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Holden Caulfield is usually one of those characters that you either hate or

love. As Holden

begins his narrative about all the “madman stuff,” it’s established that his mental
health is deteriorating

(Salinger 1). Manic Depressive illness, commonly referred to as bipolar disorder, is a

mental disorder

that causes abnormal shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function
properly (Bipolar). The

three day period of Holden’s on and off depression can be classified as one of the
dramatic mood swings

that someone suffering from the disorder will experience. The dramatic mood swing
creates a feeling of

euphoria and changes abruptly to sadness (Bipolar). Holden’s progression from the
different episodes of

mania and depression is supported by Holden’s narrative in New York.

Throughout the novel, Holden constantly does things depending on his mood.
Holden’s slight

obsession with Jane Gallagher has him always talking about how he’s planning on
calling Jane but then

decides not to. Holden first brings up calling Jane when he is at Penn Station
(Salinger 59). Holden tells

the reader: “Then I thought of giving Jane Gallagher’s mother a buzz, and find out
when Jane’s vacation

started, but I didn’t feel like it. Besides, it was pretty late to call up” (Salinger 59).
Holden changes his

mind quickly about calling Jane and has an excuse that it was too late to call her
anyway. Holden is

trying to find something to occupy his thoughts throughout the night, he visits the
Lavender Room and

thinks of Jane again when he walks out of the door (Salinger 76). Holden says, “All of
a sudden, on my

way out to the lobby, I got old Jane Gallagher on the brain again. I got her on, and I
couldn’t get her off”
(Salinger 76). Holden is still thinking about Jane even though he’s just spent money
on drinks and

danced away with three girls of whom he’s never met before (Salinger 74). Holden
continues to talk

about Jane and the relationship he had with her during summer (Salinger 78).
Holden also finds himself

in a dilemma with a prostitute during the middle of the night and isn’t able to fall
asleep (Salinger 102).

While Holden is laying in his hotel room, he thinks of Jane again as he says, “I
thought of giving old Jane

a buzz, to see if she was home yet and all, but I wasn’t in the mood.” Holden
continues to think about

Jane even though he’s been through a rough night. His thoughts are racing back and
forth and he

doesn’t stop mentioning Jane until he calls her. Holden decides to call Jane when he
tells the audience:

“Anyway, I gave old Jane a buzz again, but her phone didn’t answer, so I had to
hang up. Then I had to

look through my address book to see who the hell might be available for the
evening” (Salinger 136).

Holden is able to show two things from what he’s telling the reader. Despite the fact
that Holden

consistently talks about Jane and implies affectionate feelings for her, he calls her
once after arguing

with himself but then decides to give up since she didn’t answer her phone. Then,
Holden seems to

forget about Jane immediately as he’s trying to find someone else to spend the
evening with. Holden is

easily distracted and jumps from one idea to another which shows that he’s going
through mood swings

and a manic episode (Bipolar). Holden’s thoughts are scattered and other examples
from his memoir

match him with symptoms of this disorder.

Holden tells the When Maurice, the elevator guy, asks Holden if he’d like him
to order him a

prostitute, Holden says “Okay,” but then says “It was against my principles and all,
but I was feeling so

depressed I didn’t even think” (Salinger 91). Holden doesn’t put a lot of thought into
his decision and it’s

easy to see that this decision was based on his mood. However, Holden himself isn’t
the main factor that

affects his decision because being affected by bipolar disorder causes Holden to
have poor judgment

(Bipolar). Holden struggles with his principles when he waits for the prostitute to
arrive; Holden waits

for the girl when he could’ve backed out of the situation by telling Maurice that he’s
changed his mind,

or left the building to avoid further conflict. Holden was unable to make a good
decision in the moment

and was too busy thinking about what would happen next.

