Holden Caulfield can be seen as an existentialist character searching for meaning and authenticity in a lonely, alienating world.
The traumatic events that Holden witnessed in his youth, his expectations and criticism of society, and his need to protect innocence lead him into an existential crisis. In addition, Holden’s realization of how society differs from his own perception leads to his rejection of humanity. In J.
D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, Holden Caulfield’s obsession with death causes an existential crisis which leads to his altered perception of society and his purpose in it, alienating himself from the rest of humanity; however, upon the failure of the quest he comes to a better understanding of his own, and the world’s individuality. Holden experiences an excess amount of negativity in his youth that ultimately corrupts his innocence, his corruption further extends into his thoughts as he begins to assume the worst of every possible situation, leading him to attempt to protect what he values most dearly. In an article about existential crises the writer explains an existential crisis effects on young adults, “A number of highly talented young adults are living through what might be termed an “existential crisis.” Typically these are young men and women ..
. seem to “hit a wall” while in high school, college or graduate school. Dramatically and seemingly without warning, they become depressed, angry, and “lost.
” Their life as they and their parents have come to know it grinds to a halt. They rebel against and at times abandon their prior styles of driven accomplishment, energetic involvement in multiple pursuits, and pride of achievement.” The death of Holden’s younger brother, Allie, causes Holden to experience a mental breakdown as he begins to project the anger he feels onto the world. When Holden’s younger brother Allie dies, he has a mental breakdown and finds this new anger towards the world, but that is not the only traumatising event in his childhood as he is also molested multiple times.
From all the negativity in his life, Holden experiences an existential crisis, and begins to question the importance of his life. Following his existential crisis, Holden starts to look for a true purpose in life thinking that it is his duty to save others from experiencing the same trauma he went through.