#3. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye -- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
America's favorite literary rebel, The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, has a special place in the hearts of readers. After all, everyone was 17 once, and likely tried really hard to articulate all the things they felt about ... stuff. Holden is intensely contemptuous of the insincerity of the world and people around him (the "phonies"), yet still strives to find his place in a society he ultimately despises. Or to put it simply, he has to grow the fuck up.
Oh boo hoo, you're terrible at baseball. To be honest, we skimmed this bit back in high school.
What no one in the book acknowledges, though, is that Holden isn't acting like your standard-issue Hughesian teen, but actually exhibits classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
No, really. While PTSD is generally associated with people who've experienced horrific events like war, any traumatic incident can cause it. Holden has had to deal with both a brother dying of leukemia and seeing a classmate commit suicide while wearing his borrowed sweater.
"It was from Abercrombie and Fitch ... bastard."
The Red Flags
One of the telltale signs of PTSD is reliving the traumatic event over and over. Holden consistently, almost compulsively, refers to seeing the face of his dead classmate, James Castle, yet he never seems to have any emotional reaction to the event. Instead he concentrates on the visual of seeing the blood and teeth everywhere, or the look on James' face. PTSD causes that kind of persistent emotional numbing, which would explain his distance from the experience.
If Catcher had been written today, Holden would be nursing a Pabst in this picture.
It can also trigger thoughts of suicide, which Holden fully acknowledges throughout the novel ("What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window.")
While some of these symptoms could just as easily stem from depression, it's important to also point out that J.D. Salinger himself likely suffered from PTSD. Following World War II, Salinger was diagnosed with "battle fatigue," which sounds much milder than PTSD (and in fact sounds like it could be cleared up with a quick nap). In reality, it was a primitive way to diagnose the thousands of mental breakdowns following conflict that we now call PTSD.
"You're just tired, J.D. War does that to people."
In fact, The Catcher in the Rye wasn't Salinger's only attempt to write about the disorder. The short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" also deals with the suicidal thoughts of a man trying to live a normal life after traumatic events, and the story "For Esme" parallels his own traumatic experiences in the military (it was published only five years after Salinger was hospitalized in Germany for his nervous breakdown). A lot of fiction gets more depressing when you realize that writers are usually writing about themselves, whether they admit it or not.
#2. Glinda the Good Witch -- Sadistic Personality Disorder
Our only evidence that Glinda the Good Witch is "good" is that she bears that title, and even then we don't know who bestowed it. As we have pointed out before, her actions in The Wizard of Oz involve dropping a house on her rival, blaming it on a teenage child and then encouraging that teenager to assassinate the dead woman's last living relative.
"Congratulations, Dorothy. You've earned your first teardrop tattoo."
Throughout The Wizard of Oz, Glinda never gives any reason for murdering the witches other than that they're ugly and different and therefore -- according to good ole-fashioned Dust Bowl logic -- completely evil. So maybe Glinda won the title of "good" by default, simply because anyone left who would question her goodness ends up fertilizing those bitchy apple trees who throw things at tourists.
These tortured creatures were Munchkins once.
No, Glinda is by no means good. In fact, she's likely suffering from sadistic personality disorder.
The Red Flags
Sadistic personality disorder doesn't just mean somebody is an evil dick. There are particular aspects that identify it as a disorder. For instance, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders suggests that sufferers are amused by the emotional turmoil of others. Now keep that in mind when you watch the vague, detached, smirking expression on Glinda's face throughout the string of tragedies that open the film.
Note the radically different facial expressions. One of them is appropriate.
As soon as the "Wicked" Witch of the West begins mourning her dead sister, Glinda immediately starts taunting her. Glinda then takes the dead woman's slippers -- the only keepsake by which the Wicked Witch might remember her sister -- and forces Dorothy to wear them. The Wicked Witch even tells Dorothy, "They're of no use to you," but Glinda convinces the girl never to take them off.
"Not when we've put so much effort into prying them off her cold dead feet!"
The Good Witch is so dead set on demeaning the Wicked Witch in front of a crowd that, in a weird magic pissing contest, Glinda calls the Wicked Witch's power into question and throws out the threat that someone might drop a house on her, too. That need to demean people in the presence of others is a primary symptom of sadistic personality disorder, and Glinda's unwavering enjoyment throughout the ordeal is a testament to her sickness.
Also she is blatantly using Dorothy as a human shield.
In addition, the disorder fuels a desire to restrict the autonomy of others, and to lie for the sole purpose of confusion. And sure enough, we find out that Glinda knows from the start how to send Dorothy home, but instead she makes up a ridiculous quest to the wizard with no tangible gain. The fact that Glinda is the one who helps Dorothy get home in the end is almost sickening, given the mortal danger she put the girl through (not to mention the two deaths that are now on Dorothy's hands as a result). Yet Glinda can't stop smiling that vacant Stepford Wives smile. Not ever.
"I wouldn't have believed that the slippers were the key home! Lady, I just dropped a house on someone."
#1. Scarlett O'Hara -- Antisocial and Histrionic Personality Disorder
Gone With the Wind's Scarlett O'Hara is one of the most iconic heroines in American film. Living in an era when women weren't considered their most attractive unless their mouths were shut, Scarlett was portrayed as a hard-workin', hard-drinkin', hard-screwin' Southern belle who wouldn't take shit from anyone. In fact, it's probably easier to just think of her as Doc Holiday in a dress.
"You, Miss, are no lady."
Women the world over have cited her as a role model and one of the most prominent feminist icons of all time. However, she has some downright unsavory characteristics as well. Most notable among them are a quick temper, a willingness to show a little skin to get what she wants and a cutthroat determination, regardless of who gets hurt.
The North would probably have run for their lives if she showed up like this.
The Red Flags
One of the chief signs of antisocial personality disorder is the inability to understand the motivations and feelings of other people. That lack of empathy manifests itself right from the start, when Scarlett tries to seduce the engaged Ashley Wilkes, fails, and then seduces his brother instead out of spite.
What man could resist this?
From there, things just get worse. She burns her way through three marriages over the course of a few years, sticking with each man only until he wears out his usefulness. The worst example is Frank Kennedy, her sister's fiance, whom she tricks into marriage only because she needs him to pay the taxes on her plantation. This seductive behavior, the incapacity to maintain enduring relationships and her persistent manipulation are all signs of a disorder that even Civil War-era doctors could have picked up on. You know, if they weren't busy digging bullets out of Confederates and calming night terrors.
One of most telling signs of histrionic personality disorder, on the other hand, is Scarlett's need to constantly be the center of attention and her wild overreaction to every problem she faces.
"LOOK. LOOK AT MY ENORMOUS HAT."
In the beginning of the film, while the men's conversation changes from her to the war, she says, "War, war, war. This war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored, I could scream." Psychologists would recognize that desire to be at the center of attention at all times -- the disorder means a person's self-esteem "depends on the approval of others and does not arise from a true feeling of self-worth." Now watch Scarlett collapse into a puddle of melodrama when she is rejected by a man:
It's worth watching just to see him give her a handful of soil in the middle of her crying fit.
She literally needs constant praise, or as Rhett Butler puts it, she "needs to be kissed often." Which makes it all the more sad when characters gradually turn their backs on her and her crazy hurricane of bullshit.
Though we're sympathetic with everyone who leaves her, because if we knew someone like Scarlett in reality, it would be hard after a while to pretend to give a damn.
"He'll be back. I'm sure of it. He left his umbrella."
For for more in depth looks at your favorite characters, check out 9 Beloved Characters Made Horrifying by Japan and 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs.
And stop by LinkSTORM to earn you degree in Fictional Character Psychology.
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