In 1948, J.D. Salinger submitted his first short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (read it if you haven’t), to The New Yorker, but it wasn’t until after the publication of “The Catcher in the Rye” in 1951 that Salinger was launched fully into the spotlight.
He remained in the public eye for 14 years, continuing to publish short stories, along with three more major works: “Franny and Zooey,” “Nine Stories” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction” (again, read them if you haven’t).
And then, in 1965, two years after the publication of “Raise High the Roof Beam,” he disappeared.
Though he continued to write, he never published anything after the year 1965, he was hardly ever seen, and relatively little is known about his life after that year.
On Sept. 6, 2013 a documentary titled “Salinger” was released. The film attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the life of the man who is considered to be one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
But maybe it’s a mystery that shouldn’t be unraveled.
Sure, it might be exciting to find out what happened to the man who wrote one of the most widely read books in the American canon of literature (I’m sure you read “Catcher” in high school and thought that Holden Caulfield was speaking to your soul because “Yes! Someone finally gets me!” or else you added him to your list of people you wanted to murder), but what would be the point of it? What would we gain from finding out what Salinger was doing for all of those years?
Curiosity and the need to discover new things is an admirable trait. I envy people who never lose their sense of child-like curiosity. Yet, there is a fine line between what I consider curiosity and what I consider prying. And, in this humble author’s opinion, what we are doing to Salinger is teetering dangerously on that line.
Salinger is one of my favorite writers (and no, I don’t think “Catcher in the Rye” is his best work, despite its wide readership) and of course I would love to learn more about his life after 1965, but at the same time his aura of mystery is one of the reasons I am drawn to him.
People call him a recluse, but I prefer to think of Salinger as more of a hermit. He withdrew from the hustle and bustle of society for a reason, and who are we to question that reason and try to pry into his life to try to figure that reason out?
We like to know things about people; it’s human nature to want to understand the motives behind the actions of others, but maybe sometimes people don’t want their motives questioned. Maybe they don’t want the world trying to figure out every detail of their existence. In the simplest (and maybe harshest) of terms, why can’t we just leave people alone and mind our own business?
What is the point of always knowing the details of the lives of others? Sure, it’s nice to know about people, but why must people always question our motives for doing what we choose to do?
Of course, it’s interesting to know why people do what they do, especially when that person is an artist like Salinger. An artist’s motivation is always interesting to try to understand. Yet, there is something beautiful in the non-understanding as well. I think we should be more concerned with our own motives and our own actions than with the motives of others. Often, we get too wrapped up in what other people are doing and forget to ask ourselves why we do things and, therefore, lose some self-awareness.
I don’t think that we should outright ignore the motivations of other people, especially if what they are doing may harm themselves or others, but if it’s not, who are we to pry into why they’re doing it?
Salinger retreated from the world and I’d like to think that his reason for doing it was to get away from people always in his business: trying to figure out what he was going to write next and attempting to get him to release to them the movie rights for his books. He was a bit of an odd duck, but in all honesty, maybe he just wanted to be left alone. And in trying to figure out why he wanted to be left alone, we’re doing precisely what he may have been trying to avoid – the prying eyes of the public.
So, the next time you’re tempted to analyze why someone chose to do this or chose not to do that, stop for a second and think about whether or not you would want that person prying into your business. If the answer is no, then go about the business of minding your own.