Holden Caulfield entered my office a seemingly controlled, passive young adult. It would become utterly obvious that he was the complete opposite. Exposed to great trauma at a very early age, he desperately tries to control everything in his life: maturation, innocence in others and himself, and various other trivial subjects in life which others might pass by. Ultimately trying to be a "Catcher In The Rye"ÃÂ, he wants to control and protect the people he loves. Also showing classic symptoms of a borderline personality disorder, he has a severe inability to experience "middle grounds"ÃÂ of situations, emotions, etc. This is reflected in almost everything he says and does.
To lose something or someone close to you is a trauma at any age. The younger the mind is, and the less experienced, the more severe the effects of the trauma. Holden lost his brother Allie to leukemia. Holden would be the middle child after that loss, leaving him the most vulnerable.
His older brother D.B was old enough to accept the terrible events and cope with them. His younger sister Phoebe was too young to have a concept of what was going on around her at the time. This left Holden: young, confused, angry and alone. "I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage."ÃÂ (38-39). Thirteen years of age is just beginning the adolescent years - a time of maturation and change, but also a time of great confusion.
A Freudian theory many of us in the medical community are familiar with is the theory of defense mechanisms. This theory describes different actions the mind has been known to do in response to a trauma. If I were to pinpoint a mechanism here, I would have to say it is a form of Regression. Regression as you know is the return to a state of mind to a time of happiness and security before a trauma. Holden experiences this in a different way. He is developmentally FROZEN at the age of 13. It is as if he were walking along a road of life, hit an invisible wall (Allie's death), and fell down unconscious. After he awakens, he finds himself unable to continue walking even though he appears to be un injured, and the wall is gone. This all occurs on a subconscious level of course. He is completely unaware that this has happened to him. He just assumes that Allie died and he got over it. However, we can clearly see this being "stuck"ÃÂ as a lack of maturity in every action Holden does, every situation he gets in, and how he handles such situations. He attempts to be a 16 year old maturing, but his mind and emotions cannot function at this level. He reacts as a younger boy still at the age of 13.
Holden's 16 year old ID (his wants) and ego (trying to find ways to satisfy these wants, or fulfill them) are in constant conflict with his 13 year old, undeveloped superego (what regulates the two). There is no better example of this than his outlook on sex. He said possibly the most interesting thing I have ever heard from the mouth of a 16 year old: "In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn't mind doing if the opportunity came up. I can even see how it can be a lot of fun, in a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all over each other's faces. The thing is, though, I don't like the idea. It stinks, if you analyze it. I think if you don't really like a girl, you shouldn't horse around with her at all, and if you do like her, then you're supposed to like her face, and if you like her face, you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff to it, like squirting water all over it."ÃÂ (62) There is much conflict and confusion in that statement. To begin, he states that in his mind he is extremely sexually charged. This is his ID screaming: the voice of a 16 year old. He then goes on to say that he thinks of sexual practices that he would like to try if he could. This is the ego of a 16 year old devising ways to fulfill the ID. Then he shows his true colors in describing what is obviously his 13 year old superego. His theory is simple: If you do not like someone, do not "horse around"ÃÂ (it is also interesting that he refers to sex in this manner). If you do like someone, you should not want to do anything to damage them (do crumby stuff to them). He cannot grasp the idea that sex is a deep form of expression between two people. He cannot see past the fact that it may involve "doing crumby things"ÃÂ to them. This will enter into my second diagnosis, which I will explain later.
Holden even mentioned to me early on how awkward he was (physically) and how he became this way. "Another thing, I grew six and a half inches last year. That's how I practically got t.b and came out here for all these goddamned check-ups and stuff. I'm pretty healthy though."ÃÂ (5) He later mentioned that he had some gray in his hair as well. He told me of countless times he attempted to be served in bars and pubs, but would be turned down. He was an awkward looking boy in my personal opinion, but just desperately wanted to engage in a 16 year old activity such as drinking. It was a "gown-up thing to do"ÃÂ.
