The Mystery of Adolescents
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger is a captivating novel surrounding the life of Holden Caulfield, the main character. Holden retells the story from the perspective of his sixteen-year old self and throughout the story Holden hints that he was placed in a mental hospital a year after the story took place. Holden was a troubled boy who was constantly being expelled from countless prestigious boarding schools. His early life including the adolescent period played a major role in shaping the person he is depicted as in the story. Articles such as “The Psychological Structures of the Catcher and the Rye” by James Bryan, “The Reaction to an Adolescent's own Illness and Impending Death, Reactions to a Parent’s Illness and Pending Death of a Sibling” by Fran Farrell, and “Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers” by Chap Clark, can all further analyze the psychological effects on Holden as a result of his early life. During Holden’s early adolescent period he was unable to acquire any positive learned behaviors from his parents since he did not spend much time with them, he suffered the loss of his younger brother, and also became resentful due to the neglect he suffered from.
Holden was continually surrounded by teenagers his own age because of all the boarding schools he attended. Therefore he was unable to learn certain behaviors from his parents such as how to carry himself as an adult. Holden was exposed to negative influences such as fighting or the use of vulgar language, contributing to the character Holden was depicted as in the story. According to an excerpt from Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, “In all societies since the beginning of time, adolescents have learned to become adults by observing, imitating and interacting with grown- ups around them... In their study Csikzentmihalyi and Larson found that adolescents spent only 4.8 percent of their time with their parents and only 2 percent with adults who are not their parents” (Clark, C). Teenagers were shown to spend little to no time with their parents, thus preventing teenagers to essentially grow to become adults. Holden is a prime example of this study since he was always at a boarding school and never at his home with his parents. Without their guidance, Holden was not shown the difference between right and wrong. For instance, Holden was moved around from school to school due to his inability to “apply himself”. The role of a parent in a situation similar to this would be to discipline the child in order to prevent the child from doing the same action again. Holden’s movement from various boarding schools did not bring about any consequences from his parents, which sent the message that what he was doing was acceptable. Early on in the story, Holden admitted that he was “the most terrific liar” and continued to say “I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera” (Salinger, pg 22). This can be yet another illustration of Holden’s poor conscious as a result of the lack of parental guidance he had while growing up. The repetition of these negative actions can only solidify the idea in Holden’s mind that he is not guilty of doing anything wrong.
Holden suffered the loss of his younger brother, Allie, which affects his personality and the way he acts towards others. The death of a sibling can be hard to overcome, especially during the adolescent period of life and especially difficult due to all the other difficulties Holden was forced to battle. According to The Reaction to an Adolescent's own Illness and Impending Death, Reactions to a Parent’s Illness and Pending Death of a Sibling written by Fran Farrell, “Informants concluded that it was essential to be able to talk to someone who can understand and do not keep your sad feelings in” (Farrell, F). This article contains an opposite mentality in comparison to the ideals of Holden, unlike the article suggest he withholds his feelings about the death of his younger brother. The article mentions the danger this can have to people who withhold their feelings. For example,“ I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage the night he died...” (Salinger, pg 50). When Holden discovered his brother had passed away he became so distraught that he damaged several windows and had to go to the hospital for his hands. “Allie’s death takes place outside the province of the narrative, but a valuable psychological study might still be made of the progression of Holden’s breakdown-how he provokes fights in which he will be beaten... and unconsciously alienates himself from many people he encounters (Bryan, J).” In this quote, Bryan lists the detrimental effects of Allie’s death on Holden. In the novel, Holden finds himself wrestling with his roommate, Stradlater. He knew very well that Stradlater was much bigger and stronger, however he still felt the urge to start a fight.
All of a sudden for-- for no good reason, really, except that I was sort of in the mood for horsing around--I felt like jumping off the washbowl and getting old Stradlater in a half nelson. That’s a wrestling hold, in case you don’t know, where you get that other guy around the neck and choke him to death, if you feel like it. So I did it. I landed on him like a goddam panther. (Salinger, pg 39)
This is a perfect example to support Bryan's theory about Holden’s hostility as a result of death. Holden has several sporadic bursts of anger scattered throughout the novel to display his aggression. Salinger included this exposure to Holden’s temper to hint at the idea of possible psychological problems caused by Allie’s death. This death additionally severed the small relationships Holden had with his family and from this stemmed a long stream of problems later indicated in the novel.
Moreover, the lack of family structure that Holden faced caused him to feel neglected which can cause irritability and resentment towards his family. After the death of his brother, Holden’s relationship with his family was put under a great amount of tension. The added tension to this essential relationship distanced Holden from his family and making him more independent. As the Hurt 2.0 article said, “Second, adolescents know that they are essentially on their own, for “aloneness is the enduring result of abandonment (Clark, C).” This is an accurate description of Holden because he finds himself alone quite often. For example, Holden went to New York shortly after his expulsion from Pencey Prep and despite all he did Holden felt a looming sense of loneliness. Holden stayed up all night traveling through various parts of New York and conversing with many different people, and all this still could not fill the gap his family had left. While traveling through New York Holden becomes fascinated by a family of three.“But there was this one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me-- a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old... It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.” (Salinger, pg 115). The idea of a family with a loving mother and father who cared for their child was unlike his own family, which gave him comfort and a sense of relief from his depression. Receiving neglect from his family also lengthened his adolescent period resulting in immaturity. “First, the adolescent journey is lengthened, because no one is available to help move the developmental process along. Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen observe that “the extension of adolescence has expanded so boundlessly that many teens no longer have any realistic sense of what they’re ultimately preparing for, or even that they are preparing for something (Clark, C).” Holden mentions early on that he “act [s] like I’m about thirteen. It’s really ironical because I’m six foot two and a half and I have gray hair” (Salinger, pg 13). The parental neglect he experienced has had significant impact on his “adolescent journey”, making him act more childish. Finally, Holden concludes his story by admiring Phoebe on her carousal ride. “I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth.” (Salinger, pg 275). Holden was bursting with emotions at this very important moment in his story. At this point, Holden realizes that Phoebe is growing up extremely quickly and he comes to the realization that becoming an adult is not a terrible idea. Additionally, he is reminded that he is not alone in life, he has the company of many including his younger sister, Phoebe. This can explain the sense of euphoria Holden was feeling at this moment and further explain the depression he felt whenever he felt he was alone.
In essence, Holden’s prior experiences during his childhood was the main factor that caused him to be the person he was shown as in the novel. The experiences an adolescent undergoes carries with them into adulthood. These experiences, in Holden’s case, can set back the development of his personality and “adolescent growth journey”. Holden’s story can be an example for the detrimental effects an adolescent will face if they do not spend enough time with adults or parental figures, suffer the death of a loved one, and lack a proper family structure. The childhood of an adolescent can set the tone for the rest of their life and contributes a great deal to a person’s personality along with how they deal with certain situations. Similar to Holden, these types of problems during the adolescent period can carry through to adulthood.