Failed Support Systems in Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


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Failed Support Systems in Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger



Life is difficult especially for a teenager as they try to discover themselves. To make this journey of self-discovery alone is especially difficult. Support systems offer guidance and comfort along the way. The primary support system are parents. They begin the preparations for a child to take his place in society. Religion offers moral guidance. Friends offer positive self-esteem and encouragement. In the book, the Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, the main character, Holden Caulfield, has none of these support systems. He lives in a form of isolation from his parents, religion, and friends.
Parents are the most important support system in their children’s lives. There is a breakdown in this support system for Holden. His relationship with his parents is very dysfunctional; he rarely talks to them and avoids seeing them in person. Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield have their own life agenda, which doesn’t include Holden as a priority. Their obligation is mainly to pay for the various boarding schools he attends. Holden’s parenting comes mostly from these boarding schools. Holden even feared returning home or was ambivalent about seeing his parents. When he did return home to visit his sister, Phoebe, he avoided his parents as much as possible. “It was a helluva lot easier getting out of the house than in, for some reason. For one thing, I didn’t give much of a damn anymore if they caught me. I really didn’t.” (p. 180) Any person that has a good relationship with their parents would certainly try go to them for help especially if they were in a difficult time in their life. Holden was undergoing a very difficult time in his life; he was lonely and desperate for someone to talk to. Instead of seeking his parents, he chose to avoid them. This portrays the lack of the primary support system in Holden’s life, his parents.
Religion can be a strong support system providing guidance, comfort, and answers during difficult times. This is of no avail to Holden. Holden can find neither solace nor direction from religion because he can’t pray and doesn’t like the disciples. “In the first place, I am sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.

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” (p. 99) Holden didn’t like ministers. He thought they sounded phony when they preached. “If you want to know the truth I can’t even stand ministers. The ones they’ve had at every school I’ve gone to, they all have these Holy Jo voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that.” (p. 100) Holden had no trust in religion. He especially distrusted Catholics. For example, “But Catholics are always trying to find out if you are a Catholic even if they don’t know your last name.” (p. 112) Holden suspected that Catholic people though not really prejudice would prefer to talk with other Catholics. Lacking faith in religion, Holden could not avail himself of this valuable support system during this difficult time in his life.

A 17-year-old student should have many friends, young and old, and male and female. He should have access to relatives, peers, siblings, teachers, ministers, and parents. Holden Caulfield had access to none of these. Holden lived in New York City, the most populous city in the country, and yet his loneliness increased. No one except his sister, Phoebe, could maintain Holden’s level of purity. Therefore Holden lost his trust and faith with almost everyone he came in contact with, destroying his support system of friends. The height of Holden’s despair occurs when he hires a prostitute. Sunny, the prostitute, meets Holden. Holden says, “Don’t you feel like talking for a while?...Are you in a very big hurry?” (p. 95) Sunny replies, “What the heck ya wanna talk about?” (p. 95) Holden answers her, “I don’t know. Nothing special. I just thought perhaps ya wanted to chat for a while.” (p. 95) Holden’s support system of friends is in such disarray that he must pay a prostitute, not for sex, but for conversation which he is starved for. Instead of being with a familiar friend or respected adult, especially when feeling low, Holden must resort to a prostitute for understanding. Several other friends lost Holden’s trust because of their actions, which he deemed unacceptable. For instance, Holden wants to respect and trust Mr. Antolini, a teacher. An incident where Holden discovers Mr. Antolini rubbing his head while he was supposedly asleep, resulted in Holden discarding Mr. Antolini as a friend. Incidents such as these, typified Holden’s dysfunctional friend support system.


Holden continues into despair. He is facing the world alone even though he truly doesn’t want to. His support systems are in disarray. The loneliness and despair of his life become apparent when he is walking down 5th Avenue at Christmas time. He became panicky as he was crossing a street, he had the feeling as if he would disappear and no one would care because no one was even aware of his existence. “Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddamn curb, I had this feeling that I would never get to the other side of the street. I thought I’d just go down, down, down and nobody’d ever see me again.” (p. 197) Holden’s isolation had reached a critical point and his support systems were of no help. Interestingly enough, to reduce his panic, Holden cannot pray or think of a friend, he must confide in someone that is not alive, his brother Allie. Holden’s life seemed to be disintegrating as he left one school after another, all the while feeling more disengaged from life. The steadying influence of parents, church, and friends were not available to ease Holden’s burden. As his narrative ends, he seems destined to continue his lonely life.


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