What Holden does not detail in this description of himself, is WHY he would be made to come out around these parts for t.b. check-ups. He assumes that it is because of grew six and a half inches, but cannot make a full connection. He may have experienced fatigue, gain/loss of weight and/or appetite, and other classic signs of an oncoming growth spurt.
I found it intriguing that Holden hardly ever mentioned his parents, or any other influences in his life while growing up (or now for that matter). He mentioned them once, very early in our first session. They are a reason he does not discuss his childhood with me. He stated "In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages a piece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all-I'm not saying that-but they're also touchy as hell."ÃÂ (1) If I were to evaluate this further, I would say that he has separated himself from his parents. If this is so, it would be completely subconscious. Reasons for this possible difficulty might be because Holden believes his parents have failed Allie. They have failed in keeping him alive. They also never properly explained death to Holden when he was blindsided by it. He hit the invisible wall, and his parents didn't explain what it was, where it comes from, what it does, or how to move around it. This leaves a void in Holden's knowledge. He does not fully understand death, so he is very curious about it: both attracted to it, and repelled by it. He always mentioned it in our sessions. It became a constant, noticeable condition. Every situation he would find a way to weave in the word or concept of death. It was most interesting.
There is another affect this type of trauma has on a person. The day Allie died, Holden realized that life was a hard place. He learned a hard lesson for everyone to learn, and he did not have a choice of when or how to learn it: sometimes, no matter what you do you can't control every outcome of a situation. Sometimes it just doesn't matter if all the right things are done. Terrible things can happen to people without explanation. This is a large contributor, if not the sole source, or Holden's cynical outlook on life and people in general. Throughout all of our sessions, I remember him having excellent things to say about three people: His little sister Phoebe, his late younger brother Allie, and Jane Gallagher - a childhood friend, and adolescent crush.
Jane Gallagher is perhaps the only person outside of Holden's family that he loves. He speaks of her in an almost angelic fashion. He had feelings for her when he was a child (a first crush) and cannot stop thinking about her now that she is back in his life. However, when he thinks of her now, he associates her with Stratlader (Holden's roommate). He loathes the way Stratlader doesn't show any true feelings for her, even forgetting her name sometimes. He always thinks to himself how he should call her and catch up on old times, as most of us would. But rather than getting up to get the phone and calling her like he should, he always finds ways to distract himself or do something else rather than call her.
I have seen this before in many cases similar to Holden's. Holden does not want to call her because he needs to keep his perfect image of her unchanged, the way she was back in his childhood. He is deeply afraid subconsciously that if he meets her that either A) He will somehow ruin what they had, and what they could have B)He cannot control who or what she now is. If he never sees her for what she truly is now, he can have her as his forever. He can keep that image of her as the little girl he used to hold hands with and came close to "necking with"ÃÂ. He is afraid that if he sees her that she will have started the transition into adulthood, and he will be faced with the fact that he has not, and cannot.
Phoebe is his epitome of innocence. She is a little girl who has not yet seen the evils of the real world, therefore she herself cannot become part of it. She is also a type of reality check for him. She is the one who pins him in the corner and accuses him of not liking anything. When she asks him to name one thing, he persistently told me how hard it was for him to concentrate. He kept concentrating on two nuns that he was currently watching. He names Allie, and "chewing the fat"ÃÂ with Phoebe. She yells at him for saying Allie, because he is dead. Holden yells, exclaiming "I can still like him though can't I!? Just because somebody's dead you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake - especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people u know that are alive and all."ÃÂ (171).
