Cultural Assumption 2:
Mental health is someone's condition in regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.
Mental health is only just starting to be understood and accepted today, so you can only imagine what the understanding was like in the 1950s. Before the 1950s, mental health was considered to be taboo and no one talked about it. During the 1950s, people were becoming aware of mental illness, however had no idea how to handle nor what it really was. People didn't whether someone was mentally ill or just sad. The concept of puberty didn't exist back in the 1950s either so teenagers didn't have anyone to talk to about the way they felt nor did they know how to deal with their emotions.
The understanding of mental illness in the 1950s was that it was a disease. People who had a mental illness were considered to be 'defects' and were outcasts. They were usually put into mental institutions as people thought that they were 'crazy'.
Example of a psychiatric ward in the 1950s.
Mental Illness in
The Catcher in the Rye
JD Salinger expresses the mental illness in the novel The Catcher in the Rye through his use of character. He uses the main character, Holden Caulfield, to show mental illness in life of a teenager. In fact, the whole story is about how Holden ended up in a mental institution.
In the novel, Holden is constantly talking about how he is miserable, depresses and lonely. 'It made me feel sad as hell' (chapter 13). He sometimes even has suicidal thoughts. 'What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window'(chapter 14).He also cries quite a few times in the book. 'quote' The author gives us the idea that Holden is depressed for a few reasons. The major reason being the death of him little brother Allie, who past away a year before the story is set from leukaemia. 'Boy, I felt miserable. I felt so depressed, you can't imagine. What I did, I started talking, sort of out loud, to Allie. I do that sometimes when I get very depressed'. (chapter 14) Holden also feels as though he is alone and nobody understands him.
He also talks about how he wants to move away where nobody knows him and pretend that he is deaf and mute so that he never has to talk to anyone. 'Just so people didn't know me and I didn't know anybody. I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody'd think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone.'(chapter 25). This presents the idea that Holden doesn't want to associate with people, this could be a key symptom to mental illness.
Holden also idolises his little sister, this is odd as she is younger and she should look up to him. 'You never saw a little kid so pretty and smart in your whole life. She's really smart. I mean she's had all A's ever since she started school.' and 'You'd like her. I mean if you tell old Phoebe something, she knows exactly what the hell you're talking about. I mean you can even take her anywhere with you. If you take her to a lousy movie, for instance, she knows it's a lousy movie. If you take her to a pretty good movie, she knows it's a pretty good movie.'(chapter 10). He sees her as a role model, this is because he doesn't have anyone else to look up to, nor does he have any support on how to deal with his problems. Also, Phoebe is the only person he can connect with. This lack of support leads to Holden feeling as though he is alone.
Holden also talks about how he is constantly nervous and anxious. He talks about how he is always sweating and shaking. He also is always saying that he swears he is insane or that he is a crazy.'It was a lie, of course, but the thing is, I meant it when I said it. I'm crazy. I swear to God I am..' (chapter 17). This behaviour is similar to that of someone who has anxiety. Therefore this shows that Holden not only suffers from depression but also anxiety.
Holden also talks about not being able to explain his feelings, this could be due to the fact he doesn't understand what it is going on in his head.
JD Salinger challenges the idea of mental illness through the use of theme and flashbacks.
In the novel, Holden is only ever happy when he has flashbacks of his childhood. He is shown to be happy when talks about his little brother Allie and the memories he shared with him. He is also happy in his flashbacks of when he went to the museum for school trips.'The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole […]. Nobody'd be different.' (chapter 16) Also, when he flashes back to the times he spent with Jane he is happy. 'I held hands with her all the time, for instance. That doesn't sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with. […] We'd get into a goddam movie or something, and right away we'd start holding hands, and we wouldn't quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.' (chapter 11).
The theme in the story is escape. Holden is constantly talking about running away and getting away from it all. 'I have about a hundred and eighty bucks in the bank. I can take it out when it opens in the morning, and then I could go down and get this guy's car. No kidding. 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. I could chop all our own wood in the wintertime and all. Honest to God, we could have a terrific time! Wuddaya say? C'mon!'(chapter 17) Holden wants to run away so that he can live a simple life and where his problems wont affect and where he can forget about them entirely.
Holden also talks about he wants to become a 'catcher in the rye'. This is someone who would catch children before they fell over the edge of the cliff when playing in the rye. This is Holdens way of saying that he would like to help children so that they don't suffer. It also shows that he is hurting from losing is younger brother and wants to prevent any more children from dying.
I believe that the reason why JD Salinger challenges this is because he believes that the issue of mental illness needed to be addressed. In the 1950s people didn't know much about mental health, therefore they didn't know how to recognise or treat mental illness. The fact that teenagers were being ignored didn't help them deal with their problems and how to handle growing up. He made mental illness a major part of his novel to make people more aware of the fact that mental illness is a problem that needs to be dealt with.