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Psychoanalyze Holden? Eeeep!

Psychoanalyze Holden? Eeeep!

By Miss Marm

Terrified by your assignment? So's this Sparkler:

When I first walked into class and saw that our next writing assignment in my AP English Language & Comp class was to psychoanalyze Holden Caulfield (from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye), I was positive it was a joke.

After realizing that the assignment was deadly serious, she came up with the following:

Throughout J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield struggled through a journey home which culminated in a mental breakdown. The novel, Holden’s personal retelling of his downward spiral as told while in a mental institution, offers several possible explanations for his many problems. A combination of childhood neglect and the trauma of losing a sibling led to Holden’s disturbing actions, such as turning to cigarettes and alcohol, and distorted outlook on the world, including his captivation towards children and distaste for phonies, and eventually, his nervous breakdown.

Let's take it sentence by sentence.

Throughout J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield struggled [always use the present tense when you're discussing the events of a novel, play, short story, etc. It's just one of Those Rules.] through a journey home which culminated in a mental breakdown. The novel, Holden’s personal retelling of his downward spiral as told while in a mental institution [try not to cram tons of information into modifiers like this.], offers several possible explanations for his many problems. A combination of childhood neglect and the trauma of losing a sibling [hmmm. I'd pick one of these two] led to Holden’s disturbing actions, such as turning to cigarettes and alcohol, and distorted outlook on the world, [again, pick one of the two. Either disturbing actions OR distorted outlook] including his captivation towards children ["captivation towards children" isn't idiomatic. Try "captivation with children"] and distaste for phonies, and eventually, his nervous breakdown.

And now, the broader view:

I'm going to read your teacher's mind. I think s/he wants you to come up with a clinical diagnosis for Holden. Diagnosing H. Caulfield has long been a pastime of English PhDs, mostly because the novel supports so many different theories. He's sociopathic! No, he has dissociative disorder! Or maybe he's neurotic/depressed/suffering from a dire Oedipus complex! The text allows you to defend all of these interpretations, and more. Pick one (or one I haven't mentioned—but just one!) and marshal evidence to support it. For example:

Throughout J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield struggles through a journey home that culminates in a mental breakdown. The narrative, a first-person retelling of Holden's downward spiral, offers several possible explanations for his many problems. A close reading of the novel shows that Holden gets into trouble because he dreads being left alone. While his objectification of girls, his combative relationship with Mr. Antolini, and his fury at phonies may seem t0 be actions motivated by anger, in fact they all spring from Holden's terror of abandonment.

Please note: I'm not convinced that Holden is actually scared of abandonment. This is just an example, so that you can see how narrow your focus should be.

Feeling terrified of abandonment, or of your assignment? Tell me about it: missmarm@sparknotes.com.

Topics: theses, the catcher in the rye
 

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