“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?”
That’s what a teacher tells a student, the protagonist of J D Salinger’s celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Holden, the student, was critical of everything around him. He was confused by the hypocrisy of the adults around him. The ability of his companions to adjust to that hypocrisy confounded him further. In short, life confounded him.
Holden ended up in a lunatic asylum. He couldn’t cope with the confounding life.
But the novel ended when Holden was only 16 years old. What if Holden continued to live beyond the novel, outside the asylum, liberated from his neurotic obsessions with hypocrisy, and ready to accept the world as it really is?
He becomes a teacher in a public school, let us imagine. He becomes an English teacher. After all, literature was not alien to him. He loved telling stories.
What does he see in his school?
His principal shrieks in the assembly every morning about the spelling mistakes made by the students in their applications. “You don’t even know the difference between principle and principal.” Don’t know spellings. Don’t know grammar. Basic grammar! What are you learning here? What are your teachers teaching here? What are the teachers doing here?
The Principal becomes so engrossed with spelling mistakes that he forgets that there are students waiting to deliver their routine news readings and poem recitations.
Holden, one of the teachers, sits demurely in the assembly hall listening to the tirade on spelling mistakes. And grammar mistakes. And umpteen other mistakes. Made by everyone, obviously.
And he wonders how this man became the Principal (or is it principle?) when he is so obsessed with spelling mistakes far, far beyond the age of 15.
But who is he, Holden the reclaimed neurotic, to ask such questions?
Spelling mistakes are in the mind. Of people who ascend to positions they don’t deserve, he thought. Then he corrected himself. No, my counsellor had told me to laugh when I saw spelling mistakes. Can I laugh, Principal? He did not ask the question loud. The asylum had made him too sane.