In today’s society, many teenagers struggle in their everyday lives due to the fact that they have different qualities than others. The novel Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is about a young man named Holden Caulfield who suffers from multiple mental illnesses, causing him to be treated differently by others. Due to tragedies he has suffered from in the past and all that is going on in his present life, Holden can no longer cope and runs away to New York. Christopher Boone, from the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, also suffers from multiple mental illnesses and has experienced life-changing tragedies over the years. For many years, Christopher’s father has been telling him his mother had died when he was just a little boy, but when he finds out the truth that she is still alive, as well as that his father was the one to kill the neighbor’s dog, he runs away to find his mother because he no longer feels safe in his home. Both main characters have grown up being alone and isolated from people and events all throughout their lives and have learned to accept and cope with it in ways that most teenagers do not understand. Holden and Christopher also know and understand the importance of independence and have had to learn to care for themselves and make wise choices from a young age.
Hypocrisy is also a common theme between both Holden and Christopher, and due to this, they have gotten themselves into stressful situations, causing them to make rash and bad decisions. Due to their pasts, both boys experience rebellion as an everyday event, leading them to get in trouble with people around them, family, friends, and the government. In the novels, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, both main characters struggle with the idea of being a teenager who is different from what is considered normal through the themes of isolation, independence, hypocrisy, and rebellion. The theme of isolation is evident in both novels and shown in very unique ways. In the novel Catcher in the Rye, Holden has a tendency to always end up alone no matter where he is or what the situation is. Due to Holden’s past of being shipped off to different boarding schools all his life, he has been prone to being alone for the majority of his time and not only learning to accept it but also beginning to enjoy it. With the boarding school he is currently attending, the football team takes part in regular games with opposing schools.
Everyone attends these games and enjoys them as a social gathering, but Holden chooses to stay in his dorm room alone, away from everyone else. “It was pretty nice to get back to my room, after I left old Spencer, because everybody was down at the game…” (Salinger, 17). Even though Holden enjoys being alone most of the time, he sometimes wishes he had someone to talk to or hang out with. When he was a kid, he was very close with a girl named Sally who was a family friend and also the only person he really knew how to open up to, but he lost contact with her and has not heard from her for many years. When his roommate Stradlater tells him he is going on a date with Sally, he is caught off guard, becoming somewhat jealous of him and also worried for Sally due to Stradlater’s past relationships with girls. While they are on their date, Holden sits alone and watches out the window, waiting for Stradlater and Sally to arrive home. “I’m probably still looking out the window, but I swear I can’t remember. I was so damned worried, that’s why” (Salinger, 40). It is evident that Holden has trouble with his social skills. He has the option to be around people and enjoy their company, but he refuses and does not make an effort to socialize with anyone. Therefore, he chooses to isolate himself from everyone.
Much like Holden in the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has experienced situations involving isolation. Christopher’s lack of friends and relationships has a great impact on his decision to isolate himself as much as he does. He rarely socializes when he is at school or out in public. When he is at home, he prefers to be alone in his room with his pet rat. “And I really like little spaces, so long as there is no one else in there with me” (Haddon 50). In the rare occasion that Christopher associates with people out in public whom he does not know, the interaction usually ends quickly due to Christopher feeling uncomfortable and leaving in a hurry. When he had no choice but to engage in conversation with a neighbor who was nothing but friendly to him, he began to think of every possible thing that could go wrong and quickly decided to leave. “And I thought she might be ringing the police, and then I’d get into much more serious trouble because of the caution. So I walked away” (Haddon 40). Even though Christopher lacks social skills, there are still ways he can learn to become more social and improve his interactions with others.
Unfortunately, he does not put any effort into increasing his social skills, and neither do any of the few people with whom he has a relationship. This causes him to resort to isolating himself because that is what he has always been used to doing. Overall, isolation plays a major role in both novels, causing both main characters to isolate themselves in similar ways. With both characters choosing to isolate themselves, a great deal of independence comes. The amount of independence a person has varies based on the person and their past. Due to Holden’s past, where he has had to live and cope on his own for many years, he has learned how to handle a situation to the best of his ability and how to calm himself from heated situations without anyone else there to give him a hand. He has learned that his only item that gives him comfort is his red hunting hat, which he bought in memory of his younger brother who passed away. When Holden is involved in a situation in which he knows it is better just to walk away, he leaves and puts on his red hunting hat as a sign of comfort and to help him calm down from the situation. I couldn’t find my goddam hunting hat anywhere. Finally, I found it. It was under the bed. I put it on and turned the old peak around to the back, the way I liked it…” (Salinger. 45). Holden is not one to make rash decisions, but on the rare occasion that he does, it is usually not the best choice.
