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Common Causes And Effects Of Alienation English Literature Essay

Alienation is present in school, work, and other settings in life, and is experienced by many people around the world. It is defined as the state of being an outsider or the feeling of being isolated from society. This condition may be caused for various reasons such as hatred toward society, and rejection from others because of one’s unique personality. While alienating oneself may seem like a solution to the problems of dealing with people, it will prove harmful in the long run, leading to feelings of confusion, desolation and hopelessness. Classic examples of Alienation are present in Holden Caulfield in the novel Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger and Catherine in the play Proof by David Auburn. Holden and Catherine’s constant pessimism, unlikeable attitudes, and judgemental thoughts are common causes for their alienation, which led to detrimental effects to their mental state.

The characters’ negative views toward society were a huge contributing factor to their alienation. In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden can not stand the "phoniness" of society, which is one of the main reasons he alienates himself. He uses the word "phony" to describe all the hypocrisy, pretentions, and fake affections in society. When he was talking with Mr. Spencer, he thought about a previous school he went to, narrating, "One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. (pg.13)" He continues to describe many adults as phonies throughout the novel. Since he cannot stand phoniness, he uses his negativity to block out others around him. In the play Proof, Catherine shows a similar feeling toward her sister; she thinks negatively of Claire for not staying with her and Robert, even though Claire supported the family financially. In a heated argument between the two sisters, Catherine says, "He’s dead. Now that he’s dead you fly in for the weekend and decide you want to help? You’re late. Where have you been? (pg 44)" Instead of appreciating the fact that Claire supported the family with money, Catherine still judges her negatively for not staying with the family, showing her lack of appreciation. This negative attitude makes her unlikeable, and anyone other than her sister would not tolerate with this attitude. Another example of pessimism is when Holden criticizes anything dislikeable that he sees. For example, when he was talking to Mr. Spencer, he criticises his oldness. He fails to see anything positive, and calls Ernie the piano player phony instead of just enjoying his piano playing. Being pessimistic gives a negative vibe that repels others way. Throughout the novel and the play, Catherine and Holden’s pessimistic views on society cause them to isolate themselves and lack enjoyment out of many worthwhile things in life.

In both the book and the play, both characters’ negative attitudes and behaviour were causes for their alienation. For instance, Catherine had an unstable and aggressive attitude. When Claire told Catherine, "The police said you were abusive," Catherine replies with, "These guys were assholes, Claire. They wouldn’t go away… (pg.30)" She was abusive to the police even though they were just responding to her phone call. This aggressiveness causes others to think negatively of her, which repels them from pursuing a friendship with her. Although Holden is not as aggressive as Catherine, he is bad-mannered and has an unlikeable attitude that makes him an annoying person to anyone talking with him. An example of this is shown in his conversation with Carl Luce. Holden changes to a vulgar subject and asks, "How’s your sex life?" Carl immediately becomes irritated by this question. This conversation demonstrates Holden’s immaturity and lack of thought on what he says. The next time Holden decides to ask Carl Luce to have a drink with him, Carl may be reluctant to go because of his negative, childish impression of Holden. Furthermore, his unnecessary and excessive use of swear words makes him repulsive in casual conversations. When he uses the word, "goddam" while speaking to one of the women he meets in the Lavender room, she gets upset, and replies with "watch your language, if you don’t mind" (pg.72). Even when he does want to fit in, his needless use of swear words makes him aggravating to talk to. Catherine and Holden’s unlikeable attitudes and inappropriate usage of profane words make them unattractive to potential friends.

Holden and Catherine are excessively judgemental of the people around them. As Mr. Spencer lectures Holden, Holden judges any piece of advice that is given to him. When Mr. Spencer says, "life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules," Holden thought, "Game my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? (pg.8)" Holden insists on his own views, and as a result, he is unable to make use of the advice that is give to him. By denigrating other people’s views, he is isolating his own opinions from the opinions of others without any compromise. These judgemental thoughts were also evident in Proof. Catherine immediately arrives at the conclusion that Hal was stealing Robert’s notebooks and demands to search his backpack. She states firmly, "You hoping to find something upstairs that you can publish, then you can write your own ticket (pg.18)." Even though Hal denies this, Catherine is positive that Hal stole a notebook, saying, "Fuck you, Hal. I know you have one of my notebooks (pg.18)." Ultimately, she was wrong about the intentions of Hal. Her unobjective judgements caused sadness and regret on her behalf. A similar example of hasty judgement was when Holden wakes up, catching Mr. Antolini patting him on the head. He narrates, "I know more damn perverts, at school and all, than anybody you ever met, and they’re always being perverty when I’m around (pg.192)." He immediately arrives at the conclusion that this gesture was sexual and "perverty". Even though Mr. Antolini’s act was strange and inappropriate, there was no evidence that it was a sexual act. Holden’s hasty judgement resulted in the loss of respect for of the only people he looked up to. Holden and Catherine’s shallow judgement and their difficulty in trusting people cause them to be alienated from many people the wrongly suspect.

Alienation had numerous negative effects on the well being of both characters. As a result of alienation, both characters oftentimes feel lonely and confined. For example, Holden arrives in New York wanting to talk to somebody, but eventually arrives at the realization that he has nobody to call. Similarly, Catherine tells her hallucination of Robert that she has no friends to go out with on her birthday. Friends are a huge part of our lives; they cheer us up, make us laugh, and stick with us through harsh times. Not getting this experience creates a huge hole in their lives. By isolating themselves on their own island, they lack the companionship that can only be achieved by lowering their shield against society. Alienation also led to abnormal sexual desires; it was because of loneliness that Holden agrees to hire a prostitute, and it was because of loneliness that Catherine opened up to and slept with Hal. Therefore, it is clear that Holden and Catherine are not truly happy when estranged from society.

Holden and Catherine both experience the damaging effects of alienation as a result of their negative behaviours, unlikeable attitudes, and false judgements. Alienation results in numerous negative effects such as loneliness and depression, leading to a deterioration of one’s mental health. It is said that happiness can only be real when shared; lives are not meant to be lived alone on an island, but shared with others. Holden and Catherine’s unique mentality makes them outsiders, but they can make the best out of the given surroundings by developing self understanding, letting go of the past, and focusing on wants and desires.

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