What Is Insanity?

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Insanity in Society

“Most people assume that the majority is right, that society is normal and sane, and that the misfit, dissident, loner, or nonconformist is abnormal and possibly mentally ill. That’s what they are programmed and conditioned to believe. It is a classic ‘cattle control’ method of getting the herd to keep itself in line” –Unknown

Society programs the minds of individuals to accept what it considers normal, and to reject the abnormal; to discriminate against those who do not conform to societal conventions, deeming these individuals insane. Society also asserts other contrasts such as only black and white, and good and bad. In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, speaks of his adventures which gradually lead to his mental breakdown. Readers sympathize with Holden at the onset of the novel, but nearing the conclusion Holden begins showing signs of what society would label psychopathy. Through Holden's situation in Salinger's realistic fantasy, the concept of insanity is expressed as the result of social norms pressed upon individuals by society. Insanity as a construct of social norms may be examined through the events leading Holden to his mental breakdown. This includes Holden's refusal for a sense of change, his judgemental and hypocritical thoughts of others, and his alienation from civilization.

Holden Caulfield knows he does not fit in with his peers, and they know he is different. This results in Holden's peers labelling him as an outcast, and Holden's refusal for a sense of change leads to his mental breakdown. For example, Holden seeks comfort in the displays of the Natural Museum of History - particularly the Eskimo display. Holden says “the best thing, though, in the museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move...Nobody’d be different. The only thing would that different would be you” (Salinger 155). Holden refuses to believe that the display changes, only believing things outside of the displays are able to change. This includes the people he goes with, or, as Holden states, if “you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with the gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way” (158). Despite how many times Holden goes to the museum, he can always rely on the fact that the Eskimo exhibit is never going to change. Holden never allows himself to look closely into details or else he would have to face the reality of change, whether it is the Eskimo being moved, the paint chipping, or an additional background piece being added. Holden deals with not wanting change differently than other people, and his peers reacted by exiling him from their society because he was not like them. Another example of Holden’s refusal for change was that he did not want to grow up, become an adult, and be a ‘phony’. This is why Holden wanted to be the ‘catcher in the rye’; he wanted to be the protector of innocence. Holden did not want children to grow up and lose their innocence, so he wanted to ‘catch’ them before they fall into the world of adulthood. He believed that it was his responsibility to save them, “I have to catch everything if they start to go over the cliff-I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all”(225). This shows that Holden does not want anything to change, despite that he made no personal connection to the children. Overall, his disconnection from reality and his naive view of the world stem from his refusal for change and because of his views; his peers rejected him, knowing that he was different from them.

Holden’s character show signs of realism through his judgemental and hypocritical thoughts of other. Humans natural instincts are to judge upon appearance, whether it is to decide to befriend a person, or assessing the dangers or a situation. Holden...
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