After getting fed up with all the phonies” at his boarding school, Holden decides to take matters into his own hands and make the choice to leave without telling anyone and journey off to New York City alone. “I decided I’d take a room in a hotel and all – and just take it easy till Wednesday. Then on Wednesday, I’d go home all rested up and feeling swell” (Salinger, 51). It is uncommon for a teenager to make such rash, independent decisions like Holden did, but he does it to the best of his ability in the hope that it pays off in the end. Christopher has the same situation going for him. He does not have a choice to be so independent since he has grown up with very few relationships, causing him to have to learn to do things on his own. Christopher makes it clear that he has no fear in protecting himself in a physical manner and will do it alone if needed, as he does choose to carry around a Swiss Army Knife with him wherever he goes. “…and I have my Swiss Army Knife if they hit me…” (Haddon, 44). Not only does Christopher know how to protect himself, but he also has taught himself how to keep entertained and busy during his free time. When no one wants to help him try to find out who killed Wellington, he takes matters into his own hands and commits to being a detective and finding out on his own. “So I decided to do some more detection on my own” (Haddon, 34). Without a doubt, both Holden and Christopher have had to grow up faster than others in certain ways. Due to the fact that they have spent a lot of their time alone, being independent and teaching themselves multiple important life traits was a must, but with this trait also came the act of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is a common theme in both novels. Holden considers almost anyone he meets to be a phony, especially when he meets someone who lies, but in reality, Holden lies quite a bit, making himself a hypocrite. Holden considers movies to be ‘phony stories,’ proving he does not like them. Oddly enough, when he is in Radio City, he decides to go to the movies, causing him to go against what he thinks about them. “…I went to the movies at Radio City. It was probably the worst thing I could’ve done, but it was near, and I couldn’t think of anything else.” (Salinger. 137). Holden also uses his religious background as a way to lie not only to others but to himself. One night while he was going to bed, he states that he all of a sudden felt like praying, but he quickly changes his mind when he remembers that he does not have a care for believing in God. “I felt like praying or something when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist.” (Salinger. 99). Unlike most teenagers who have the ability to control what they are saying, Holden cannot, and he tends to do similar actions to what he does not like in others, proving him to be a hypocrite about most things he complains about in others. With Christopher, having similar traits as Holden, he also has his moments of hypocrisy. Christopher is not one to lie. His father has taught him that it is wrong every since the early years of his life, but there are times when Christopher does lie even though he has said numerous times that he never does because it is wrong. He feels as if there is a difference between a lie and a white lie, causing him to bend the rules his father has set out for him, and he has been following for years.
And I said, ‘I have been out.’ This is called a white lie. A white lie is not a lie at all. It is where you tell the truth but you do not tell all of the truth.” (Haddon, 48). Throughout the years, Christopher’s father has forced him to believe that lying is wrong and that he does not do it. Christopher is quickly proven otherwise when he catches his father lying about the death of his mother. “I did it for your good, Christopher. Honestly, I did. I never meant to lie.” (Haddon, 114). Holden and Christopher both have a problem with being hypocritical with a lot of things they say and are also influenced by people who say things that are hypocritical. This is not something that either of them is able to control, as it does come along with their mental illnesses and how their minds work differently from most people. With having the trait of hypocrisy also comes the trait of rebellion. Holden makes it clear that he is his own person and he makes his own decisions. When he is told not to do something, it usually causes him to rebel and do the opposite of what he is being told. At his boarding school, there is a strict rule to not smoke in the dorm rooms, and it is to be followed by everyone. Holden ignores this rule and smokes in his dorm at night when no one is around just to make him feel rebellious. “I lay on my bed and lit a cigarette. You weren’t allowed to smoke in the dorm, but you could do it late at night when everybody was asleep or out and nobody could smell the smoke.” (Salinger, 41). Whenever he has the chance, Holden will often make a situation difficult for someone for absolutely no reason.
He will often lie when it is not needed, but he does it for his own entertainment. I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.” (Salinger, 16) Most teenagers rebel in the same sort of ways, but Holden is different as he rebels in ways that are not the most common. Similar to Holden, Christopher is very rebellious due to the lack of freedom he has because of his mental illnesses. He does not have much in the way of entertainment, so he has to make things up in order to have fun. When he wanted to play detective and find out who killed Wellington, his father told him not to, but Christopher went against what he said and did it anyway. “I decided that I was going to find out who killed Wellington even though father had told me to stay out of other people’s business.” (Haddon, 28) Christopher also has moments of rebellion when he does not feel safe in a situation. When he found out that his father was the one who killed Wellington, Christopher began to think of all the bad things that could happen if he continued to live with his father, who he now considered a murderer. This led Christopher to running away to live with his mother, which he felt was safer. “I had to get out of the house. Father has murdered Wellington. That meant he could murder me because I couldn’t trust him, even though he said ‘Trust me,’ because he had told a lie about a big thing.” (Haddon, 122)
Holden and Christopher both show that they are struggling in life through the theme of rebellion. They both struggle with the idea of being different from other teenagers their age and what is considered normal in society. This is evident through the themes of isolation, independence, hypocrisy, and rebellion. Both boys have a difficult time interacting with others and prefer to be on their own most of the time, causing them to isolate themselves from everyone around them and hide away in places where they can be alone. Salinger and Haddon make it clear that independence is a major trait that both boys possess as they have to care for themselves, which helps them figure out who they really are as individuals. Hypocrisy is an issue both Holden and Christopher face quite often throughout both novels. They both had to see past their first impression of people and see who they really were as a person before they judged them. Due to their lack of freedom and choice, both boys begin to rebel against what they are told or supposed to do, causing them to get into unwanted situations. Overall, the themes of isolation, independence, hypocrisy, and rebellion taught Holden and Christopher many valuable lessons that later helped them grow up as individuals.