Commentary to Text Transformation of Catcher
My text transformation is a collage from the novels ‘Catcher in the Rye’ by J. D. Salinger and ‘Girl Interrupted’ by Susanna Kaysen. The case studies of the two protagonists in the novels, Holden Caulfield and Susanna Kaysen, created the base of my text and I incorporated them into a Children in Need style television appeal. My transformation is for the charity YoungMinds which is dedicated to creating better conditions for youths with a mental health disorder and widening awareness of the illness and therefore reducing prejudice against it.
‘Catcher in the Rye’ is a controversial novel which follows the story of Holden Caulfield who reflects on the time running up to his nervous breakdown. The controversy attached to the novel demonstrates the stigma of mental health and the attitudes people hold against those with mental health issues. The time frame is only seven days but the memories he divulges to the reader span his seventeen years and give the reader an insight into his mental health problems that have developed over his life.
‘Girl Interrupted’ is a true story of Susanna Kayson’s eighteen month spell in a mental hospital and in it she describes the workings and mismanagement of the hospital and its patients. Although autobiographical, it is written as a novel. ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is also classified as a novel but there is an element of autobiographical writing from Salinger as he had also attended a number of different boarding schools as a teenager.
The combination of realistic case studies and teenage protagonists gave me the idea of creating a dramatic documentary in the form of a charity television appeal for youths, particularly teenagers, affected by mental illness. I chose to write an exposing piece on the prevalence of mental illness in our society today and the issues that surround it in achieving equality for those who suffer and respect for those who care for and support the unwell. YoungMinds is a genuine mental health charity as a branch of Mind, the adult faction of the charity.
Such charity appeals are common such as Children in Need and Comic Relief and although they both address the issue of mental illness, neither represents it wholly and as in depth as this programme of which I have created an extract from. It is an issue that deserves recognition as I see it as a fundamental flaw in our society. We are able to accept many controversial characteristics in people such as race, religion, homosexuality, and even physical disability. Yet there is no such acceptance for the mentally ill.
The stigma attached to this particular form of illness brings disgrace to families and prevents or hinders sufferers from overcoming their problems and fully integrating themselves into normal life. Initially, Holden was to be the only case study of a mentally ill teenager, but with the development of the piece I chose to bring in a second character of Susanna. This was in order to create a connection between the two novels and therefore between the illness and their troubles, through the charity.
I kept to the idiolect of the characters to help make them recognisable and used both quotes and anecdotes of both characters to narrate the stories told in the respective novels. For example, in the novel ‘Girl Interrupted’ , the chapter ‘Stigmatography makes reference to the difficulties in being associated to the mental hospital, ‘In Massachusetts, 115 Mill Street is a famous address. Applying for a job, leasing an apartment, getting a driver’s license: all problematic. ‘
I used this example in my transformation because of its link to the stigma of mental illness and integration into society after a period of mental illness. For example, ‘Susanna Kaysen: YoungMinds have pointed me in the right direction. When I was discharged from the hospital I had trouble with all sorts, like getting my driving licence and somewhere to stay, never mind a job. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness every job I applied for required a doctor’s note. ‘ Holden also makes reference to how he was, ‘the only dumb one in the family’.
This is a direct quote from the novel and displays the perpetual failure and inadequacies he sees in himself. I also chose to use some background information and family details to create a greater persona for him and display to the audience some of the triggers of his illness, such as the death of his brother, ‘Holden Caulfield: My sister Phoebe, she’s the apple of my eye and my other brother, Allie, he was terribly intelligent and the nicest in the family. He really was great, but he died. He got leukaemia, he was only 11, poor guy. ‘
The idiolect of Holden was important to capture as it is so distinctive. I used a few direct quote such as the example above and adopted some of his catchphrases, for example he commonly used the mild expletives, ‘for Chrissake’ and ‘Goddam’ in place of alternative adjectives. I used short sentences that displayed his urgency in articulating his thoughts in his mind into words and speech. My piece opens with stage instructions in italics of the television studio set such as, ‘live audience, lively atmosphere, colourful and exciting backdrops’.
This is done to make the reader immediately aware of the setting of the piece and puts it into a context that likens the appeal to ‘Children in Need’ or ‘Red Nose Day’. I chose to use ‘happy children and families’ to help rid the piece from the negative connotations that are attached to mental health issues and face the issue from the outset of the piece. We join the appeal after a commercial break and are welcomed into the topic by a presenter, who would be a well known figure or celebrity, perhaps one who has a connection with mental health issues such as Steven Fry or Kerry Katona who both suffer from Bipolar disorder.
