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Holden Caulfield Has More Than Depression

By , Bolton, MA
In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield is a sixteen-year-old boy who has difficulty dealing with his personal life and the loss of his innocence. It is common for teenagers to act out, but the way that Holden puts himself on display can lead to numerous assumptions about his state of mental health. From what is presented in the story, many are able to see that Holden meets various standards of the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder; therefore leading to the common assumption that he has a mood disorder. However, he also meets much of the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not a disorder that teens are commonly diagnosed with, but it can start in the adolescent stage. The reason teens are not usually diagnosed with this particular disorder is because by definition, if an individual were to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, their personality and brain would have to be fully formed. By law it is said that a person’s personality and brain is fully formed at age 18, which is the legal age of consent and adulthood. For this reason, it was said for years there were no “Borderline” teens. It is a rare case when a teenager is fully diagnosed and not just given the diagnosis of “Borderline Traits.”
“Borderline Traits” are the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder on a lower scale. However, this term is only often used to describe teens rather than adults. To be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, one must meet at least five or more of the diagnostic criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). Holden Caulfield puts forth five of the nine. He shows frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment; as well as having a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. He demonstrates impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, substance abuse). He admits to chronic feelings of emptiness. Then lastly, he displays inappropriate, intense anger and difficulty controlling it (e.g., frequent displays of temper, recurrent physical fights).
When faced with a situation that appears to be an effort of abandonment, Holden turns to either excessive thoughts of running away from the circumstances or completely ignoring the circumstances all together. For example, when he failed out of his preparatory school, Pencey, and was told he was to leave the following Wednesday, he went to a drastic measure of running away from the school and lodging in various places in New York City. A case of him ignoring some efforts of abandonment would be when he is receiving a lecture from his history teacher, Mr. Spencer, about the previous expulsions from his other preparatory schools. He then “shoots the bull,” talking about whatever his teacher wants to hear. However, he is thinking about other things that do not apply to the conversation or he is devaluing individuals from his preceding days at the schools.
The devaluing and idealization of people in one’s life is a key part of the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Holden shows this symptom quite frequently throughout the novel. He often devalues adults, calling them “phony” while on the other hand completely idolizes children, believing that they are the epitome of innocence. When he calls adults “phony” he seems to be trying to protect himself from the pains of adulthood and the loss of childhood ignorance and purity. For instance, he states that one of the main reasons he left his school, Elkton Hills, was because he was “surrounded by phonies.” One of these “phonies” was his headmaster, Mr. Haas. Holden declares that Mr. Haas was “the phoniest bastard [he] had ever met in [his] life.” He says that the headmaster would subtlety deny speaking to a child’s parents if the parents seemed or dressed corny. Though he feels trapped by his own oncoming age of adulthood, the innocence of children is his escape. Holden especially admires his younger sister Phoebe Caulfield. He often says that things she does “kills him,” meaning that they amuse him. These black and white thoughts are what keep him from having solid interpersonal relationships.
Not only does his black and white thinking affect him, but also Holden’s impulsivity is what decreases his chances of having a stable lifestyle. When he is in New York City he repeatedly acts on impulse. He often walks aimlessly around the city or takes cabs, spending money frivolously on, when he can get them, alcoholic beverages. He even spends money on a prostitute. However, he never engages in sexual activity with her. It would seem that the spending of the money, in general, was enough for him. Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder claim to have a feeling of consistent emptiness that they try to fix with many impulsive actions. The spending of money and the constant alcoholic drinking could be Holden trying to fill that empty void that is inside him.
Anger is Holden’s key Borderline Trait. Habitually, he displays it when he is threatened or even just a little upset. For example, when his roommate at Pencey, Stradlater, takes Holden’s childhood friend, Jane Gallagher, out on a date, Holden feels protective and tries to defend Jane’s honor. He thinks that Stradlater is going to “give her the time,” which is a way to say he is going to have sexual relations with her. He then physically assaults Stradlater, but fails to win the fight. It results in Holden bleeding profusely. Another case of Holden’s anger is when he is telling his sister Phoebe that she cannot run away with him. He states that he “felt like [he] was going to smack her,” because she was being so defiant.
Holden Caulfield also shows somewhat of a “Major Depressive” quality in areas of the novel, yet his so called “Major Depressive Episodes” are not two months apart. Furthermore, he has many small “Manic Episodes” rather than one that carries on for a week or longer. These characteristics are indeed possible for Holden to possess and the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder could be attached to the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Nevertheless, his relationships, impulsivity, anger, and other features specifically decode Borderline Personality Disorder.





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Abigail_W said...
Jun. 23, 2009 at 3:26 pm
Although I see your point, I disagree. A person that I know looks down upon the "phonies," or the authorities, and acts on impulse. When he moved from Massachusetts to New York City and was told that he could not vote for president in the City, he defiantly walked the span of Manhattan to a courthouse, where he got his proof that he could vote. In addition, he dotes over me, as Holden doted over Pheobe, because I am only twelve years old. In spite of this, he does not have Borderline Personality... (more »)
 
Bobb replied...
Jun. 1, 2016 at 11:35 am
Dear god you're an educated child.
 
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