Study Guide

The Catcher in the Rye Madness

By J. D. Salinger

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Is Holden crazy? Catcher in the Rye begins with a seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield telling his own story of a year earlier, with mentions of his having come "out here" to "rest up." So, how much of what he relates is normal adolescent behavior, and what is just psychotic? (Just for fun, ask your parents about the difference between “normal adolescent behavior” and “psychosis” and wait for their bitter laughter.)

Questions About Madness

  1. No, really, is Holden crazy? Why or why not?
  2. Holden says right off the bat (while still at Pencey) that his "nerves [are] shot." Is he just talking the talk, or does he really feel like something’s wrong with him?
  3. When Holden heads over to Mr. Spencer's house in Chapter One, he says, "It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road." What do you make of this, given Holden's climactic street-crossing episode in Chapter Twenty-Five? Does this mean that his "breakdown" (or "episode") was latent and therefore inevitable from the beginning?

Chew on This

While Holden can be considered crazy during his time in New York City, the presentation of his narrative suggests that by the time he's telling us the story, he's sane.

"Madness" is an irrelevant term in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden presents a world so absurd that his actions are neither crazy nor sane—they simply are.

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