The whole scene with the prostitute and Holden gives the reader a solid
example of how

Holden’s mood and thoughts change. Holden has a mixture of a lot of symptoms of

because he feels feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and having an empty

mood. Holden describes

the situation: “I was a little nervous. I was starting to feel pretty sexy and all, but I
was a little nervous

anyway” (Salinger 91). Holden was nervous a minute ago and regretted not
thinking before he made

the decision, now Holden tells the reader that he was feeling pretty sexy. Holden
goes from feeling

unprepared for his first time to anticipating it. It’s obvious that Holden’s mood is
unstable because it

swung quickly. More evidence is shown when Holden’s mood changes, again, when
the prostitute,
Sonny, arrives. As Sonny pulls a dress over her head, Holden says, “I know you’re
supposed to feel pretty

sexy when somebody gets up and pulls their dress over their head, but I didn’t.
Sexy was about the last

thing I was feeling. I felt much more depressed than sexy” (Salinger 95). Holden’s
whole mood goes from

feeling sexy for Sunny, and then to feeling depressed after Sunny arrives. It’s very
obvious that Holden’s

mood swings are caused by his bipolar disorder (National). Holden can’t explain why
he feels the way he

does but also can’t control why he’s feeling depressed, Holden is in the depressive
episode of bipolar

disorder and

Holden doesn’t rest while he talks about his experience in New York. His high
level of energy lets

him create an even more in depth narrative about his three day stay. When Holden
first arrives at the

hotel, he isn’t able to get any sleep. “It was still pretty early. I’m not sure what time
it was, but it wasn’t

too late. The one thing I hate to do is go to bed when I’m not even tired” (Salinger
66). Holden isn’t sure

about what time it is but assures himself that it isn’t too late. Holden’s thinking is
similar to an insomniac

because he finds a reason to deprive himself from an adequate amount of sleep

(Insomnia). Insomnia

can usually be caused by stressful situations in someone’s life; however, suffering

from a mood disorder

can cause but also become the outcome of insomnia (Carenotes). Holden recently
got kicked out of

Pency Prep for flunking out of his classes and he’s aware of the consequences that
would result once his

parents are notified (Salinger 9). Holden avoids the fact that he must see to his
parents about Pency
Prep and this evidently causes Holden’s stress level to go up. Holden’s restlessness
is a common

symptom of bipolar disorder (Carenotes). Being alone in New York contemplating

about going back

home, Holden’s stress is the reason for his lack of sleep. Despite the fact that
Holden doesn’t sleep, he

finds ways to pass time in New York by going to clubs around the city. Holden visits
the Lavender Room

in his hotel and parties with three girls from Seattle. He invites the girls to dance
with him. “I danced

with them all-the whole three of them—one at a time” (Salinger 73). Notice that
Holden is full of energy

to dance and jitterbug when he hasn’t been sleeping at all. When Holden leaves the
club, he takes the

taxi back to the hotel and the cab driver asks,

“Why ain’tcha home in bed?” and Holden replies

“I’m not tired” (Salinger 81).

Even after he’s spent a few hours partying with three girls at the club, Holden is still
full of energy and

doesn’t think he needs to get any sleep. Limiting how much sleep someone gets is
common for those

who suffer from insomnia (Insomnia). Insomnia is also a frequent outcome from
other disorder such as

bipolar disorder (Insomnia). Holden’s inconsistent sleep cycles are effects form his
disorder and affects

Holden every night he’s in New York.

Holden’s other distinct symptom of bipolar disorder is the fact that he gets
easily distracted

from small things. Holden is extremely irritable and irritability is one of the
symptoms of a manic

episode. During the beginning of the novel, Holden visits his history teacher, Mr.
Spencer. Holden
immediately regretted the visit because once he walked through the door, he
described Mr. Spencer to

be, “reading the Atlantic Monthly, and there were pills and medicine all over the
place, and everything

smelled like Vicks Nose Drops. It was pretty depressing” (Salinger 7). Holden was
able to feel depressed

just by seeing Mr. Spencer’s living room. Holden notices every aspect of the room
including the way it

smells and the medication on the table. Holden is easily annoyed by these things
that would only seem

natural to occur in an old man’s house. Someone who isn’t affected by bipolar
disorder would know that

the things in Mr. Spencer’s living room is common and would be rational enough to
let the fact go that

the room smells of medication and old men. Just the smell of the room can irritate
Holden and this

