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How has your childhood affected the person that you are in society Essay

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How has your childhood affected the person that you are in society today? Childhood has a big impact on how we function in society for the better or worse. In both Nathan Filer’s novel “The Shock of the Fall” and J.D. Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye” we see both main characters experienced traumatic events in their childhood, resulting in the events that take place in the book. We see how they tackle the transition into the adult world head on, either rejecting the adult world or being rejected by it throughout the different aspects of their lives.

In “The Shock of the Fall” we see the main character, Matthew Holmes grow up after losing his brother; Simon, from a tragic accident right in front of his eyes, and the effects that this has on Matthew’s mental health, which he struggles with, over the time he grows up. Due to this accident we see him struggle with his symptoms of schizophrenia; according to the NHS (2016), symptoms of schizophrenia include “hallucinations…”, “…delusions…”, “…muddled thoughts…” and “…changes in behaviour…”; these are all symptoms that we see Matt display throughout the novel, and reject society as much as he can as an adult. In contrast, we see the main character of “The Catcher in the Rye”; Holden Caulfield, constantly try to fit into adult society and get rejected by it as he is not, in fact, and adult. This in turn makes Holden call the people around him “phonies” and makes him cynical in his view of the world. This contrast between how the two characters react to society stems from their struggles facing their own reality, which have been greatly influenced by their own childhoods.

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In terms of Matthew’s rejecting coming of age and functioning as an adult, there are two essential parts to his situation to keep in mind. We can gather from the novel that Matt is struggling with his mental health, as this is a theme that we see infiltrating every area of the protagonist’s life. Matthew is diagnosed with Schizophrenia, he gives the definition of Schizophrenia on page 238; “SCHIZOPHRENIA n. a severe mental disorder characterised by a disintegration in the process of thinking, or contact with your reality, and of emotional responsiveness.” This is a language device used by Filer to help explain Schizophrenia in a simple way to the reader and to try to de-stigmatise schizophrenia to the reader while still being in keeping with Matthews typical unsettled, matter of fact attitude toward his illness. There is often a general stigma surrounding mental illness in society, particularly an illness such as schizophrenia. This is also addressed throughout the novel by Filer when Matthew calls himself “FUCKING MAD” or “crazy”. We also see evidence of this all throughout the novel, as if witnessing the development of his illness over the time he grows up from a child to an adult. Near the beginning of the novel, in “kicking and wailing” we see Matthew describe a wall “that separates our dreams from reality” and say “but mine has cracks in it.” He also says “I am far more interested in my dreams than reality”. This shows that he is self-aware of his mental illness, however he recognises that he is still divorced from reality quite often. He says that “it’s hard to know the difference” between dreams and reality, setting the scene for the rest of the novel where we see him struggle to tell the difference between his memories, his dreams and his reality. To this effect the novel also has frequent narrative jumps and breaks between paragraphs. This disjointed structure throughout the novel is symbolic of Matthews own mind-set, and through this we gain extra insight into how he is actually coping with his mental health.

The second idea to keep in mind for Matt is that he does not want to leave his brother, or perhaps the memory of his brother, behind him; this ties into his rejection of adulthood and society, because if he were to accept growing into an adult and being a part of society, he would need to face the tragedy of his brother’s death and move on from it. We can see this fear manifesting through his illness, which is described as a “snake” several times throughout the novel; “an illness with the shape and sound of a snake”, and is also personified when he says “These are the things we learnt. My illness and I.” The sibilance that is used in “shape and sound of a snake” means that when the phrase is read out loud it actually sounds like a snake, further reinforcing this imagery in the reader’s minds. There is also biblical imagery that could be involved when mentioning the illness as a snake, as the devil was portrayed as a snake in the garden of Eden who convinced Eve to eat the apple and bring sin into the world. This imagery is sinister and could be in reference to how Matthew sees his illness, as sinister and always lurking in the background and influencing him negatively.

