Despite what marketers would have you believe, heartbreak isn’t just a perfectly sloppy, chiseled, gelled product of the Twilight phenomenon. Holden Caulfield is the 20th-century king of angst, and he was making the rounds with a fashionable cut in the 1950s. Søren Kierkegaard set the philosophical bar for angst in the 19th century, and he managed to do it while wearing a top hat. And who can forget Prince Hamlet, the original skull-and-pants-wearing angst-er of the European canon?
Kierkegaard, of course, looked at heartbreak from a strictly Western Christian point of view, but literary figures like Holden and Hamlet have a much more universal record. (That is, unless you’re tired of all the agony and hesitation, in which case you should go read To Kill a Mockingbird for some Scout wisdom: shoot first, ask questions, then.) In fact, despite the potential language barrier (Hamlet: “What/is this quintessence of dust? Man delights me not”; Holden: “That fellow Morrow was as sensitive as a bloody toilet seat”) the two have a remarkable amount in common.
Both Hamlet and Holden are privileged young people and lovers scarred by the death of a family member. As a result of their mute suffering, they feel, and are determined to become, alienated from their respective communities. (Which isn’t much of a loss, considering they both think the world is full of hypocrites and impostors.) Lashing out via passive aggression, Holden and Hamlet lie/generally screw people over until their sanity becomes a matter of debate. And if that’s not enough to convince you of their strangely parallel lives, just consider the fact that they can both wield.
The main point of divergence arises when Hamlet sublimates his silent fury over his uncle’s death… not to mention his mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s brother, his girlfriend’s father, his two closest friends, and himself. . He compares that to The Catcher in the Rye, which ends with Holden seemingly committed to a mental institution with all his frustrations alive and well.
If we take into consideration the fact that the prince of Denmark is only a few runs below, you know, the most powerful guy in the country, at a time when swordsmanship and poisoning are still considered pretty run-of-the-mill, the apparent the audacity of his act diminishes, especially considering that it takes all five of Hamlet’s acts for him to even dare to do it. Holden, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate to attack the douchey macho roommate of his “right smack in the toothbrush, so I’d rip his fucking throat open.” Even though the attack fails, this is pretty audacious for a 17-year-old boy living in a high school during the era in US history that coined the term “lice.”
However, Holden’s fighting spirit evaporates throughout the novel, and after losing his second fight, he imagines himself a gangster with a bullet in his belly and his best girl by his side. “Damn movies,” he wails to himself. “They can ruin you.” And maybe he’s right, considering that our modern, civilized notion of catharsis usually involves renting movies and letting the sets wash over you. Maybe Twilight is onto something after all.