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Holden Caulfield Essay, Research Paper

This book has been steeped in controversy since it was banned in America after it’s first publication. John Lennon’s assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book earlier in the morning of the day that he murdered Lennon. Police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the psychologically disturbed Chapman. However, the book itself contains nothing that could be attributed with leading Chapman to act as he did – it could have been any book that he was reading the day he decided to kill John Lennon – and as a result of the fact that it was The Catcher in the Rye, a book describing a nervous breakdown, media speculated widely about the possible connection. This gave the book even more notoriety. So what is The Catcher in the Rye actually about?

Superficially the story of a young man’s expulsion from yet another school, The Catcher in the Rye is in fact a perceptive study of one individual’s understanding of his human condition. Holden Caulfield, a teenager growing up in 1950s New York, has been expelled school for poor achievement once again. In an attempt to deal with this he leaves school a few days prior to the end of term, and goes to New York to ‘take a vacation’ before returning to his parents’ inevitable wrath. Told as a monologue, the book describes Holden’s thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown, symptomised by his bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behaviour, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.

However, during his psychological battle, life continues on around Holden as it always had, with the majority of people ignoring the ‘madman stuff’ that is happening to him – until it begins to encroach on their well defined social codes. Progressively through the novel we are challenged to think about society’s attitude to the human condition – does society have an ‘ostrich in the sand’ mentality, a deliberate ignorance of the emptiness that can characterise human existence? And if so, when Caulfield begins to probe and investigate his own sense of emptiness and isolation, before finally declaring that he world is full of ‘phonies’ with each one out for their own phony gain, is Holden actually the one who is going insane, or is it society which has lost it’s mind for failing to see the hopelessness of their own lives?

When we are honest we can see within ourselves suppressed elements of the forces operating within Holden Caulfield, and because of that I would recommend this thought provoking novel as a fascinating and enlightening description of our human condition. However, beware… for that very reason it is not comfortable reading.


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