During the course of his adventures in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield undergoes a startling transformation: from an existence in which his nature is dangerously divided, to a remarkably integrated state of being. To perceive this transformation, one must examine closely the particular dilemma in which Holden finds himself, his various failures to cope with this dilemma, and the peculiar solution he attains by the end of the novel.
Holden introduces his narrative by stating his intention of telling the reader "about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas...." Throughout the book, whenever he acts in an apparently inexplicable manner, Holden repeatedly asserts that he is a "madman" or that he is "crazy." For example, after telephoning Sally Hayes and making a date, Holden says, when she finally appears, "I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I'm crazy. I didn't even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God I'm crazy. I admit it." Later, after getting "fed up" with her and leaving, he recalls asking her to run away with him "to Massachusetts and Vermont" to live by a brook:
If you want to know the truth, I don't even know why I started all that stuff with her. I mean about going away somewhere.... I probably wouldn't've taken her even if she'd wanted to go with me. She wouldn't have been anybody to go with. The terrible part, though, is that I meant it when I asked her. That's the terrible part. I swear to God I'm a madman.
Although frequently referring to himself as a "madman," Holden does so without realizing the basis of the comparison: that his nature, which should be developing towards maturity, has stalled within an early state of childhood. A child, at birth, is able to perceive and to feel, but is not yet capable of thinking rationally. He remains an essentially irrational creature—like a "madman"—until he develops____________________