Childhood is one of the most critical and important times in a child's life. Family should play a very large role in a child's life. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a family is "the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their own or adopted children" (419). A dysfunctional family unit lacks communication, love, and happiness. The children within a family need supportive, attentive parents to demonstrate positive attitudes even through traumatic events. The main character, Holden Caulfield, in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye lives in a dysfunctional family. He matures in a normal household in New York City until his younger brother, Allie, passes away. The once normal family suddenly turns into havoc. This novel portrays many aspects of life within a dysfunctional family, such as the Caulfields. The Catcher in the Rye is criticized by many people of all ages. Some schools have banned the book; others have argued it's important within the high school curriculum. Throughout this novel, J.D. Salinger illustrates the characteristics, causes, and effects of the dysfunctional Caulfield family.
The characteristics of a family are very important pieces to defining a dysfunctional family. The novel points out one character in particular who feels the need to hold the family together on a thin string, Phoebe, Holden's younger sister. When Holden comes home to visit Phoebe, their parents are not home. As Holden hides in the closet from his parents, he overhears Mrs. Caulfield and Phoebe talking, " I have a splitting headache,' my mother said. She gets headaches quite frequently. She really does. Take a few aspirins' old Phoebe said" (Salinger 178). Phoebe is being the caretaker in this example by replacing what a mother would say to a child with a headache. She is taking the responsibility of holding the fragile family together because her parents are not capable of that responsibility. Miller states, "she [Phoebe] is also an underaged, undersized mother figure" (Bloom 69). Phoebe feels the need to become a mother figured within a household that does not have one. She is not being forced to act this way, but feels the responsibility to hold together the family that is falling apart so rapidly. The youngest member of the family, Phoebe, tries to open the lines of communication within the family.
The Caulfield family cannot communicate with each other. Throughout the entire novel, Mrs. Caulfield only appears once. In this scene, she does not even communicate with Holden. Salinger illustrates Holden's reaction to hearing his parents arrive home, "I grabbed my shoes and got in the closet and shut the door I heard my mother come in the room I heard my mother go out and close the door" (Salinger 177). The manner in which Holden hides from his mother and avoids conversation, convinces the readers' of the poor communication between family members. Kermode states, "The only time his parents come into the story, he has to remain motionless in the dark" (Heiserman 489). Holdon and his family evidently have several communication problems. Holden is avoiding confrontation with his parents because he does not know how to communicate with them. In order to have communication within a family, the members of that family must have relationships with each other.
The relationships within the Caulfield family are extremely weak. Holden hides the fact that he got kicked out of another school from his family. He feels that the news would upset his parents too much for them to handle. Holden discusses the reaction his parents would have, "I didn't want to go home or anything till they got it thoroughly digested it and all. I didn't want to be around when the first got it. My mother gets very hysterical" (Salinger 51). He is afraid of his mother's reaction, so he avoids the topic of discussion. Phoebe is upset that she has to...