Quotes on Depression in The Catcher in The Rye

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  • 0:01 The Abyss of Depression
  • 0:18 Afraid of Disappearing
  • 1:42 Death and Dying
  • 2:30 Everything Makes It Worse
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

''The Catcher in the Rye'' by J.D. Salinger is a novel about a teenage boy who is consumed by depression. In this lesson, we will take a closer look at depression through the eyes of Holden Caulfield.

The Abyss of Depression

In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield is spiraling deep into the abyss of depression. Each failed attempt at feeling something ends up making him feel worse. In this lesson, we will learn more about Holden's depression.

Afraid of Disappearing

Sad, lonely, depressed, suicidal…these are the kinds of things that Holden feels repeatedly throughout the novel. He recognizes the problem, so why can't he pull himself out of it? More than once, Holden talks about feeling as if he is disappearing. Perhaps because when his little brother Allie died, it felt like Allie just suddenly disappeared. Holden first talks about this after he is expelled from Pencey Prep and runs to Mr. Spencer's house to tell him goodbye. 'After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.' In a way, Holden is disappearing from Pencey.

Holden talks about disappearing again at the end of the novel, after making the decision to hitchhike to an unknown town and start over. He is so miserable in his life that he feels the need to escape, but he is afraid of being alone and forgotten. He talks with his deceased brother, ''I'd say to him, 'Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie.' And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him.'' Talking to Allie is something Holden does when he feels really depressed.

Death and Dying

When Mr. Spencer tells Holden to get himself together or he'll regret it 'when it's too late,' Holden immediately thinks of his demise. 'I didn't like hearing him say that. It made me sound dead or something. It was very depressing.' Holden considers his death two other times over the course of three days: When icicles form on his hair in the park, he decides he is dying of pneumonia, and when he reads a magazine article about cancer after spending the night at Grand Central Station, he determines that he is likely dying from cancer.

While the idea of disappearing through death makes him uncomfortable, there are several times during the story that Holden wishes he was dead. Just before meeting Maurice, the pimp, Holden was thinking, 'I wasn't sleepy or anything, but I was feeling sort of lousy. Depressed and all. I almost wished I was dead.'

Everything Makes It Worse

Holden is in such bad shape at this point that almost everything makes his depression worse. You can hear it in his words when:

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