J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (The Fall)

“I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind… It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college. Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, ‘It’s a secret between he and I.’ Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer. I just don’t know. But do you know what I’m driving at, at all?”

“Yes. Sure,” I said. I did, too. “But you’re wrong about that hating business. I mean about hating football players and all. You really are. I don’t hate too many guys. What I may do, I may hate them for a little while, like this guy Stradlater I knew at Pencey, and this other boy, Robert Ackley. I hate them once in a while – I admit it – but it doesn’t last too long, is what I mean. After a while, if I didn’t see them, if they didn’t come in the room, or if I didn’t see them in the dining room for a couple of meals, I sort of missed them. I mean I sort of missed them.”

Mr. Antolini didn’t say anything for a while. He got up and got another hunk of ice and put it in his drink, then he sat down again. You could tell he was thinking. I kept wishing, though, that he’d continue the conversation in the morning, instead of now, but he was hot. People are mostly hot to have a discussion when you’re not.

“All right. Listen to me a minute now… This fall I think you’re riding for – it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started…”

He got up and poured some more booze in his glass. Then he sat down again. He didn’t say anything for quite a long time.

“I don’t want to scare you,” he said, “but I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause.” He gave me a funny look. “If I write something down for you, will you read it carefully? And keep it?”

“Yes. Sure,” I said. I did, too. I still have the paper he gave me.

He went over to this desk on the other side of the room, and without sitting down wrote something on a piece of paper. Then he came back and sat down with the paper in his hand. “Oddly enough, this wasn’t written by a practicing poet. It was written by a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel. Here’s what he…said: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

He leaned over and handed it to me. I read it right when he gave it to me, and then I thanked him and all and put it in my pocket. It was nice of him to go to all that trouble. It really was. The thing was, though, I didn’t feel much like concentrating. Boy, I felt so damned tired all of a sudden.

You could tell he wasn’t tired at all, though. He was pretty oiled up, for one thing. “I think that one of these days,” he said, “you’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there. But immediately. You can’t afford to lose a minute. Not you”

I nodded, because he was looking right at me and all, but I wasn’t too sure what he was talking about. I was pretty sure I knew, but I wasn’t too positive at the time. I was too damn tired.

“And I hate to tell you,” he said, “but I think that once you have a fair idea where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You’ll have to. You’re a student – whether the idea appeals to you or not. You’re in love with knowledge . And I think you’ll find, once you get past all the Mr. Vineses and their Oral Comp-”

“Mr. Vinsons,” I said. He meant all the Mr. Vinsons, not all the Mr. Vineses. I shouldn’t have interrupted him, though.

“All right – the Mr. Vinsons. Once you get past all the Mr. Vinsons, you’re going to start getting closer and closer – that is, if you want to, and if you look for it and wait for it – to the kind of information that will be very, very dear to your heart. Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” He stopped and took a big drink out of his highball. Then he started again. Boy , he was really hot. I was glad I didn’t try to stop him or anything. “I’m not trying to tell you,” he said, “that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It’s not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they’re brilliant and creative to begin with – which, unfortunately, is rarely the case – tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. And – most important – nine times out of ten they have more humility than the unscholarly thinker…”

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