Insanity is a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behaviour, or social interaction. It is when one does something out of the ordinary; yet feels as though it is justified. These perspectives of insanity are likewise portrayed in literature. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger examines the behaviour and relationships of Holden Caulfield, a young boy who is living with mental illnesses–a perceived form of insanity-in a sane world. This is seen through Holden’s inability to deal with the world, his obsession with irrelevant details, and his overly judgemental and critical nature.
Holden Caulfield is unable to accept the realities of the real world due to the death of his younger brother, Allie. Holden blames the world for the injustice of losing Allie. To help himself cope, Holden immerses himself in unreasonable fantasies. With Maurice, Holden acts as if he has been shot after being punched in the stomach. He says, “About halfway to the bathroom, I sort of started pretending I had a bullet in my guts. Old Maurice had plugged me” (Salinger 103-104). Rather than accepting that he has been punched, Holden immerses himself in his fantasy world.
Whilst there, Holden plans a dramatic revenge against Maurice. He plans to go downstairs to find Maurice holding his stomach while leaking blood on the floor. Once Holden had found Maurice he would fire six shots in his stomach. This is seen as being insane due to the fact that Holden would go so far as to killing Maurice to get revenge. Another incident is with Sally Hayes where he imagines the two of them going up to a cabin in New England, getting married, and becoming self-sufficient. He says: What we could do is, tomorrow morning we could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont, and all around there, see….
We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out. Then, when the dough runs out, I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all and, later on, we could get married or something (Salinger 132). Holden has an idea, which he believes to be the best idea of his life. He believes that running away with Sally will help solve his problems. Holden does not think everything through, he just asks Sally. Sally thinks his idea is irresponsible and dismisses him.
She tries to explain to him that they are still young and have their whole lives ahead of them. Holden is unable to grasp this, which leads to a fight between the two which is left unresolved. This shows that Holden would rather run away from his problems than face them. With Phoebe, she asks what he wants to do with his life. He says: I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—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 I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all (Salinger 173). Holden wants to become a rescuer to all the children who might suffer in their lives. They are able to continue along with their lives, and Holden will be there to protect them and their innocence. Holden sees this as his fantasy because a catcher would have caught his little brother, Allie, or failing to do so, would have caught him and saved him from his pain and loneliness. Holden understands that what he wants to do with his life is unreasonable but would rather do so then grow up to be a phony.
This shows that Holden would rather see the world as his own fantasy than deal with the realities of the world around him. The real world goes on in quite an ordinary and predictable way while Holden immerses himself in his fantasies to escape from these realities. Holden is too caught up in his own fantasies to realize his mind is just not right. Although, the other characters find Holden to be caught up in his fantasies and his actions to be out of the ordinary, Holden feels they are justified. Holden Caulfield focuses on many minor details which are seen by the other characters as being irrelevant.
To begin, Holden becomes obsessed with the phoniness in society. From his classmates, to his teachers, to his so-called friends and even to the general public, Holden finds a way to present that every one of them is somehow phony. This is first seen when Holden mentions Mr. Ossenburger, a man who made a great deal of money by giving cheap funerals. Holden says that Mr. Ossenburger “… came up to school in this big goddam Cadillac, and we all had to stand up in the grandstand and give him a locomotive-that’s a cheer” (Salinger 16).
Holden sees him as a phony due to the fact he frequently talks about integrity and prayers to the students while he takes advantage of families who are mourning. Moreover, he sees the school as being phony because they named a dorm after Mr. Ossenburger solely for the fact he gave them money. Next, Holden is obsessed with saving children’s innocence. Holden goes to Phoebe’s school to leave her a note. Once there, he finds profanity written on the walls of the school. He states: “It drove me damn near crazy.
I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them… what it meant, and how they all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days” (Salinger 201). Holden becomes angry and his reaction reflects his concerns for children and their innocence. He understands that as you grow up you lose your innocence and once that is gone there is no changing that. He rubs the profanity out with his hand to make sure the children are not exposed to it at a young age.
The graffiti continues to taunt him as he goes to the Museum of Natural History, where he finds it written on the walls. Holden tries to change something that is inevitable. Throughout the novel, Holden’s obsession with where the ducks from Central Park go in the winter is shown. This is first seen when Holden takes a cab in New York to the hotel. He questions, “Well you know the ducks that swim around in it? In the springtime and all? Do you happen to know where they go in the wintertime, by any chance? ” (Salinger 81).
Holden questioning people about the ducks is seen multiple times in the novel. When questioned, the other characters become sore. They see Holden’s question as being silly due to the fact most people figure out when they are young that birds fly south in the winter. Holden does not see his question as being silly as he is genuinely concerned for the ducks and where they go. In a way, Holden sees himself as the ducks because he wants to know where he is going and cannot find the answers. Holden’s obsessions bring to light his mental illnesses.
From his obsessions it is possible that Holden has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is presented through his lack of focus and impulsivity which is seen in ADHD, and his obsessive thoughts which are presented in OCD. Holden Caulfield has a preconceived mindset which leads to him having a judgmental and critical nature. This is seen for the first time when Holden goes to the house of his history teacher Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer tries to reach out to Holden and provide guidance to him. Mr. Spencer says, “Life is a game, boy.
Life is a game that one plays according to the rules” (Salinger 8). Holden disagrees with him and becomes frustrated. He then refuses to engage with Mr. Spencer, not giving him his full attention, and becomes eager to leave. Holden sees him as being senile, phony and pathetic. Holden’s negative attitude prevents him from forming intimate relationships with others. Later, Holden’s judgmental attitude is seen when he meets the three girls in the Lavender Room of his hotel. He says, “At the table right next to me, there were these three girls around thirty or so.
The whole three of them were pretty ugly… (Salinger 69). After calling the girls ugly he then decides that he enjoys the company of one of the girls because he finds her cute. However, he becomes disgusted with all three of them because he thinks they are superficial and do not care about anything important. This shows that Holden is quick to judge based on appearance and his critical nature. Next, his critical nature is seen when talking about his brother, D. B.. Holden criticizes his brother for pursuing his career in screen writing. He says that D. B. , “… went out to Hollywood and prostituted himself” (Salinger 80).
This shows Holden’s judgment towards D. B. , Holden believes that he is using his talent inappropriately as a writer and should be writing books rather than scripts for Hollywood. He believes that his brother is a sellout due to the fact he gave up on the intellectual side to writing and is now writing purely for the money. Furthermore, he criticizes him for not valuing himself enough to find a real job and now groups him with the other phonies in his life. Holden’s judgmental and critical nature prevents his perception, behaviour, and social interaction with others from being seen as normal.
Although the author, J. D. Salinger, never specifically reveals Holden Caulfield’s mental state to the reader, it can be inferred that Holden is mentally ill. Holden has an inability to accept the realities of the world, he becomes obsessed with many irrelevant details, and has an overall negative attitude towards the other characters. These three characteristics of Holden contribute to his inferred mental instability. When Holden has trouble dealing with the realities of the world he immerses himself in his fantasy world.
The other characters understand Holden’s actions as being abnormal because oftentimes he is talking to himself or is not making any sense. Holden’s obsession with irrelevant details infers that he may be suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This can be inferred due to his lack of focus and obsessive thoughts. Holden has a negative attitude where he is overly judgmental and critical to those around him. This makes Holden’s perception, behaviour, and social interaction to be seen as abnormal. After being examined, it is clear Holden is insane in a sane world due to his mental state.