Tools to Overcome Trauma in Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre And The Poisonwood Bible
Adolescent characters Holden from Catcher in the Rye, Jane from Jane Eyre, and Adah from The Posionwood Bible all face and overcome respective traumas. Each of them uses defense mechanisms to attempt to overcome their traumas, even though they do not prove immediately successful. A popular adolescent sublevel of defense mechanisms is an immature defense style, through the use of “passive aggression, acting out, [and] isolation” (Maltby and Day). Holden, Jane, and Adah use immature defense styles in reaction to their hardships, through flunking school, escape through reading and seclusion through silence, respectively. Children escape from hardships and trauma through isolation as a defense mechanism in the novels The Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and The Poisonwood Bible.
A variety of hardships and traumas face the main characters in The Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and The Poisonwood Bible. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye has yet to come to terms with the premature death of his brother. Holden speaks of his late brother, saying, “He’s dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You’d have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent” (Salinger 38). The bluntness of Holden’s statement regarding Allie shows that the emotional baggage that came from losing his brother has taken a toll on him. His straightforward phrases like “He’s dead now,” show how numbed Holden has become to the situation.
Jane from Jane Eyre’s hardships stem from neglect rather than shame. Jane’s parents died of typhus, leaving her to spend her bleak childhood with her abusive aunt and cousins. Jane’s aunt has forbidden her to play with her cousins, making for a lonely childhood. Jane says regarding her family, “From every enjoyment I was, of course, excluded… I would retire from the stairhead to the solitary and silent nursery” (Brontë 27-28). She was made into a type of servant to cater to her aunt’s needs: “Bessie now frequently employed me as a sort of under nursery-maid, to tidy the room, dust the chairs, etc” (Brontë 29). After her bullying cousin, John, throws a book in her face, Jane is blamed and punished for the fight that resulted. Jane’s late uncle was the opposite of her aunt. His dying wish was for her aunt to raise her as her own. Jane was supposed to have a happy childhood like her uncle planned her to have, but she did not due to her aunt’s negligence
Adah from The Poisonwood Bible’s troubles started from her birth when she was born crippled. As a child, Adah suffered from paralysis on whole left side of her body. This proved troublesome when she is forced to relocate to the Congo with her father, a minister. She does not believe in God, contrary to her father’s teachings. Adah first recounts origins of her disbelief after a punishment from her father, saying, “When I finally got up with sharp grains imbedded in my knees, I found, to my surprise, that I no longer believed in God” (Kingsolver 171). However, Adah begins to find her voice through the teachings of the Congolese people: “Adah…finds acceptance in Congolese culture. This acceptance contrasts with the judgmental morality of American culture, which ‘expect[s] perfection, and reviles the missed mark’” (Koza). Adah has hardships that could not be helped, but were only made more evident in her relocation with her family to the Congo.
According to documents from the National Institute of Health, abuse and tragedy in the life of a minor can lead to post traumatic stress disorder. “A traumatic event is much more likely to result in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults who experienced trauma in childhood” (PAST). Young people have proven to be the most susceptible to the negative effects: “Children have been identified as among the most susceptible in the population to the negative effects of trauma. This varies according to the child’s developmental level, amount of exposure, and the reaction of family and adults to the trauma” (Meier). Holden, Jane, and Adah all experienced trauma in their childhoods, leading to their susceptibility to PTSD. This disease disorder remains prevalent in modern day societies with children dealing with traumas from their childhood ranging from neglect to molestation (PAST). Issues surrounding trauma in these novels can be related to relevant issues in modern times.
The children in The Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and The Poisonwood Bible use various defense mechanisms to escape from their traumas. Holden flunks out of school, but instead of facing his parents, he travels to New York City alone to avoid them. Holden, while packing a new pair of roller blades that his mother bought him, describes his reaction to flunking out, saying, “That depressed me. I could see my mother going in Spaulding’s and asking the salesman a million dopy questions – and here I was getting the ax again. It made me feel pretty sad” (Salinger 52). Holden escapes from his depression of flunking out of school and not wanting to face his parents because of his brother’s premature death, by retreating. Holden soon finds that escaping from his troubles at school did not help him as much as he had anticipated: “Holden is a boy bordering on being an adult who fights every step of the process with extreme emotions, bizarre reactions, and obsessive lying” (Privitera). Holden’s defense mechanism is an example of an immature defense style, seeing as he attempts to shield himself away from his traumas through acting out. Holden’s actions carry a deeper meaning: “Holden turns out to be someone who hates ‘phonies’ but who uses his hatred of them to defend the vulnerable: a category that for him includes not only his kid sister, but the homely daughter of the headmaster… as well as his sad summer neighbor, Jane Gallagher” (Mills). Holden attempts to deal with his troubles through an immature defense style.
Unlike Holden, Jane’s defense mechanism for dealing with her traumas includes is isolation, rather than misbehavior. Jane shuts herself away from her abusive family life through reading. “Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting” (Brontë 8). Jane uses literature to escape from her negative life, looking to lose herself in a different world so she can forget about her own. Her method of seclusion proves ineffective when her cousin snatches the book out of her hand and abuses her with it. When Jane finally believes she is about to escape from her issues when she goes away to school at Lowood Academy, she is faced with a whole new set of hardships. She is the target of her head master’s abuse, and the one friend she made to help her through her struggles prematurely dies of typhus soon after they meet.
