What is Holden’s mental and emotional state in The Catcher in the Rye? How do you know?
At the beginning of the book, Holden refers obliquely to his mental and emotional state in the following way:
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
"I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run down and had to come out here and take it easy."
The reader does not know exactly what happened to Holden, but he or she does know that Holden is "run down" and is in a place where he is resting because of some mental illness that is affecting him. In addition, the reader knows that Holden's brother, D.B., is going to come pick him up from where he's resting and bring him home, so Holden is not living at home.
As Holden is retelling his story of how he wound up getting "run down," the reader senses that Holden is negative and depressive. He says of Pencey Prep, the school he was kicked out of, that "it was a terrible school, no matter how you looked at it." Holden is negative about most of what surrounds him, and he continually describes not being able to make a connection with the people around him. For example, as soon as he goes to visit his teacher, Mr. Spencer, he says, "The minute I went in, I was sort of sorry I'd come." Holden clearly wants to make connections with other people, but he can't really do so.
He also regards himself with some disdain. He says, for example, "you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road." He clearly feels like he is disappearing and has no comfortable place to go to after being kicked out of school. As his story unfolds, it's clear that Holden is suffering from mental and emotional anguish caused by disconnection from others and from negativity about the world around him.
Holden is suffering from several psychological problems (that we all suffer from), but his are compounded because he is still in the grieving process, due to his younger brother Allie's death. Holden is stuck in the denial, anger, and depression stages of Kubler-Ross' grieving process. His anger is manifested in passive aggressive verbal attacks and self-inflicted pain (the incident with Maurice; talk of suicide).
He is also sexually repressed, according to psychoanalytic theory. He cannot rationalize his physical (sexual) desires with his emotional denial of them. Therefore, he expresses his "id," childlike self to others in the form of lying and lashing out (verbally) at society (everyone's a "phony").
He is also morally conflicted: he does not want to participate in the materialistic adult world, and so he rebels to the point of near suicide. He admits to being a coward; otherwise, he would have killed himself like James Castle (his ideal hero). Instead, he offers a rebellious middle-course (similar to Mercutio in Rome and Juliet). He lashes out verbally in order for others to hurt, or even kill, him (like the way Tybalt kills Mercutio).