The title of the appeal “Young Minds Matter” is in inverted commas to show it is the title and the lexis used create a memorable catchphrase that is poignant and meaningful. Presenter 2 explains the work of YoungMinds to the audience, using emotive language to help to reach out to those watching who are prepared to donate to the fund. For example, ‘youths at risk’ and ‘very tough… particularly in your teenage years’. In addressing the audience I used second person declaratives such as, ‘without your money and your support’ and ‘you, at home are the most important’.
This creates a feeling of inclusion that that the appeal is being directed at them personally. Presenter 2 subsequently talks about how the evening will be ‘pure entertainment and reason to give’. This would give the audience a guilty conscience it they were to watch the programme and not donate. This is a common tactic for such events and is a psychological tool of persuasion on the audience. It may be criticised by some for being immoral, as other peoples misfortune is used as advertisement, however the charity would argue that neglect of the unwell and ‘at risk’ teens is equally immoral.
Presenter 1 then makes an input and lightens the tone by giving information about the entertainment programme for the evening. I chose to use two presenters to divide the speech and make it more engaging for the audience. Charity appeals such as this are a difficult genre to pitch as the mood and tone is constantly switching from tragedy of the charity cases, to comedy and entertainment to lift the mood and encourage the public to donate. It is a convention in appeal that there is not only one person on the stage.
The integrity of the appeal is also enhanced as a variety of celebrities are involved and support the cause. For example the appeal could include a section of cookery, which is a fashionable pastime for people in Britain with an appearance from Rick Stein whose father committed suicide due to suffering from Bipolar disorder. When commenting on how to call to donate money I used standard phrasing that is legally accepted in television to ensure it seemed authentic, for example, ‘the number to call is 0845 6644 6633.
Calls cost 20p off a BT land line and more from a mobile’. Before this statement I chose to say ‘don’t forget’ to encourage the audience to donate and make it seem obligatory. The discourse of this is to encourage and persuade the audience in a firm manner. By placing this after the broadcast of the evening programme, it is used as a reward for donating money and therefore making it worthwhile for both the act of charity and for selfish reasons of entertainment. The next section focused on some facts and figures about mental health.
I was aware that too much of this could be uninteresting and the audience could become disinterested so I made facts easy to relate to by using the example of asthma as a comparable figure. This information gives reasons as to why the appeal is necessary, such as, ‘of the children and young people diagnosed with a mental health disorder in 2004, for 30% of them their condition had not improved by 2007’ showing that research in the area has occurred and that there is a deficit in provision of mental health services.
Presenter1 provides a different approach to Presenter2 and makes a more emotive approach using adjectives such as ‘great tragedy’ and repetition of the same adjectives, ‘great, great shame to be losing youths unnecessarily’ to heighten the emotion of the appeal. ‘Weapon’ and ‘fatal’, which carry negative connotations in a semantic field of violence and damage also highlight the importance of action being taken because of the rapidity of how mental illness can develop. They then switch back to factual information about suicide backing up the importance in the cause and giving an example of how financial backing helps the charity.
Stage directions, in italics, are used as a means of explaining the change of scene where Holden is sitting in a park and responds to questions from and an unseen and unheard interviewer. I chose to do this to keep away from the exchange being too fragmented. Having read the book a few times and it being written with him as narrator I was aware that Holden’s idiolect is a definitive feature of his character and that I had to incorporate this into my piece. For example his use of ‘phony’ epitomises his view on society in the novel and is used in my piece to describe how he felt about his past schools and teachers.
There is a succinct history to his past and brief reference to particular, significant points in the book such as his encounters in the ‘Lavender Room’ with older women with a prostitute named ‘Sunny’ in his hotel, (‘I moved from hotel bar to street corner and met people that made my skin crawl. ‘) Other direct references include the thought that he could move to the country with a girl. This refers to Judy who he goes out on a date with while in New York. I chose to create another character of YoungMinds Spokesperson to act as a link between Holden and Susanna to the charity and back to the Presenters.
This enabled the piece to flow smoothly as well as providing an official charity viewpoint. Susanna’s speech indicates fewer idiosyncrasies to Holden as she, throughout the novel and her treatment, always seems aware of what her condition is but makes an effort to critically question it and its traits. For example, she does not understand the theory of how ‘sexual promiscuity’ in a female teenager is a possible symptom of mental illness yet is not deemed unacceptable amongst males. She led herself to analysis of her illness and made analogies of her brain being split into different portions and not cooperating with each other.
Her language and phraseology is analytical of her situation and her surroundings, she makes this analogy for example, ‘When you’re crazy you exist in a parallel universe. I think of it like a conversation between your mind and your brain. Your brain might look at a tree and the mind would see a tree but a crazy person’s mind would tell the brain that the tree is a tiger or something. I figured that out once when I was in therapy, that’s when I knew I was nearly better. ‘ This shows how her illness differed from Holden but still displays how she had suffered with her own individual illness.