Holden's Depression and Self-Doubt in Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

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As Eugene McNamara stated in his essay “Holden Caulfield as Novelist”, Holden, of J.D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye, had met with long strand of betrayals since he left Pencey Prep. These disappointments led him through the adult world with increasing feelings of depression and self-doubt, leading, finally to his mental breakdown. Holden’s first betrayal was that of his memory and innocence by an egotistical peer. At Pencey Prep, he roomed with a student named Stradlater; the epitome of a teenage jock. Stradlater was openly very vain; as Holden stated as he watched Stradlater gaze at himself in the mirror, “he was madly in love with himself. He thought he was the handsomest guy in the Western Hemisphere” (27). Because of his …show more content…
Now here was Stradlater who could not even remember her proper name! It was a great show of disrespect for Holden’s memory of this bubbly, kind girl; it was a betrayal of his innocent heart and childhood memories. Holden’s disappointingly cold experience with sex and prostitution after he leaves Stradlater and Pencey Prep is a betrayal of his childish dreams of greatness and celebrity. As he enters the elevator of a New York City hotel, the elevator boy asks him if he wants a good time. Holden agrees, as he is “starting to feel pretty sexy and all” (92), being his first official chance to live up to his dreams of sexiness and manliness. His mind even starts to wander to his grand fantasy of “Caulfield and His Magic Violin” (93) in which he is the most adored man in all the world. He never, however, lives up to any of these egotistical illusions. His disappointment comes knocking at the door in the form of a young girl named Sunny. The minute she undresses, Holden feels odd and uncomfortable. He “know[s] that you’re supposed to feel pretty sexy when somebody gets up and pulls their dress over their head” (95), but he just felt embarrassed for her. His ego and dreams come crashing down, as his night is not of good times and achievement, but of a too young girl who is as nervous as he. It was quite depressing for him to realize that the adult world was made up not of the movie-like dreams he had entertained for so long, but of timid, depressing reality.
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