I just finished reading “Catcher in the Rye”, by J. D. Salinger. I wanted to read this book because I read that a lot of high profile murderers were found in possession of the book, and in some cases, they were carrying it on their person at the time of the crime. I wondered what this book had to do with the minds of psychopaths.
I found the book to be pretty dry reading – a wandering plot, nothing exciting, and a lot of expletives and New York slang, which I feel, added nothing to the story. The main character, Holden Caulfield, is lazy, shifty, and unmotivated. He rejected all promising opportunities that came his way. So, he could be construed to be a typecast of a person who is allergic to success. The ending was totally anticlimactic, but yet, there were some things of value that came out in the last chapter.
- Of note, it became apparent that the main character’s problems and continual frustrations were rooted in certain personal qualities of his that were manifested in his habits. Those qualities that I could identify from the reading were a lack of self-esteem, lack of social boundaries with his roommates in college, lack of a life purpose, a general carelessness concerning resources and opportunities while never having to experience genuine neediness, and probably several others that I did not catch upon an initial perusal. These qualities would best be described as a lingering immaturity, or even a very ignorant sort of denial, of which he remained continually incognizant. It might even be described as a psychosis.
- Also, there is the fact that he had not yet developed a mature world view, which recognizes that other people’s behaviors are caused by some reasons or motivations, and that these behaviors are not just some random, wanton, or inconsiderate acts. Examples include expressions of hope or faith, or some other mythical identity adopted for the purpose of communicative self-expression (which he calls “phony”), social games of love and desire (which he never detects), self-defense (which he rejects as rude and selfish), self-esteem (which he interprets as arrogance), efficiency of time (which he assumes is apathetic disdain), controlling one’s social investment (which makes him feel suspicious), and probably many others…
- Moreover, he fails to recognize the reason why people always treated him poorly. It is because he was past college age, but was still unaware of his own state of immaturity and the associated social ignorance he displayed.
So these three factors compounded and perpetuated his miserable and inefficacious state of existence, leading to a cycle of immaturity. According to other books I have read, this is a stronghold – the condition of being unable to escape from a paradigm of evil or negativity.
On this topic, I would like to tell my readers some things that I have learned on my own; things that counteract a situation which perpetuates a stronghold of emotional detachment and immaturity such as the one experienced by the main character of this book. Those things are discipline, purpose, self-awareness, a crisis, social interaction with many different types of people, a sense of security, hopefulness, a strong desire for something in life, commitment to a cause, limited opportunities and resources… All these things collectively create a crucible of refinement for a person’s character. Furthermore, I want to point out that there are certain endeavors that contain many of these facets and thus help form a mature character, and these include getting married and having children, making a commitment to a competitive sports league, community service, military service, earning a degree, starting a business or embarking on some kind of professional career. Most normal people do any of these things over the course of a lifetime.
Moreover, my impression of this book is that even though it is a rather dry read, it does have literary value because of its anecdotal portrayal of the specific thinking habits manifested in the typical experience of one caught in a cyclic trap of immaturity, which obviously serves as a bad example to be avoided. The weakness of the book is how the inherent causes and effects of the main character’s immaturity and his unfulfilling life without compunction, are not explicitly stated in words that the reader could at once grab and absorb. Nevertheless, there are several lines worthy of quotation.
So why does this book appeal to killers? I take it that psychopaths can readily identify with Caulfield’s emotionally detached view of the world. He thinks he cares immensely for others, and that no one else cares as much as he does. A few people in the book reach out to him, but his responses show that he doesn’t value their attentions, and sometimes even sees the social interaction with them as dreary or burdensome. So in fact, he is cynical and cold hearted. Other people can see this about him, but he cannot see this about himself. I would presume that Caulfield fleshes out the feelings that many psychopaths have about the world, thus creating an outlet of expression for them. However, I fail to understand the implicit psychological correlation with the action of murder.