Despite what marketers have you believe, Heartbreak isn’t just a gelled, chiseled, and perfectly neglected product of the Twilight phenomenon. Holden Caulfield is the king of heartbreak of the 20th century, and he was playing with a cropped drone in the 1950s. Søren Kierkegaard set the philosophical bar for heartbreak in the 19th century and managed to do it with a top hat. And who can forget Prince Hamlet, the original anguished European canon who wears a skull and wears trousers?
Kierkegaard, of course, looked at distress from a strictly Western and Christian point of view, but literary figures like Holden and Hamlet have a much more universal register. (That is, unless you’re tired of all the agony and hesitation, in which case you should read To Kill a Mockingbird for some of Scout’s wisdoms: shoot-first-ask-questions-later.) Barrier (Hamlet: “What / Is this quintessential dust? Man doesn’t delight me”; Holden: “That Morrow guy was as sensitive as a fucking toilet seat”) The two have a lot in common.
Both Hamlet and Holden are privileged young people, in love and scarred by the death of a family member. As a result of their mute suffering, they feel – and strive to become – alienated from their respective communities. (Which isn’t a huge loss, considering they both think the world is full of hypocrites and imposters.) Attacking through passive aggression, Holden and Hamlet lie / generally fuck people until their sanity becomes a topic of debate. And if that’s not enough to convince you of their strangely parallel lives, just be aware of the fact that they can both be wielded.
The main point of divergence occurs when Hamlet subliminates his silent rage over the death of his uncle … not to mention his mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s brother, his girlfriend’s father, his two closest friends and him. same. Compare that to The Catcher in the Rye, which ends with Holden seemingly interned in 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 rungs down, you know, the most powerful guy in the country, at a time when sword fighting and poisoning are still considered quite common, the apparent la his act’s audacity diminishes, especially considering that it takes all five of Hamlet’s acts for him to even have the courage to do so. Holden, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate to attack his idiot male roommate “just hit the toothbrush, to rip his damn throat out.” Despite the failure of the attack, this is quite audacious for a 17-year-old boy living in a preparatory school during the era in American history that coined the term “lice.”
However, Holden’s fighting spirit evaporates over the course of the novel and, after losing his second fight, he imagines himself to be a gangster with a bullet in the stomach and his best girl by his side. “The damn movies,” he laments. “They can ruin you.” And maybe he’s right, considering that our modern, civilized notion of catharsis generally involves renting movies and letting the sets wash over you. Maybe Twilight is on to something after all.