irritation is caused by the disorder. Throughout the conversation, Holden frequently

talks about things

that irritate him and label those things as “phony.” Holden uses “phoniness” to
describe the dishonest

ambiguity of the adult world but usually talks of “phonies” of being things with
miniscule details that

annoy him. Holden is able to recognize what is phony. In fact, it seems to be that
almost everything that

people would say is common, to Holden, is phony. Anything that is related to adults
is phony. If Holden

is the only one that can differentiate between phonies and non phonies, it’s showing
effects from

bipolar disorder. For instance, when Mr. Spencer talks to Holden about his parents
he tells Holden that,

“They’re grand people.”

“Grand. There’s a word I really hate. It’s a phony. I could puke every
time I hear it”
(Salinger 9).

Holden becomes distracted from one single word. Once Mr. Spencer uses the word
“grand”, Holden is

unable to really think about anything else he says. A simple word can annoy the hell
out of Holden. If

Holden wasn’t affected by his disorder, someone’s choice in words shouldn’t be

enough to piss him off.

Holden is extremely irritable and the fact that Holden might puke when he hears
one word shows how

irritable he is. Similarly, a small incident at Ernie’s club also annoys Holden. When
Holden emphasizes on

the fact that he is annoyed by all the phonies in the club, he narrates and says,
“People always clap for

the wrong things. If I were a piano player, I’d play it in the goddam closet” (Salinger
84). Holden says

this after the audience starts clapping at Ernie’s piano performance. Someone who
wasn’t affected like

Holden would probably see the applause from the audience as a sign of respect and
appreciation for

Ernie’s entertainment, however, Holden sees this as a very “phony” meaning

annoying gesture people

make. Holden feels as if these people don’t see the meaning of their clap at all and
praise simple tasks

too easily. The atmosphere of the club irritates Holden and he leaves the club to try
to rid his head of

“phony” thoughts. Holden is able to get mad, again, because of a small act like
applause from the

audience. Holden isn’t thinking. Holden is bipolar so he gets annoyed with anything.
Holden is extremely

irritable if he could be annoyed with the smell of a room or an audience’s applause;

For someone who

wasn’t bipolar, it would be unreasonable to be annoyed with these things. Holden

gets side tracked in a
“phony” world and this causes his high level of irritability.

Other situations in the book also support Holden’s diagnosis of bipolar

disorder. Apart from the

basic symptoms of mania that Holden matches, most people suffering in the manic
episodes of bipolar

disorder tend to think more about sex than usual (Bipolar). Holden says, “If you
want to know the truth,

I’m a virgin. I really am. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to lose my virginity and
all, but I’ve never got

around to it yet” (Salinger 92). This shows that sex and losing ones virginity is
something Holden has

thought about frequently and something that is important for him. Holden’s whole
idea is unusual when

compared to other teenagers. Most teenagers think of sex as a enjoyable

experience when it’s you’re

your partner, regardless of whether you’re a virgin or whether or not you love them.
With Holden, he

seems to think that sex is always going to be an act of lust because if you loved
someone, you wouldn’t

take their innocence away, which is what sex does, essentially. Holden considers sex
to be an act that

should be considered seriously. Holden explains that while he spent the summer
with Jane, “I really got

to know her quite intimately. I don’t mean it was anything physical or anything- it
wasn’t- but we saw

each other all the time. You don’t always have to get too sexy to get to know a girl”
(Salinger 76). Notice

how Holden clarifies the fact that he didn’t have anything to do with her physically.
Holden believes in

innocence and is determined to protect it throughout the book. His goal to protect is
the reason why he

thinks about sex often but isn’t mentally able to do it. Still, Holden thinks about sex
whenever anyone
mentions it around him. Holden is also more sensitive when he hears guys talking
about giving girls “the

time.” When Stradlater comes back from his date with Jane, Holden starts to
question him about his

date with Jane.

“What’d you do?” I said. “Give her the time in Ed Banky’s goddam
car?” My voice was

shaking something awful.

“What a thing to say. Want me to wash your mouth out with soap?”

“Did you?”

