Mental health in the 1950s was not understood to the depth it is today . People with disabilities were treated horribly and were institutionalised in most cases. There was a lack of knowledge and awareness of mental illness and the cultural assumption and attitude towards people who suffered from a mental illness was that they were violent and frightening . People suffering disabilities were seen as outcasts and not fitting in with the status quo that was expected .
In the novel The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger demonstrates the cultural assumption of Mental health through his main character Holden Caulfield's use of language and repetition.
J.D Salinger challenges the idea of the cultural assumption through his use of character and absence of Holden's parents .For example when Holden returns home after flunking out of school his parents are not present leaving the audience with the impression of unimportance towards his family. Holden repeatedly states things like
'Boy, did I feel rotten. I felt so damn lonesome. '
and feels like he can't turn to his parents/ unable to express his feelings to anyone.
"I couldn't think of anybody to call up."
"I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered".
Holden has many suicidal thoughts throughout the novel . This is shown in the repetition of the word depressed ,worried, nervous and lonely .
" I can't stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy"
"I was too depressed to care"
"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."
"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."
He always talks about how he wants to move away and how much he hates everyone because they are all "phonies or they are crumby". Proving how he feels misunderstood and socially rejected.
J.D Salinger challenges mental health in the 1950s as he makes Holden seem unaware of his state as he obviously suffers from depression and anxiety making him feel misunderstood and lonely . Therefore it gives us the impression that mental health was not understood and teens as well as adults needed to be educated .Communicating that maybe mental health is not the problem however the lack of knowledge of how to treat and deal with it is.