Have you ever been overwhelmed by reality and felt like escaping from it? Most likely, the answer would be “yes.” At some point, everyone has been confused and overwhelmed by reality of the world, and has had difficulty facing it. Holden Caulfield, described in J. D. Salinger’s famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is one of those people who are overwhelmed by and tying not to face up to the truth of the world. Characters who are disillusioned by the world are also developed in James Mangold’s movie, Girl, Interrupted. A person avoids the reality of the world when he or she is overwhelmed by it. The characters in both The Catcher in the Rye and Girl, Interrupted refuse to face the reality by lying, by living in a fantasy world, and by not attempting to understand themselves and the world around them.
Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year old prep school student who has been expelled for academic failure from his forth school, opens the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, in a flashback manner. The novel takes in place in 1949, in a confused society after World War II. Holden is a sarcastic and cynical character who is emotionally and physically unstable. Evidently, he is under treatment in some sort of medical facility. He tells the psychiatrist mostly about the three days he wandered the city of New York after he ran away from the dorm, revealing his disappointment of the adult world which he describes as “full of phonies”(131) and hypocrisy. His main concern is to preserve innocence and genuineness of life, and he tries to “catch a body comin’ through the rye”(173). He does not understand and doesn’t wish to understand the world around him, thus alienating him from the rest of the world. Throughout the novel, Holden is trying to find out who he is. This novel remains a classic because it attracts the reader by having an essence of exciting one’s sympathy.
Like Holden, the main character in Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen sets out for a journey into self-discovery. The story takes place in the 1960’s when the world is in total chaos. Instead of going to a university like all of her classmates, Susanna chooses to “chase a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka.” Not understanding her mental illness, she is sent to Claymoore, a mental institute. There, she meets many patients her age with different disorders, and sees the dark side of the human heart. At first she denies the fact that she is mentally ill, and has “trouble coping with this hospital.” However, after the death of Daisy, the former patient of Claymoore and friend of Susanna, she decides to confront her reality, and tries to recover. By the time she gets out of Claymoore, she shows her positive attitude towards the world.
One ways the characters in both the novel and the movie avoid reality is to lie. Lying means creating a false reality, and changing the actual world into an ideal world however an individual wants it to be. Throughout the novel, Holden lies to get away from his true identity. He tells Sunny, a prostitute, that he is Jim Steele and twenty-two years old. Similarly, when he meets Mrs. Morrow on the train to leave Pencey Prep, he introduces himself as Rudolph Schmidt because he “didn’t feel like giving her [his] whole life history”(54-55). Not only he is not letting others become closer to the real Holden, he is also keeping himself from his true identity. Likewise, Georgina in Girl, Interrupted tries to escape from the world by lying, which is the reason she is in Claymoore; she reveals that she is “a pathological liar” during the first night with Susanna. For instance, at the end of the movie, Georgina tells Susanna that her “father is the head of the CIA and he could have [Susanna] dead in minutes” when Lisa reads Susanna’s journal out loud. Not satisfied with actuality, Holden and Georgina choose to lie in order to ignore it.
In addition to creating a false reality through lying, the characters live in a fantasy world, which they have created to escape from the world around them. The most notable fantasy world Holden illustrates is his dream of being the “catcher in the rye.” He imagines a field of rye perched high on a cliff, full of children romping and playing. He says that he will stand “on the edge of some crazy cliff…to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff”(173). The field of rye symbolizes Holden’s ideal world full of innocence, honesty, curiosity, and purity. Falling from the field of rye represents the fall from an innocent world, which is equivalent to the entrance to the ugly adult world. This imagined world is significant because it prevents Holden from realizing the impossibility of complete preservation of innocence. When he tries to rub the word, “F—k you,” off the wall of his younger sister’s school, he should have been confronted the truth that every child will lose his or her innocence at some point of life. Even though he admits that it is impossible to “rub out even half the ‘F—k you’ signs in the world”(202), his concept of being the “catcher in the rye” is so strong that he is able to disregard reality. Lisa, in the movie, ignores reality in the same way as Holden. She escapes from the ward with Susanna, trying to reach the new Disney World in Florida. On the way, they visits Daisy, still an insane girl, and Lisa tells her that she is “gonna be the new Cinderella of Walt Disney’s new theme park. Susanna’s gonna be Snow White.” As well as Lisa, Georgina is trapped in the fantasy world of The Wizard of Oz where she pictures herself as Dorothy. All three characters’ worlds portray their dream: Holden does not want to lose innocence and grow up, Lisa wants to escape from the ward, and Georgina desires to go home at any time. They admire their fantasy worlds and not try to face up to reality.
The third method characters use to avoid confronting reality is refusing to understand themselves and the world around them. Holden especially refuses to understand the world that he should cope with. Holden reacts disrespectfully to the advice, “Life is a game that one plays according to the rules”(8), that a teacher gives him- “Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right- I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game”(8). He will neither play the “game” nor accept the rules the world offers. Also, he does not desire to realize the fact of needing to grow up. Throughout the novel, he tries to reach someone because he desperately needs human contact and love. But he is unable to call Jane, an old friend of his whom he still admires, after he becomes aware that she is dating his roommate, Stradlater. He is afraid to confront the reality that a childhood friend, and possible love interest, has changed, matured, or become a “phony” that would date someone like Stradlater, whom Holden recognize as “a secret slob”(27). He wants everything, including himself, to be easily understandable and eternally fixed, like the displays of the Museum of Natural History, so that he can understand them. Susanna, in the movie, looks away from reality like Holden. She averts her eyes from her mental illness of Borderline Personality Disorder. At first, she even does not admit that she tried to kill herself by taking a bottle of aspirin with vodka: “I didn’t try to kill myself… I was trying to make the [headache] stop.” She is “puzzled as to why [she] needs to be in a mental institution,” because “everyone [at Claymoore] is f—king crazy.” When she is talking with Mrs. Ward, the director of Claymoore, because she violated the rules by playing the guitar at night, she explains that it was to calm down Polly, the girl with burns on her face. At the same time that Susanna shows her kindness, it shows that she does not face her own problem squarely, to the end. Frustrated with her situation, she asks the nurse, Valerie, “How the hell am I supposed to recover when I don’t even understand my disease?” It takes a long time for her to admit her illness. Holden does not see the real world, and Susanna does not realize her problem because of their unwillingness to do so.
In these three ways- lying, creating a fantasy world, and refusing to understand the world- characters in both The Catcher in the Rye and Girl, Interrupted suggest how an individual turns a blind eye to the inevitable when it is overpowering. Holden and Georgina lie to conceal the discontenting truth. The wonderful, and fictional worlds of Holden, Lisa, and Georgina let them ignore actuality. Moreover, Holden and Susanna neglect to face their problems and the reality the world offers, blaming the craziness of the society. These characters successfully escape the real life.