From his childhood we see Matthew develop fascinations with different things that often become motifs throughout the novel, such as the atoms that he learns about in science in school and then also with Simon being seen in everything that surrounds Matthew as his illness progresses. Simon is a character in the novel but he also turns into an almost motif as Matthew sees him in all things, such as the wind and the flames on candles, Matthew continuously mentions that he is made up of the same atoms that Simon was made of, thus the motif of atoms. This later displays itself physically by spilling out as Matthew builds a huge ant farm; another motif that comes from when he was with his grandfather after Simon’s death, and this physical display is interrupted by the motif of a family tree in which we get another flashback to his childhood in which we find out that Matthew’s Nanny Noo’s brother also had schizophrenia. Matthew describes a snake that “slithers through the branches of our family tree.” These motifs that show up throughout the novel are significant as they all tend to stem back to his family and his childhood, yet are born from his struggle with his schizophrenia as fascinations that seem to haunt him in often a rather sinister fashion. Filer would have known about such fascinations that can occur in those suffering from mental illnesses like Matthew does because he trained and worked as a mental health nurse and so would have known all about how these illnesses manifest and affect people in real life, thus adding to the realism that can be felt being portrayed in this novel.

Likewise, a motif that we see in “The Catcher in the Rye” is the motif of the ducks in the lagoon in central park. While Holden gets a taxi he asks the driver where the ducks in the lagoon go during the winter, “Do you happen to know where they go in the wintertime, by any chance?”. There is then a scene in which the driver says he doesn’t know where the ducks go but that “It’s tougher for the fish, the winter and all, than it is for the ducks…” And “They stay right where they are…” There are different interpretations of the meaning behind this scene, however my interpretation of the significance of this scene is that the “ducks” are a metaphor for the upper class or the typically respectable adults in society; which is the lagoon, which seems large but is actually a stagnant pool in central park, which could be viewed as a facade at being an image of the countryside stuck inside a huge city, and the “fish” are a metaphor for the lower class or less successful or respectable people of the city and society. The ducks get taken care of and can migrate or be moved away, and they swim at the top of the lagoon; just as the upper class float on the top of society without a care for those struggling beneath them, while the fish are stuck to suffer through the winter being frozen in ice until spring comes again. This could be a metaphor for the vicious cycle that society revolves in, and a critique of society written in by J.D Salinger. This then ties into Holden’s identity issues, as we see that he initially asks about the ducks and not about the fish, meaning that he cares about the ducks, and want to be a “duck” and cannot accept the fact that he is actually a “fish”, just as he cannot accept the fact that he is still a child despite trying to act like an adult, thus adding to his being rejected by and following rejection of society. Another interpretation, put forth by Reference.com (2019) says that “ducks in the Central Park lagoon reveal a youthful side of Holden that the audience rarely sees.” They say that “His concern over where the ducks go and his joy when they return represent a youthful curiosity and joyfulness in exploring other matters in a character who generally lacks these qualities in other parts of his life. The ducks also convey that change is cyclical rather than permanent. The fact that they return brings hopefulness to Holden as he deals with the death of his brother.” This means that they are a device used by J.D. Salinger to show a rare side of Holden’s character, in which he is not trying to fit into adult society but still accepting and partaking in his youthful mindset. Likewise, another critic’s interpretation, put forth by Allan Leider writing for Free Book Summary.com says that the ducks flying away symbolize people growing up, tying into Holden’s desire to grow up and join adult society, but his ultimate inability to do so.

Holden tries to fit into society when he leaves his school early, trying to pick up women and get drinks at bars, however the older girls ask “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” and “Where’s your father?” because he is obviously still young and is not actually the age that he is acting. Hence he gets rejected by the society that he so desperately wants to be accepted into and he becomes an outsider. This humiliates Holden so much that he himself ends up rejecting those whole reject him, consistently insulting, being judgemental and calling these people “phonies”. When he is approached by two of his older brother’s acquaintances and they ask him to sit with them and have a drink, he backs out and ends up avoiding them and leaving the bar that he has just arrived at, thus making himself an outsider, all the while blaming those around him. This victim mentality is prevalent throughout the entire novel; he even says “People are always ruining things for you.” This judgemental approach of his is how he views everyone in society, although it is perhaps a defensive mechanism so that he doesn’t get hurt by the phonies that he so aspires to be like thus making him an outsider in society.

