In our lives, there are many different people we meet, and all of them unique in their own way. Each and every person has their own personality, and meeting someone new can be a wonderful experience. An event like no other is meeting the protagonist from the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield. Encountering him is an experience all on its own, for he is a rare literary character. Holden is a complex character affected by the death of his brother Allie, challenged by bipolar disorder, and burdened by his self-imposed responsibility as the catcher in the rye.
The life of Holden Caulfield changed forever the day his brother Allie died of leukemia. He held a special place in his heart for his younger brother, and when Allie died, Holden took a turn for the worse. His reaction to Allie’s death is shocking yet understandable during a time of grief and anger. Holden admits to sleeping in the garage the next night. “I broke all the goddam 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 all. (Salinger 37)
Expert analysis claims: “Ashamed of his need- a sixteen year old crying out for emotional support- and unable to accept kindness since in his guilt he feels he doesn’t deserve it, Holden is locked into his grief and locked out of family and society. “(Miller 132-133) Even after Holden has resolved many of his issues, he still has not dealt directly with the death of his brother, even by the end of the novel (Bloom 14). One of the most telling pieces of evidence comes when Holden is asked by his roommate Stradlater to write a composition for him about something described in detail.
Holden agrees, and decides to describe Allie’s baseball mit, the only thing he has left of him. After labouring over the composition for hours, Stradlater returns and reads the piece. Not only does he get angry that Holden wrote about a baseball glove, he knows it is too good to claim as his own. He insults Holden, “No wonder you’re flunking the hell out of here. You don’t do one damn thing you’re supposed to. “(Salinger 41) Holden immediately reacts by tearing up the paper. His feelings are basic; if the paper is not good enough for Stradlater, then it is not good enough for anyone.
Further evidence of Holden and his inability to come to terms with Allie’s death are apparent when he describes his feelings towards ‘goodbyes’. Holden indicates that he is not very good with them, and when leaving Pencey, he needs the reassurance that it is, in fact, goodbye. “I was trying to feel some sort of good-by… I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel worse. ” (Salinger 4) Holden does not get to say goodbye to Allie, for he did not attend the funeral because of his broken hand. I wasn’t there.
I was still in the hospital. ” (Salinger 155) Holden was not able to have closure over the death of Allie, and is essentially still grieving. Afterwards, Holden and his sister Phoebe discuss his catcher fantasy, which was brought on by Allie’s death. It is Allie who fuels his desire to save children from growing up and becoming corrupt. (bellmore-merrick) In his catcher fantasy, Holden expresses the idea that he should have saved Allie. Being so young, it is likely that he blamed himself for his death and never got over it, even after many years (Miller 140).
As the novel draws to a close, Holden is on the verge of a breakdown. As he walks up Fifth Avenue in New York City, “something very spooky happens. “(Salinger 197) Almost delirious, sweating in the cold air and increasingly ill, Holden imagines that as he steps off a curb he may disappear before he reaches the other side. He asks Allie to help him by crying out to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. “(Salinger 198) This is the last time Holden calls out to Allie, which means he is now turning away from the past and death and into a new direction (Miller 141).
From this point on, Holden begins making changes and better decisions (Bloom 20). The question of whether or not Allie will ever be summoned again remains, and the reader is left wondering if Allie Caulfield rests in peace. Throughout the course of the novel, Holden becomes more and more depressed about life in general. He often makes comments on how something depresses him, or something makes him crazy, or he acts like a madman. There is something strange about his behaviour and discontent for everything.
Holden suffers from bipolar disorder, which makes a person become clinically depressed and is defined as “a common illness characterized by current episodes of mania and major depression. “(bipolarhome) Holden may only be observed throughout these four days in New York, but we see him later in the novel, with a slight understanding of where he might be. Many see him narrating his story to an analyst in a mental institution. Holden makes many references to suicide throughout the novel, which is typical of someone with bipolar disorder (Rosen 98).
Also, Holden has an obsession with death and things associated with death, like dirt, decay, bodily functioning, filthy finger nails, mossy teeth, smelly socks, a rusty filthy razor- all things old, just like most characters in the novel, referred to as “Old somebody,”at some point or another. Holden has the criteria for “definite depression”: loss of energy, agitation, feelings of self-reproach and guilt, complaints of diminished ability to concentrate, mixed-up thoughts, and recurring thoughts of death (Edwards 113). Holden cannot remember what happened between chapters twenty-five and twenty-six, with a span of one a year in between.
