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The Diagnosis: Holden Caulfield
Transcript of The Diagnosis: Holden Caulfield
Sigmund Freud & the Human Psyche
Sigmund Freud was a scientist fascinated by humanity's development and curious how to treat mental illnesses. The father of psychoanalysis, Freud would talk to his patients to discover what their repressed problems. He developed a theory, based on two important parts of the mind:
conscious- everything humans are aware of
unconscious- everything repressed
all by myself
Holden creates his isolation, mostly because he alienates himself in his quest to be superior and compensate for his feelings of inadequacy. The loneliness that Holden creates makes him miserable, but he is unable and unwilling to connect to the people around him. He believes everyone is "phony", and does not wish to associate himself with fake people.
Despite his aversion of phony people and situations, Holden delights in lying about who he is, further concreting his inability to honestly relate with those in his community.
Freud & Caulfield
Based on Freudian psychology, Holden's super ego is his reluctant acceptance of society and its standards.
His ego is his own awareness of the people around him, and how they could and are hurt by his actions: his mother, the women at the bar, Sally Hayes. Interestingly, his ego overpowers his other impulses in situations with women, since he is still a virgin despite his physical desires.
Holden's id includes all of his impulses and rebellious tendencies: his sudden choice to leave Pencey for New York City, his fixation on sex, his inconsistency and inability to act on a thought, and his pleasure in intentionally deceiving strangers.
Freud would probably conclude, as do many of his followers, that Holden's id, ego, and superego were in conflict too often for him, and that any illnesses he may have stemmed from these imbalances.
Holden does feel inferior to almost everyone around him, because he desires to be superior than everyone else. He constantly mocks and hurts other people to make himself feel superior, when he only feels more inadequate.
The best example of Holden's strange complex is his relationship with his family. The reason he cares so much for both Allie and Phoebe is that they admire Holden more than his parents or D.B. do. He feels appreciated and loved by his younger siblings, which encourages him and gives him confidence.
What is it?
Holden was probably diagnosed with manic depression, based on his isolation, loneliness, lies, and constant depressed feelings, which is what put him in the institution to recover.
However, today he could be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps, as Freud's psychology suggests, he is just a sexually frustrated teen whose id, ego, and superego are imbalanced. Perhaps his indifference to life is caused by emotional trauma at witnessing too much death.
the lying game
the disenchanted youth
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Three entities within the unconscious mind govern basic abstract functions.
- basic instincts
eros: life-sustaining instincts
thanatos: destructive instincts
- responsible for achieving goals on a realistic, socially acceptable level
- center of moral responsibilities and standards
A major problem Holden has is his constant, unnecessary impulse to lie to strangers. While this makes him an untrustworthy narrator, it also opens the door to quite a few psychological possibilities. His lying could be an outburst of
, but it could also be signs of a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder.
His desire to lie may stem from a desperate attempt appear interesting to people who do not need to know his real identity, in an attempt to feel superior. He definitely finds pleasure in concealing and deceiving the people he sees, making his moments of honesty, such as his conversation with Sally Hayes and his confessions to Phoebe, much more powerful.
A few readers believe that Holden suffers from some kind of post-traumatic stress, which leads to his erratic behavior and impulsive decisions. Perhaps Allie's death had a more lasting impact than a broken hand, or perhaps it is his shock at finding James Castle dead after jumping from a window.
At that time, few people knew how to handle post traumatic stress, leaving it dormant in its victim until they had a breakdown.
the catcher in the rye
Alfred Adler's psychology hinges on belonging and feeling significant. Adler believed that almost everyone suffers from some kind of inferiority complex, usually because of their family constellation and where they belong in the family. This inferiority can contribute to an overall discouragement, which leads to rebellion and capitulation to society's standards.
Holden could have a major psychological problem, but perhaps he just does not care about the success society encourages. Novel for that time, Holden is openly against everything his society stands for: education, wealth, and marriage define the 1950s successful life, but Holden is not convinced by the display. Few authority figures in his life take Holden seriously or value his opinions, so Holden fights this "fake" world by not caring about anything and hating everything society admires.
The best indication of Holden's psyche is his desire to be a catcher in the rye:
"...if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and
them...that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
Holden wants to be something society does not support, something that does not define success in his society. He wants to rebel by being "unsuccessful", but never acts on his one desire. He is psychologically disturbed, probably suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, but his rebellion against society, while a new sentiment at the time, reflects how most teenagers feel at 16: confused, frustrated, and lonely.
What's Wrong with Holden Caulfield?
29 January 2015