Matthew is also someone who is consistently an outsider in society, as he cannot be treated like or function as a “normal” adult in society due to his schizophrenia. His illness seems to have been born of the grief that he did not express properly and did not accept when he was a child; “I wasn’t crying at all…”, “…I was too numb to cry…”, “…I was just completely numb”. This grief was never processed and then missed with the huge amount of guilt that Matthew feels over his involvement in the accident that caused Simon’s death. Even as a child he said “I felt very guilty about it” when talking about how he could not bring himself to cry or grieve at the time. He simply watched his parents grieve properly while he was apathetic, thus making himself an outsider in his own family after Simon’s passing. He says that when his parents made no move to comfort or look at him “I knew then-I was totally alone.”

Another physical manifestation of Matthew’s being an outsider that may have added to the development if his illness is that he was home-schooled by his mother as a child. He got taken out of primary school as a young child so that she could look after him and soothe her paranoia of losing another child after Simon’s death. There is a scene in which she is taking Matthew to the doctor’s office, and she walks him past his old school that he didn’t want to go past, “I must have resisted”. The children all gathered by the fence to see him because he said “I was even popular.” This scene shows Matthew and his mother standing outside the school, with Matthew separated from his old classmates by a physical fence, making him an outsider, and prominently contrasting against how his life could have been just like the “normal” children in the playground. This juxtaposition is amplified further when considering how Matthew and his mother’s relationship was going through a turbulent period at this time due to her mental health deteriorating after Simon’s passing. The use of this graphic imagery serves to create an uneasy feeling in the reader, one which Filer has made purposefully. When in the depths of his illness Matthew even becomes an outsider from his Nanny Noo; the person he loves most, which is portrayed by him saying “You can’t come in” when she comes to visit him and imagery of him physically watching her through the peephole, the door between them. This is further imagery used to show how Matthew’s illness is self-destructive and makes him push people away and reject them just as Holden does.

Matthew carries a lot of guilt surrounding his brother’s death, which we can see manifesting itself through his illness and the paranoia that comes along with that. He sees Matthew in everything; “He was in the theme tune, somewhere,” and says that he is made of the same atoms as him; as if he cannot accept that Simon actually died. His guilt is worsened by the fact that he felt he never got the punishment he deserved because “…some things are too big. Any punishment is an insult to the crime.” This is a very poignant phrase that effectively hammers home the idea that the death of Simon was a tragedy and that any action would cheapen Simon’s memory. Due to his immense sense of guilt, Matthew decides to visit the place of the accident to commit suicide and join Simon, saying “He’d been lonely long enough.” He fully intends to join Simon in death so that he will never forget him. This shows just how far his unresolved trauma from this childhood tragedy has profoundly affected his life and his outlook. He feels that to move on and grieve and join society properly would mean that Simon would be forgotten and left all alone in death, and he feels that that is so bad of a thing to do that he would rather resort to suicide to join him so that Simon is no longer “Lonely”. The acceptance of Simon’s death would make Simon an outsider, and Matt feels to do that, so he remains a self-imposed outsider in society.

In conclusion, both Matthew and Holden have problems fitting into society and so can be viewed as outsiders. Many of the issues for both Holden and Matthew stem from their mental health, Comedian Jo Brand even called The Shock of the Fall “one of the best books about mental illness”. It is Holden’s identity issues and fear of connection with real people that both make him want to fit into normal adult society so much yet causes him to actually push those who try to get close to him away in fear of that’s same rejection that he shows them. For Matthew his childhood was greatly impacted by the loss of his brother and the guilt that he felt over his involvement in his brother’s accident and his apathetic incapability to grieve properly that helped to cultivate his schizophrenia and kept him from fitting into his place in society, thus making him an outsider.

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