My Holden Guide to Life
Some people say they use The Catcher in the Rye as a guide to life. This is my attempt to distill how Holden sees and approaches the world. This is how I imagine his world view or guide to life. (A Holden Bible? Simply listing his infrequent advice doesn't seem to cover it all.) It needs some more work (for example, I should make a summary of points and link them to explanations) and I'll do that someday. I really will.
The superscripts are links to example quotes from the book and show page numbers from Catcher in the Rye regular paperback version. The links won't work if your browser's scripting is turned off. When the related passages are obviously short or too long, the numbers aren't links. Actually, a trick, if you want to read all of the quotes: you can tab to the first, hit enter, read it, hit enter, then tab, enter, enter, etc.) 11 August 2001
There are phonies and real people, people worth knowing and interacting with. But you have to sometimes deal with some phonies just to survive. But it's also good to stay in practice for those times. So you have to spend even more time with phonies than just what's strictly necessary. 87 You'll probably want to get a woman and maybe you'll never get someone as sweet as Jane, so spend time learning the things that impress phony women: smoke suavely, dance, drink. Hell, there are even phony books that'll help show you the way.92-3
Get a laugh watching the phonies during this, though.142 Smoking, dancing, and drinking can be nice in themselves, too, an escape, anyway. That's a life saving silver lining, I suppose.
But now there's this huge problem, and I don't have the solution to it yet. You spend all of this time getting along with phonies, people who basically give you a pain in the ass. At what point is getting along with phonies really necessary? There was a time when you could go out west and never see another phony again. You could live off the land. Unfortunately, the west is so settled now that California is actually the home base of a monstrosity of phoniness: Hollywood. So we're stuck living in the phonies' world. There may be ways around it, so I'm looking.132,198-9 I don't know, I'm working on it. I wish I had a sure fire plan that didn't involve all of this dealing with phonies, or any dealing with phonies, for that matter.
Even worse, sometimes I wonder if I'm I making things worse, being an actual phony. Like joining a club that ostracizes someone for no good reason.167 Or something like considering being a lawyer just because my father is one. Is that really something I have to consider being, or not? 172 And women, if you pick some phony to be your wife, you picked her for pretty superficial reasons.124 But you're going to want more than being amused by how phony your wife is.63 And aren't you really supposed to like her, not be crumby to her?62 Aren't you going to want to feel spiritual having sex with her?147
Still, sometimes I know I crossed the line the other way. Being rude to someone because I assumed they were a phony. Like when I was having fun with Mrs. Morrow, lying to her and all, only I found out she wasn't so bad, really. That was awful of me.55,58 But where do you draw the line? How do you know who's strictly a phony? It's a killer. Like one of those witches in the Lavender Room, Bernice, could actually dance really well.70 Maybe she wasn't a phony? (I mean, Phoebe72 and Jane135 are good dancers and aren't phonies at all.) Still, old Bernice was preoccupied with movie stars, of all goddam things.72
And if you feel like socking someone in the jaw, you should do it, but why do I have a problem socking someone? Sometimes I worry about that, but not too muchI kind of think I just don't care.89
But back to things I am sure about:
When you leave a place, stop a moment to feel some sort of a Good-by.4
All mothers are slightly insane: when it comes to seeing their kids for what they are.55-6
Watch out: some people are so stupid you should not lie to them, even as a joke. It's wrong.74
Watch out for what your gifts are and honor them.181 Don't prostitute your skills for something or someone whose aims are the opposite of the sort of things you value and do well. It doesn't matter how much they pay you, I say.2-3 Suppose you're spending a lot of energy and time on a trip to see something you carved in a lavatory door in your youth thirty years ago. It's time to take stock of your priorities, in my opinion.168 [Or if you've made a web site with page numbers of a fiction novel!]