Adah secludes herself in silence from the world around her, yet her knowledge of language proves expansive. Adah, through her silence, is capable of observing, and thus comprehending languages: “Adah with her half-brain has an extraordinary talent for languages, one quirk of which is a preference for creating, thinking, and writing in palindromes” (Fox). Adah’s physical disability has led to her silence, but it has also helped her in her comprehension: “Adah’s …crooked walk… [is linked] with her ‘crooked vision’ [suggesting] that the physical disability that marks Adah as different paradoxically enables her to see more clearly” (Koza). Adah’s physical state leaves her cast on the sidelines of her family’s new life in the Congo. Her silence cathartically helps her: “She chooses not to speak because she accepts her role as outsider. That is, she will not communicate with a society that does not see her as a person” (Fox). Adah is capable of viewing her new surroundings better than any of her family members because her silence allows her to remain in a bystanding position, capable of observing: “[Adah] provides the subversive perspective that animates the first part of the novel… Adah’s decision to ‘keep [her] thoughts to [her]self,’ substituting writing for speech, frees her to find her own ways of thinking and seeing” (Koza). Adah chooses to see her new and strange world through the perspective of an onlooker, not getting in the way of it.
Young people use defense mechanisms in response to hardships and trauma continue to be an issue today, with adolescents reflecting certain ways. Adolescents, like the characters from the novels, are more likely to develop defense mechanisms in response to hardships: “Adolescents, from age 12 to 15-1/2, were more restricted than school-aged children in the variety of defense mechanisms they evidenced. Immature coping maneuvers were most frequent, especially acting-out and introjection” (Adams-Tucker). Holden and Jane reflect these “immature” defense mechanisms, with Holden escaping through his flunking school, and Jane subconsciously venting her frustrations through her temper tantrums. If children were facing traumas, their defense mechanisms for that could evolve into further troubles: “The defense mechanisms abused children used during the trauma stage, and which allowed them to survive it, form blueprints that lead them to repeat behaviors and relationships that take them back to the trauma, though very often they will not remember it” (“Impact”). Jane, Holden, and Adah all use different defense mechanisms which could open the door for future displeasure in the face of oncoming troubles.
The outcomes of these defense mechanisms from the characters eventually prove successful in the novels. Holden realizes the love he has with his living family members can help him through his difficult times. Holden and his little sister Phoebe are at the carousel at the zoo in New York, and he remarks that he will not run away after all. She puts his red hunting hat on his head again, symbolizing that Holden is whole again. For the first time in the novel, Holden says that he is happy: “I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling. I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth, I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice” (Salinger 213). Holden realizes that escaping from his family is not going to make the death of his brother any easier. He, instead, appreciates the love he has with his other family members and becomes content with his own life.
Jane secluded herself away from her hardships through reading, and she found a way to use it to her advantage. Her love and interest for reading assists in her finding something new to believe in when she learns from her friend Helen Burns at Lowood Academy. “Jane’s childhood companion, the doomed Helen Burns, is a warmer, open-hearted Christian soul” (Vineberg). Jane is astounded by Helen’s vast knowledge and opinions. Helen’s optimistic views, including insights like “love your enemies.” Even in the face of their malicious teacher, Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen shows Jane a new way of viewing the world. Jane’s new perspective and outlook on life help her face her troubles that she has to confront. Helen helps Jane see the flaws in her character: “Jane struggles throughout the novel with questions of faith and belief, and the more spiritually minded characters accuse her of replacing God with people. Helen Burns tells her, ‘you think too much of the love of human beings’” (Weele).
Adah eventually comes to terms with her life in the Congo, and she allows it to help her not hurt her: “In an ironic reversal, it is possible to say that the Congolese culture, by allowing Adah to reinvent herself, recognizes her by its more appropriate physical expectations” (Fox). She also reaches closure in the face of her weakness due to her disability. She realizes the night of an ant invasion that she needs to advocate for herself as her family will not always be able to protect her. For the first time, she speaks. This is a turning point for her: “That night I could still wonder why (my mother) did not help me… Now I do not wonder at all. That night marks my life’s dark center, the moment when growing up ended and the long, downward slope toward death began” (Kingsolver 306). Adah comes to be less dependent on her family in regards to her safety after the ant invasion. In her later years, Adah attends physical therapy and that helps her get rid of her limp, meaning it was mainly psychological: “I am still Adah but you would hardly know me now, without my slant. I walk without any noticeable limp” (Kingsolver 492). The loss of Adah’s limp signifies her freedom from her crippling past and her freedom and openness towards her future.
Holden in Catcher in the Rye, Jane in Jane Eyre, and Adah in The Poisonwood Bible all face many hardships in their lives. Holden has yet to face the gripping reality of the premature loss of his brother, and that leads him to avoid his family in the face of bad news and he runs off to live in New York City alone. Jane, after growing up in an abusive childhood, faces more hardships as she faces troubles at Lowood Academy. Adah struggles with her disabled life and with her adapting to her new environment in the Congo. Each of these characters use defense mechanisms to help them cope with their problems. The immature defense style of defense mechanisms is the most common with adolescents, and includes traits like acting out and isolation. Jane drowns her troubles with reading, Holden escapes through his lone travels to New York City, and Adah acts as a bystander towards her new life through her silence. Traumas as children can lead to problems in adulthood, including post traumatic stress disorder and defense mechanisms can be used as an outlet for further problems. The defense mechanisms, however, prove effective in the characters’ being able to find closure.
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