to his depression. Holden is like no other boy his age and is in desperate need of a psychiatrist because hes been hurting himself in more ways than one.
J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Harold Bloom – editor. Chelsea House Publishers. Philadelphia. 2000.
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