'You are here because the outside world rejects you'
Found on the walls of a mental asylum in 1954
Mental Health in the 1950’s was seen as a weakness and was deeply repressed from society. People with mental illnesses had an irreversible stigma cast on them and were perceived as freaks of nature and as people who needed to be rejected from society. People who showed traits of having mental illnesses were sent to the hell of a mental asylum, where cruel ‘ treatments’ took place such as lobotomy and electroconvulsive. People were genuinely frightened of people labelled with a mental illness and thought they were dangerous and did whatever they could to not associate with them. It was not something that people would talk to one another about and it was a tabooed topic.
Mental Health within Catcher In The Rye
J.D Salinger uses the technique of characterisation and the constant use of negative words within the book to express the mental state and health of Caulfield. For example, the word nervous appears 25 time in the novel and the word depressing is used 50 times ! For example the use of the below quotes highlights the obvious depression Caulfield was experiencing.
“Okay, I said. It was against my principles and all, but I was feeling so depressed I didn't even think. That's the whole trouble. When you're feeling very depressed, you can't even think."
“I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead.”
Caulfield also had a disregard for his own wellbeing and shows self-damaging traits by his substance abuse with alcohol
An example of Caulfield's abuse of substances
'I probably wouldn't have done it, but I was getting drunk as hell."
"Boy, I sat at that goddam bar till around one o'clock or so, getting drunk as a bastard"
J.D Salinger challenges the common idea of mental health for teenagers in the 1950’s by taking the attention and stigma away from people with mental health issues being presented as ‘freaks’, and makes them seem more relatable. He presents them as people who have been deeply hurt throughout their life. Not as freaks of nature and people who need to be rejected from society and put into the hellish places of the mental asylums. J.D Salinger is challenging the assumption through his characters. Caulfield wasn’t the average teenager. He had issues deep within his childhood that troubled him constantly throughout his life. These problems, such as his brother’s death and the absence of his parents, are the cause of Caulfield’s mental health issues of depression and anxiety. He could also have borderline personality disorder because of his ongoing urgency to fill the emptiness within him with excessive drinking and spending. Because of this, he finds it hard to maintain peoples company, as he constantly invites people for drinks etc and is constantly rejected. For example, Caulfield invited numerous people for drinks while he was in New York, but was left lonely at the bar that night, and when he was having a drink with his friend Carl Luce, he begs him to stay for another.
J.D Salinger is challenging the concept of someone with a mental illness because he thinks the treatment of them is unfair and irrelevant. He believes they should be treated like normal people who have had a rough upbringing. He doesn’t see them as damaged people, as outcasts, however he sees them as people who need a bit of help because of the hardship in their lives.