Try to help people but don't be arrogant.24
Whatever job you do, do it for what it was meant to be. If you're a lawyer saving someone from the chair, do it for that guy, not for any spectators.172 If you're going to be a student advisor, worry about the students, don't do it to seem suave and knowledgeable.143,147 If you commit to performing in a play, no matter how lame it is, do it.208
Whatever you believe, insist that it makes sense. If you believe that Jesus was kind, and God's son, and also believe He picked the disciples at random, then believe He would not send a disciple to Hell for betraying Him.99-100 Or, if you hate the movies and believe they are awful and phony, don't be a hypocrite and appear in one.77
Recognize and cherish valuable things, like when someone is invested in something. Let them talk and talk about it and appreciate that: a rare moment of life, shared.184-5 If you're enjoying a conversation, don't mess it up for some idea that you'd enjoy it more if something extraneous were different.112 Say, letting something like quality suitcases ruin a nice friendship, that's wrong.108-9
In fact, consider going the extra mile for something and someone worthwhile. Look around New York City for a great but rare record and pay top dollar for it because your great little sister will love it.114-6 Remember what kind of skates your son needs, don't get just any skates.52 No, go the extra mile. Give up your plans for school and quickly pack and drag a huge suitcase to be with someone, to help someone you love who's leaving and who could obviously use a friendly, supportive companion.205-6
Do favors for people worth dealing with. But be sensitive. If they'd rather be left alone, they'll let you know in subtle ways that'll nicely amuse you and then you take the hint and leave.122 Notice when someone's bored.190 Certainly don't bore them with lectures10 or offend their sense of propriety by patting their goddamn head. Someone's head is sacred.191-2
Kids and the other worthwhileauthenticpeople are the only ones you can rely on. They'll help you connect with someone you love or something worthwhile. For instance, you can actually ask them to send your regards to someone and they'll do it.33 For another example, they show if they care or not. If they do care, and they're saying good-by, they'll want to stay in touch and for you to be free and able to choose things yourself and at your own damn pace and for you to be able to change your mind, even. But having the respect to let someone make their own choices does not mean leaving. You can watch and worry in a calm happy way as they reach for their dreams.211 Have the courage to not emotionally abandon them.213
Oh, for another example, a good person as a headwaiter would see you're a good guy and are alone and they'll give you a decent table. Then a good guy waiter will slip a little rum in your coke you asked for as a favor, even though you're underage.
But the phonies don't just not do valuable things. They do the opposite. The phony headwaiter will sit you in the worst table when you're alone.69-70 The phonies will say "Good Luck!" as you leave. They never intend to think of you again after you're off.15-6,202 The phonies won't even consider sending on your regards to someone. The phonies will see you care about someone, or about something like fairness, and will beat you up for that.43,102 The phonies don't just leave you alone, they want to make things hard and awful. They'll even scrawl a "fuck you" on your gravestone, I swear it.204 They are never happy if someone is a real person.
Then there are the people who aren't quite phony and aren't quite real, either. They do some phony stuff, they certainly get in your way, but they don't set out to land you in hopelessness, either. I try to expose these people to nice times, in the hopes that they'll see the light and be real. Maybe I can get more real friends this way, eventually. Some pimple popping moron, I'll invite along to an outing.36 Some canasta fiend, I'll play a few games with him.47 Some sorehead cab driver, I'll invite for a drink.83 I invite them to something just because they aren't out to hurt me.
I don't know. Sometimes I even wonder if I really think everybody is okay, in a way. I mean, even some moron who beat me up to really hurt me, I mean, months later, I'll actually miss him, in a way.214 But maybe you shouldn't be so nice. I haven't even had luck with the in-betweens.
And, like I said, even they get in the way, really. They don't believe me when I have a snowball that I won't throw it.37 They get all sore if I ask about where the park animals go in the wintertime.81-2 a harmless question like thatbut then they won't even let the issue drop.83 They interrupt my evening and repeatedly disgust meclipping their toes and picking at their faces.19,37
With so many things up in the air and so few people being real, at least be polite. Check your breath.91 If someone is buying you drinks, at least offer to pay for them.75 You can be polite even if you're a prostitute. Say you didn't have to have sex with a customer, then don't charge them full price. And then if, on top of that, there's a disagreement about the price, let the difference slide.97-8 Just because you're a prostitute doesn't mean you can't have a sense of decorum!94,97 Have some self respect and respect for the people you deal with. Same thing for private weirdos: pull the shades down! 61 Hell, even if you actually despise and suspect someone, have some manners. You can ask about what they did without exactly threatening them.41
Let yourself have imaginary friends and aims. It's such a poor world, talk to your dead brother if it makes you feel better, if he was better than just about anyone alive.171,98,198 Dream of being the best thing in a fantasy world since there's nothing that sure and good in real life.173 It doesn't hurt anyone and it helps you.
Physically take a break from your life if you need one, even at the spur of the moment. Sometimes you just won't want to deal with stuff, you can see the limit of what you can tolerate is looming.51 Become an expert at disappearing. Learn how to quickly remove all traces of your presence in a place and duck into a closet, quiet as you can.176-7 Take the stairs and go out back.180 Duck out of a situation early. It's easy: just tell people you have to go meet somebody else.87 Or tell them you need to leave immediately for something urgent and lie that you'll right come back.192 Longer term, you can get away for a few days in a hotel, in secret. Calmly wait until things blow over.51, 122 For a life-long escape from people, try living in a remote cabin. Then any time you have to deal with someone, act like you're deaf and mute.198-9
Finally, yes, it's certainly best to be careful to not be an alienating bastard, a goddam phony. But still, sometimes you have to be an alienating bastard just to push back against the world.52