In The Catcher in the Rye

In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger shows his main character, Holden Caulfield’s internal decline by expressing it through his language and detail in order to exemplify it. He uses certain phrasing and characteristics to help readers understand the physical deterioration that leads to his struggles throughout the novel. Along with this, Salinger uses certain language, actions, and behaviors to demonstrate it as well. Due to this, his audience is able to better comprehend what Holden goes through internally and how that is portrayed in the novel.
As the novel begins, Holden discusses how he is currently in the process of being expelled from Pencey Prep. In the first chapter, Holden thinks back to a memory in which he is playing a game of football with friends and he says that, “I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I waited a second till I got my breath. I have no wind… I’m quite a heavy smoker, for one thing – that is, I used to be” (Salinger 5). He goes on to mention that he didn’t know why he was running and that he felt as if he was disappearing. Seeing as Holden starts off his story by describing to the readers that he feels that he is disappearing, ultimately leads to the thought as to why Holden would feel this way. He also adds that he suffered from Tuberculosis because of his excessive amount of smoking, the fact that Holden was diagnosed with Tuberculosis at such a young age could later be related to his fixation on death and the passing of his brother Allie.
As the book progresses into its first few chapters, Holden’s physical issues become more prominent and obvious. In the seventh chapter, it is evident that Holden cannot sleep, which is a repeated occurrence in the book, and he goes to Ackley’s room. The further into the book that one gets and the more Holden talks about his lack of sleep, it aides in the realization that a lot of his recurrent thoughts or dreams that he has are due to his severe lack of sleep. This scene with Ackley is not exempt from this. The more that Holden recognizes his own loneliness lead him to have an unhealthy and depressed state of mind for one part of the chapter in which he says, “I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I was dead” (48). This quote goes to show the knowledge that Holden had on his own emotions at this time, yet the root of his internal thoughts were from the fact that he hadn’t been able to sleep that night or some nights to come.
Throughout the novel, Holden continuously mentions and asks people he comes across if they know where the ducks in Central Park go to in the winter as their pond is frozen over. To Holden, this question is perfectly rational as he just wants to know what happens to them and why people aren’t caring to find out. In the fourteenth chapter of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is recovering from his traumatic experience with Maurice and Sunny which resulted in him getting painfully beat up by Maurice. Holden’s physical state of being regresses considerably when he states, “What I really felt like though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window” (104). Not only does this show that Holden has repetitive thoughts of his own suicide, but it also can link back to the first chapter in which he talked about how he felt like he was disappearing. As well as this, in a rather symbolic way, this idea can also tie back in with needing the answer to his insistent question on the whereabouts of the ducks in Central Park. It also relates to Holden’s deterioration because he, in a way, sees himself as these ducks and he only wants to be able to know who could give him potential help, what might happen to him after this part of his life has finished, or where he will go from here. Holden never gets the answer that he really wants and constantly asks himself and others about it because he wants to know what will happen to them and to him.
Towards the end of the novel, readers can see Holden from a completely different viewpoint. Holden becomes so severely broken down and he demonstrates this through his actions and language. His physical state deteriorates again in the twenty-fifth chapter in which Holden visits the museum that was previously mentioned in the book however at the time he had not entered it. He falls apart when the scene describes what happens to him by Holden saying, “I sort of passed out. I was lucky thought. I mean I could’ve killed myself when I hit the floor” (204). This as well brings forth the overall idea of him deteriorating throughout the novel by showing that he is quite literally weakening in his physical being, however the fact that he passed out and again has his recurrent suicidal thoughts tells us as readers that due to his lousy sleep patterns, he is now dealing with blackout that gave him no previous sign of occurring. This can tell one that he is now both physically and emotionally sick, continuously exhausted, and possibly even malnourished. To add on, in the last two chapters, Holden goes through an abundance of emotions so far to the point in which it alludes to the fact that he has a nervous breakdown and ultimately ends up in a psychiatric ward. Holden is watching Phoebe on the carousel after yelling at her and even contemplating whether or not to hit her, it is almost as if he comes to the realization that all of the work he has put in, all the trauma and suicidal thoughts had finally lifted and he essentially breaks down from sheer happiness, however for the majority of the book it is largely noticeable that his patterns of behaviors and what he goes through are sure signs of Holden dealing with very intense depression.
In summation, Holden Caulfield is not only an immensely complex character but as well as someone who struggles greatly with his internal decline and physical deterioration. Salinger uses specific details and actions to allude to what Holden is facing throughout his story. While he also leaves several scenes up to each individual’s own interpretation, he effortlessly goes into great detail to make it known to his audience what Holden is struggling with and how to better comprehend those issues.