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A family can be classified as one of many things. It can be a group of people living under one roof; a group of people of common ancestry; or even a unit of a crime syndicate like the Mafia (Merriam Webster). But to Holden Caulfield, the main character of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye, his family was what we as a society normally think of when that word is spoken. There are always variations on a theme, but a typical family consists of two parents and at least one child. During the 1950’s when the novel is set, adoption was virtually unheard of and divorce could be considered a sin where as today these are common practices. But one thing about family that has prevailed through the decades is the family’s affect on a person’s existence. The way a person interacts with their family can affect them for the rest of their lives. And the way a family interacts with a specific person can affect that person for the rest of their life. It is a two way relationship which is often complicated and confusing, especially to Holden.
Holden’s family is obviously very important to him. The novel opens with talking about his parents and his brother. Holden negatively criticizes them to hide the fact that he truly loves them. But, one would ask, how can you love those you never see? Holden is constantly being shipped from one boarding school to another. This absence between him and his parents intensifies his general alienation from everyone. Holden’s only real love in the family is for his sister Phoebe. The bond and respect between brother and sister can not be broken no matter how far the distance between them. When Holden arrives back in New York, he immediately wanted to call someone; his sister Phoebe. "She wouldn’t’ve cared if I’d woke her up…" (Salinger 59) Many people her age would not appreciate being woken up that late at night, especially by their brother, but there is a mutual respect between Phoebe and Holden that would allow for this event to occur. Through out the whole novel, this relationship continues because she is his little sister and he would never hurt her. In today’s world, this type of relationship is next to impossible.
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Holden’s absence from his parents creates the need to lie to keep from people getting to know his true self. "I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful." (Salinger 16) Even though in the back of Holden’s mind he knows this is wrong, it still indicates an emotional problem. An adolescent of his age knows the difference between truthfulness and lying, unlike a child, and tell elaborate stories that appear believable. Adolescents usually relate these stories with enthusiasm because they receive a lot of attention as the lie (AACAP). Holden strives for this attention because he does not receive it at home.
Holden’s drug use can be related to his family’s affect on him. Many times through out the novel, he tries to get drinks; "Can’t’cha stick a little rum in it or something?" (Salinger 76); or he is smoking; "She took a cigarette off me and I gave her a light." (Salinger 56). According to a survey done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in 1996, one popular reason adolescents do drugs is "to feel good" and also to relieve stress (CDC). The stress of Holden’s family on him can sometimes be unbearable that he resorts to chemical stimulants. This is still true today. The use of drugs and the ability to get them is becoming easier and easier. According to a poll taken in 1996 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 22% of teens surveyed say they drink at least once a week and 53% report some of their friends drink. And in the same poll shows that by the time teens reach the age of 17, 79% have friends who smoke and 26% admit to smoking themselves (National).
Holden also deals with frequent depression and resorts to the aforementioned solutions to help him cope with the "emotional state marked by sadness, discouragement, and loss of self-worth" (Mosby). This frequent depression can be common because of the natural maturation process but stress can also be associated with it such as conflict with parents (Mosby). When Holden is in a depressive state, he "…can’t even think" (Salinger 91) and this results in actions he does not want.
All of Holden’s actions are not due to the interaction between him and his family. Some are just the path of normal adolescent development. When Holden looks for comfort in a hooker, he was not looking for sex. He wanted to get to know her; "Don’t you want to talk awhile?" (Salinger 95). Holden did not want this experience to be unimportant like most adolescents his age. As one moves through high school, feeling of love and passion increase (AACAP). His separation from his family adds to his need for love, but at the same time, so does his age.
As in most situations, the people you interact with are important to the result of your actions. They can support or crush you. Having a supportive family makes all the difference in the world. They are not like friends who can come and go. They are your family from the beginning to the end.