This is a characteristic of mania: those who suffer from this disease cannot usually remember what they said or did during the manic period. Also, Holden exhibits some symptoms which must be present in mania: distractibility, racing thoughts, and push of speech (bipolarhome). Another characteristic of mania is overspending. Holden leaves Pencey with plenty of money, to the point where he flaunts his wealth; yet, he returns home soon after literally throwing his last dime into a pond. Another symptom is a loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex.
Although Holden has a distaste for all activities, sex is something he never tires of talking about. He considers himself to be “the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. “(Salinger 62) When he calls Sunny the prostitute up to his room, he decides not to have sex with her. He explains it as simply not being in the mood. Why would Holden have hired a prostitute when he did not want sex? It makes no sense at all. By the end of the novel, we find Holden recovering from his illness somewhere out west. Holden is very much challenged by this disorder, which has affected virtually every facet of his life.
One of the most centralized themes in the novel was the loss of innocence. After Allie died, Holden lost touch with the rest of the world and began to change into something he aspired to be: the catcher in the rye. “That’s all I’d 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. “(Salinger 173) These words give a clear indication of how far gone Holden really is. He does not want children to grow up in a world that is filled with corruption, for they will soon be exposed to those evils and lose their innocence (bellmore-merrick).
One thing that angers Holden is the writing on walls, the “Fuck You” he sees all over the city. Holden tries to erase as many of them as he can as he tries to live up to his responsibility as the catcher in the rye. The children in the elementary school attended by his sister Phoebe are innocent because they viewed society without the negative aspects, only the positive ones. By erasing these words, Holden will be “saving” the children who would have read it and wondered what it meant, only to find out what sex really is. Anyway, I keep picturing all 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. 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. ” Holden’s fantasy can be broken down as such: the children in his fantasy represent the world’s young people, and the fact that they’re playing in a big rye field indicates just how young and innocent they are (Glasser 96).
Holden, the only “big” person there, views himself as the sole protector of these children from falling off this huge cliff, whose fall represents the fall from innocence. “Holden plays the pastoral Jesus figure, a shepherd in the rye field who would save the innocence and purity of the small children, who make up the Salinger ‘flock’, from the fall, the cliff, the dangers beyond the field. “(Wienberg 66) Although what Holden is doing seems right, it is actually hiding the children from the reality that is our world.
His intentions may be good, but sheltering children from reality is not. “Children are to be exposed to the world, the good along with the bad. “(Galloway 32) Throughout the novel, he worries about the children who have to see the writing on the walls. By hiding the children from the “Fuck You”s on the walls, he delays the inevitable that everyone has to grow up someday. Holden is often asked by many adults when is he going to grow up and make something of himself, when is he going to apply himself in his studies, work hard and make his way in life.
Holden flunks out of school after school, and only after leaving Pencey does he realize that there is something wrong with his ideal job: it does not exist; also, he admits it an impossible task when he says “If you had a million years to do it, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible. “(Salinger 202) After coming to this realization, Holden is able to come to terms with the fact that children are going to have to face reality someday.
He may have trouble dealing with his role a the catcher in the rye, but he eventually has to abandon it altogether. As Phoebe rides the carousel at the close of the novel, Holden remarks on children and innocence. “All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold rings, you have to let them do it, and not say anything.
If they do fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them. “(Salinger 211) This is the point where Holden completely abandons his role as he watches Phoebe ride the carousel reaching for the gold rings as she goes around and around. He still worries she falls off, but he will not do anything about it, because she needs to experience it for herself. Experience is what life is all about. When taking away bad experience at a young age, what will they come to expect when they grow older? Unlikely anything that is bad or could hurt them.
Holden has learned that he cannot live up to his self-imposed responsibility as the catcher in the rye. The complexity of Holden has been examined through the death of his brother Allie, dealing with his bipolar disorder, and dealing with his self-imposed responsibility as the catcher in the rye. Meeting Holden is an experience for young readers, for the book deals with issues that are pertinent to them. Holden, being a unique personality different from all others in literature, makes this novel one to be remembered. Meeting someone new certainly can be quite the learning experience.