In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger portrays Holden as a manic-depressive. He alternates between grandiosity and slight consciousness of his growing depression and the despair it causes, Holden slowly deteriorates throughout the course of the novel. Holden has several techniques to cope with his depression. He smokes, drinks, talks to Allie, uses the hunting hat, and mainly, cuts himself off from others, although not literally, both emotionally and physically. They may not be the best ways to cope, as Holden knows, but he finds comfort in these things. This theme flows
Holden uses the words “crazy” or “madman” quite often. At first,he seems to be a normal teenager having issues of identity, and it almost seem like he uses those kinds of words for effect. For example, whenever he says he’s crazy, all he means is that he’s acting either idiotically, or just out of the ordinary to what he’s used to, but not to describe that he’s actually going insane. Another example is when he says he wishes he was dead, it seems at first as if he’s saying it to make his emotions seem as intense to the reader as they are to him. But as the story unfolds, it’s revealed through hints with Holden’s words, as well as his body language that he is on the brink of falling apart, and almost sees suicide as “an only way out”.
One of the ways Holden copes is smoking, which he does every time he feels anxious or nervous.. For example, when Sunny, the prostitute, is in his room, he sees her as if she was nervous or anxious. When he offers her a cigarette, he’s aiming at the goal to see if it’ll calm her down, like it calms him down.
Instead of facing his problems, Holden drinks to try and forget about them. This doesn’t affect him in the best way. Holden is seen drinking constantly as a sort of coping mechanism to drown out emotions. Some might think that Holden has an extreme drinking problem, which he does. Almost all of his money is spent at the bars he goes to. And since Holden is a minor and he can’t drink (57), Holden feels as if he’s older or more mature when he does and the feeling satisfies him because he doesn’t want to be seen as a “phony”. Holden frequently states that he usually drinks when he has nothing else to do. He would stay out late drinking out of boredom and loneliness, which is part of what drove him mad.
Holden mentions Allie often when he feels depressed. Allie was everything to Holden. So when Allie died, it affected him more than he realized at the time. Allie’s death caused Holden to not want to connect with people out of fear and anger. He uses Allie as his idea of the perfect person, so whenever he sees something or someone that lacks innocence and integrity, he immediately rejects it and categorizes it as “phony”, which fuels both his loneliness and his depression.
Holden’s red hunting hat is the biggest symbols of him falling into depression (aside from the alienation symbolism). When he buys it in New York after leaving the fencing material on the subway, it shows emotional vulnerability. Despite the embarrassment he feels of wearing it in public (i.e. the train, the bar), the hat plays a key role of the way Holden sees himself. When he puts it on, he can be as ignorant and tough and, most importantly, as independent as he’d like to be, just like Allie and Phoebe. And, as it’s seen some times throughout the book, it drives him mad that everyone, including himself, isn’t as he portrays children, innocent. Later in the novel, not only does it drive him mad, but it depresses him.
Another factor that contributes to this theme is the constant disconnection from other people. It often makes him mad when he talks to people because of their phoniness, yet he’s later depressed with the fact that he’s lonely. Holden often lies to himself to ease the emptiness that he holds from regret. He often regrets not talking to the people he wanted to, which in turn makes him feel worse. Holden encounters a massive drop into his depressive state because of his detachment from society. He has fear of neglect, so he refuses to make any kind of strong connection with almost anyone. Holden’s depression is the end result of his detachment from society since he refuses to build social bonds and prefers to live in the past, with the memory of Allie.
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