Holden sees her as one of the very last things he can control and perhaps save. She goes on a carrousel, and he keeps paying her way . She goes around and around and around. Dr Wood he wants her to keep going around and around in childhood. Never growing up, never maturing, never having to go through everything between being a child and an adult. She asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, and he explains the poem If A Body Meet A Body Coming Through The Rye. In brief doctor, if perhaps you are not familiar: Holden states "I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in some big field and all. Thousands of little kids "ÃÂ and nobody is around-I mean "ÃÂ except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everyone if they start to go over the cliff"ÃÂ (173). This brings in two theories: perhaps Holden desires to be a hero, saving many people from dying. Holden wants to stand there and catch the children before they start to grow up, mature, and become adults with lives. He wants to preserve everyone's innocence as well. If they dive off, it will be his fault that they die, or mature and have awful things happen to them. He cannot control what happens to them later on in their lives, and he is afraid he will have to shoulder huge amounts of blame for this failure. He doesn't want anyone to suffer what Allie suffered, or what he suffered.
Holden is still holding on to the memory of Allie. This is not necessarily wrong, but he speaks of Allie as if he were still alive. He is one of the things he likes in this world. Holden is in a state of mind in which even if he knows Allie is dead, Allie is more alive to him than anyone else.
As for my second hypothesis, I will take a more clinical angle. Holden shows a number of signs of having a borderline personality disorder. Holden sees life in two shades "ÃÂ black and white. He sees situations in two ways "ÃÂ good and bad. Right and wrong, etc. There is no middle ground. Another symptom is that if something is not right there in front of someone's face, it does not exist. It is not in their world. Therefore, they do not have to worry about them. The saying "out of sight, out of mind"ÃÂ applies.
This explains a great deal about Holden. He loses fencing foils, but is so nonchalant about it. He loses an entire team worth of foils, he leaves them on a subway, and he is too preoccupied with a bright red hat to care. Because these foils are out of his sight, he could not care less where they are! They cease to exist. The notion of what goes out of his sight goes into his pre-conscious. He is aware of them to some degree, and the thought of them can be summoned at will, but is not readily available in his mind.
Holden's bright red hat is, well bright red. It has an extremely long flap. He goes for everything in an extreme. It is a hunting hat by design, but that doesn't matter to Holden. If it is extreme, and loud, screaming a message of "look at me"ÃÂ, then he is drawn to it. His sexual confusion feeds into this in that Holden does not see anything other than the two realms of "liking a girl"ÃÂ and "not liking a girl"ÃÂ. There is nothing in-between. Anything involving maturity to Holden falls into two realms "ÃÂ Young and Old. He does not want to accept the responsibilities and changes of going through the maturation process. He figures that because he grew 6.5 inches, he MUST be an adult. He drinks and smokes, and is angered when he is denied a drink at a bar. He is surprised when people think what he tries to do is ridiculous (example, trying to get together with the women in the bar). He does not know that to get to a destination, you must suffer through the journey.
If I were to recommend anything for Holden Caulfield, I would suggest that he seek continued therapy. Medicines might be helpful to decrease his anxiety. Therapy would help him shade in a gray area in his life, as opposed to letting him only have two worlds.
As a start, I would have Holden seek a therapist and be put under hypnosis. He needs to access, confront (slowly), and begin to deal with and heal the memories of Allie and what happened. The only way to get up from his "crash with the wall"ÃÂ is to help him see it, and eventually break through it. And we all know that the only safe way to break through a brick wall is a little at a time. This will be hard for Holden because he will want to recover and be able to change his life around on a dime. He will be displeased with the fact that it will take time.
I will digress for a moment, professionalism aside, to say that I pity Mr. Caulfield. He is but 16 or 17, and he has such a long road ahead of him in terms of therapy and medications. Different doctors, clinics, and methods of treatments are available for his many difficulties. The only other suggestions I would have for him would be some kind of partner. Perhaps even something so simple as a pet. (Something to keep him company through his therapy). For it is through his therapy that he will be able to become a functioning member of society once more. It will be a hard day though for Holden when he realizes that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot be the Catcher in the Rye he so aspires to be.
Not everyone will go through what Holden went through in his most tender and vulnerable of adolescent years. I hope that those who do will have someone to not catch them before they jump, but give them a little push and cushion their journey down. I hope that any future Holden Caulfield will not be held back by brick walls or a "catcher"ÃÂ, but rather be led to the edge slowly, and have someone guide them as they learn to fly.