A Psychoanalysis of Holden Caulfield's Daydreams and Fantasies

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In The Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger creates a timeless antihero who embodies flawed adolescent confusion and brash teenage skepticism. Holden Caulfield’s two hundred-page testimony to the reader—littered with his colloquial prose and cynical opinion—helps the audience understand his attitudes and identify his yearnings and tendencies. One of the best ways to capture Holden’s imagination—to really understand why he does what he does—is to examine the several daydreams and fantasies that take place in his mind through the course of the book. With some psychoanalysis, it easy to see what the daydreams reveal about Holden’s personality and under what circumstances he allows his mind to daydream. First, Holden sometimes daydreams as a plea to collect sympathy from surrounding people. He fantasizes about his family to vent the regret he has for his stoic family life. Finally, he imagines scenes in desperation to avoid the coming of age he fears so much. Holden fantasizes as a means of collecting sympathy, channeling regret, and stalling adulthood; he always allows himself to do so when he feels uncomfortable or pressured.

One of the “themes” that drives Holden’s mind is the genuine desire for sympathetic nurture. He needs people to pity him, and sometimes he fabricates situations to make people feel bad. One example is Holden’s encounter with Mrs. Morrow on the train. When the woman shows curiosity in Holden’s leaving school early, he replies with a white lie: “‘It’s me. I have to have this operation’” (Salinger 58). Mrs. Morrow begins to express sympathy, at which point Holden’s thirst is satisfied and he begins to regret leading her on. It is this type of charity which he thrives on. When the situation does not allow Holden to sell his poor-boy routine in real life, he actually imagines his problems in an attempt to collect a sort of simulated pity. A good example is the hotel scene on pages 103-104: in reality, the pimp Maurice punches Holden. His...
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