Does being miserable, drinking away sadness, and ordering a prostitute sound like a troubled teen, or someone with a serious mental illness? In the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, a sixteen year old boy named Holden Caulfield gets kicked out of the private school he is attending and stays in New York for a couple of days instead of going home. Holden struggles with depression throughout his journey and has many problems like lying and drinking. Holden is suffering from depression because of many traumatic life experiences, most things make him miserable, and he participates in risky behavior to cope with his misery.
Holden is depressed because of many traumatic life experiences. Depression can be caused by “a traumatic life experience, such as the death of a loved one” (Fundukian and Wilson 632). When Holden was thirteen, his brother Allie died of leukemia. Holden was “only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all of the windows in the garage… It was a stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie” (Salinger 38-39). The fact that Holden punched out windows after Allie died shows the connection that they shared and the impact it had on him.
Another traumatic life experience for Holden was when he saw James Castle kill himself. Holden says, “Finally, what he did, instead of taking it back, he jumped out of the window… and there was old James Castle lying right on the stone steps and all. He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place, and nobody would even go near him. He had on this turtleneck sweater I’d lent him” (Salinger 170). James was a friend of Holden, in fact he was still wearing Holden’s turtleneck sweatshirt when he died. These traumatic experiences can be considered the start of Holden’s depression.
Even though Holden experienced traumatic experiences and has some symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he is depressed by a lot of things and does not feel a lot of stress, just sadness. Many things depress Holden during his journey. One thing that depresses Holden is physical illness. Holden describes Mr. Spencer as “Reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the place, and everything smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing. I’m not too crazy about sick people, anyway” (Salinger 7).
Holden is depressed by pills and medicine because he knows that pills and medicine are connected to physical illness. Holden believes that physical illness always leads to death. This thought of people being near death depresses him. Another example of what depresses Holden is in his conversation with Phoebe. Phoebe says, “‘You don’t like anything that’s happening. ’ It made me even more depressed when she said that. ‘Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do. Don’t say that. Why the hell do you say that? ’ ‘Because you don’t. You don’t like any schools. You don’t like a million things. You don’t’” (Salinger 169).
Phoebe is frustrated with Holden and is only trying to help him. She believes that his dislike for most is a sign of depression. Helpguide. org describes this sign of depression as “[losing] [the] ability to feel joy and pleasure. ” Holden has many problems that trigger his depression. As a result, he exhibits one of the core signs of depression, losing the ability to feel joy. Holden tries to cope with his depression by drinking and engaging in reckless behavior. Holden regularly gets drunk and tries to feel better by drinking, only to find out that drinking makes him even more depressed.
Mayoclinic. org describes another warning sign as “using drugs or alcohol. ” Holden drinks, smokes, and even ordered a prostitute at sixteen. That is very reckless. Holden says, “After old Sunny [The Prostitute] was gone, I sat in the chair for a while and smoked a couple of cigarettes… I felt so depressed, you can’t imagine” (Salinger 98). Holden hires the prostitute to make him feel better, when all it does is make him more depressed. Holden also drinks a lot throughout the novel. He says, “So all I did was, I ordered another drink. I felt like getting stinking drunk” (Salinger 144).
Holden is upset and miserable, so he tries to hide from his problems by drinking. Holden is in a cycle of depression. His depression caused him to hire a prostitute, smoke, and drink, when after he does these activities all they do is make him feel worse than he did before. Holden is depressed because he participates in reckless behavior. Holden suffers from depression throughout the novel. Holden is depressed because he experienced traumatic life events, many things make him sad, and he copes with his misery by participating in reckless behavior. What defines a normal teenager in today’s society?