Do you agree with the view that Holden has a latent death wish? Why?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Given Holden Caulfield's destructive, negative personality, his mental illness, and distaste for mainstream American culture, one could argue that he does indeed have a latent death wish. Holden is a mentally-unstable adolescent, who is traumatized by the death of his younger brother and has witnessed his classmate, James Castle, commit suicide at Elkton Hills. Holden is extremely neurotic, hypercritical, and immature. He lacks social skills, is overwhelmed with anxiety and grief, and has no direction in life. Holden even suggests that he has been sexually molested by an adult and frequently speaks to his dead brother, Allie, when he experiences nervous breakdowns. The fact that Holden tells his tragic story from the confines of a sanatorium is significant and emphasizes the seriousness of his mental instability. Holden continually experiences conflicting emotions and his lack of self-perspective negatively affects his mindset. Given Holden's traumatic past, destructive personality, extreme loneliness, and mental instability, one could argue that he has a latent death wish.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'll go with no.  I do not think that he has any actual wish to die.  I think he doesn't much care about what is happening to him, but I don't think he wants to die.

If he wanted to die, he could have done it easily enough.  He could have, for example, really tried to fight the elevator guy who is also a pimp.  If he had really fought hard, the guy probably could have killed him.

All that Holden ever does is sort of careless -- how he stays out in the bad weather and gets sick, that sort of thing.  But it's not the sort of thing that's likely to lead to death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial