"Catcher in the Rye" Cultural assumption 2:

Mental illness misunderstood in the 1950s

* Mental illness was defined in an extreme way in the 50s, causing the public to reject mentally ill people and see both patients and doctors of mental illnesses in a very negative way.

* One in three families would admit a family member to a mental institution during the 1950s. Holden Caulfield starts and finishes his journey in a mental institution. Mental illnesses were seen to be best dealt with in an institution and with things like lobotomies, electro-convulsive treatments and anti-psychotic drugs rather than counselling.

* Maybe if Holden Caulfield had received some counselling or had better communication with his parents his state of mind might not have been so bad.

* In Catcher in the Rye, Salinger uses the language technique of repetition when he refers to mental health. He regularly uses the word “depressed” to emphasise the point.

* Salinger also focuses on the fact that Holden Caulfield is not a happy teenager. He spends most of the novel being negative except when he talks about his childhood with Phoebe, his sister. 

* Salinger uses the symbol of the ducks in Central Park to show how Holden has many of his questions about his life go unanswered. No-one can answer Holden's questions about where the ducks go in winter just like his own questions about life go unanswered and this develops into something severe such as his mental breakdown.

* Holden Caulfield is a traumatised teenager, especially after the death of his brother, Allie from leukemia and his friend’s suicide. He shows many symptoms of mental health problems. Salinger challenges some of the cultural assumptions about teenage mental health  through Holden Caulfield and he tries to show that mental health issues are a real problem for teenagers in the 1950s and need to be addressed rather than just saying that their behaviour is due to “teenage delinquency".

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