“That’s a professional secret, buddy” (Salinger 43).

Later on, Holden gets beat up by Stradlater because he ends up calling him a
moron. Holden is furious

that Stralater might’ve given Jane the time. Holden was constantly thinking about
whether or not the

two had sex and had particular interest in asking Stradlater that when he got back.
Knowing that Holden

suffers from bipolar disorder, his increased interest in sex is something he can’t
control. Holden is

curious about sexual acts but at the same time, despises those who do it with girls
that they barely even


When Holden decides to set up a date with Sally Hayes a series of things
Holden does are

symptoms of bipolar disorder. People suffering from bipolar disorder have a

tendency to talk abnormally

(National). When Holden is talking to Sally about the Lunts, Holden starts raising his
voice at her. “’Don’t

shout, please,’ old Sally said. Which was very funny, because I wasn’t even
shouting” (Salinger 131).
Sally notices that Holden is raising his voice and tries to tell him politely to speak
softer. However,

Holden is oblivious of the fact that he’s talking loudly and this shows that he isn’t
trying to shout at Sally

intentionally. Holden can’t control his volume like how he can’t control his temper.
Holden ends up

asking Sally to run away with him and get married. Sally tries to reason with Holden
and explain to him

that you “can’t just do something like that.” Holden is still unable to contain himself,
“’Stop screaming at

me, please,‘ she said. Which was crap, because I wasn’t even screaming at her”
(Salinger 132). Like the

conversation earlier, Holden isn’t aware that he’s screaming at someone in public
and talks too loudly.

But Holden starts to get depressed as he stops fantasizing about him and Sally
running away and Sally

isn’t able to hear him. “’What?’ she said. ‘I can’t hear you. One minute you scream
at me, and the next

you-‘” (Salinger 133). Holden has involuntary drops in the tone of his voice and he’s
confused that Sally

thinks he’s talking strangely at all. Holden doesn’t connect when he speaks to Sally
and acts a little mad

while they’re on their date, having irregular changes in his tone is one of the
clearest symptoms that

Holden has from bipolar disorder.

The depressive stages of bipolar disorder also takes effects on Holden’s daily
activities. The

disorder’s influence on Holden also makes him drink compulsively and have random
spending sprees

(Bipolar). When Holden is with the three girls in the bar, he pays for all their drinks
and helps them have

a good time because he dances with them and shows off how he’s pretty loaded.
When the girls leave
their bill to Holden, he’s a little irritated that they didn’t even offer to pay. “With
cigarettes and all, the

check came to about thirteen bucks. I think they should’ve at least offered to pay
for the drinks they had

before I joined them – I wouldn’t’ve let them, naturally, but they shoud’ve at least
offered. I didn’t care

much tough” (Salinger 75). So Holden knows that he’s got enough money or is
willing to spend enough

money to pay for these girls drinks. He approached the girls in the club knowing
that he’d offer to pay

for their drinks. Holden says that he didn’t care too much about paying for their
drinks as if he’d get

some sort of satisfaction from being the gentlemen. Excessive spending is one of
the symptoms of

bipolar disorder (Bipolar). Holden is spending excessively because he wasn’t

obligated to talk to the girls

nor buy drinks for them. Holden doesn’t realize how much money he’s spending.

When Holden decides to go to Ernie’s club, he says that he has a “terrific

capacity” for drinking:

“I can drink all night and not even show it, if I’m in the mood” (Salinger 90). Holden
is able to drink a lot

and probably would drink a lot of he still had some more cash. Since he spent most
of his savings Holden

wasn’t able to buy the drinks that he wanted. Holden drinks constantly to dull his
mind from the

“phoniness” he sees and he has peculiar drinking habits since he is bipolar. This
paragraph needs work.

Holden’s different habits and different wants and needs have a steady
pattern according to his

mood while he’s staying in New York. Holden swings from different episodes of
mania and depression

from his bipolar disorder. Holden’s activities and extensive narration can be used to
prove the existence
of this disorder. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the symptoms of the disorder
shows itself to be

the cause of the preservation of innocence that Holden Caulfield longs for.


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