“You ought to go to a boys’ school sometime. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddamn Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddamn cliques. The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick together, the goddamn intellectuals stick together, the guys that play bridge stick together. Even the guys that belong to the goddamn Book-of-the-Month Club stick together. If you try to have a little intelligent–” “Look,” I said. “Here’s my idea. How would you like to get the hell out of here? Here’s my idea. I know this guy down in Greenwich Village that we can borrow his car for a couple of weeks. He used to go to the same school I did and he still owes me ten bucks. What we could do is, tomorrow morning we could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont, and all around there, see. It’s beautiful as hell up there, It really is.” I was getting excited as hell, the more I thought of it, and I sort of reached over and took old Sally’s goddamn hand. What a goddamn fool I was. “No kidding,” I said. “I have about a hundred and eighty bucks in the bank. I can take it out when it opens in the morning, and then I could go down and get this guy’s car. No kidding. We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out. Then, when the dough runs out, I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all and, later on, we could get married or something. I could chop all our own wood in the wintertime and all. Honest to God, we could have a terrific time! Wuddaya say? C’mon! Wuddaya say? Will you do it with me? Please!”
It’s one thing to be self-reflective – what a fine and therapeutic thing that is! – but entirely another to brood and whine so exhaustively that no one is willing to suffer your lamentations nor even bear your presence. That said, it is a great vehicle for a story. Truly, many of our most oft-quoted heroes are little more than bitter complainers who just need to be heard. (Note that they are all men.)
5. Ivanov (Anton Chekov, Ivanov) An overly dramatic fellow who really is a jerk to everyone around him, but he doesn’t know why and he really does seem to care, so much so that he takes it out on himself in the end. If an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom–there is no hope for him.
4. Josef K (Franz Kafka, The Trial) There is no doubt that Josef K has reason to complain – horribly treated by everyone around him, resulting in his inevitable abandonment and death – but what a depressing collection of thoughts! Yes, that’s the conspiracy: to persuade us all that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. That’s the dirty game. So I’ve lost my case. What of it? You, you’re losing too. It’s all lost, lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?
3. Alvy SInger (Woody Allen, Annie Hall) A very funny neurotic to be sure, but it’s not hard to understand why Annie finally moved across the country to get away from him. I’m obsessed with uh, with death, I think. Big – big subject with me, yeah. I have a very pessimistic view of life. You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out. You know, I – I feel that life is – is divided up into the horrible and the miserable.
2. Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye) A spoiled, selfish know-it-all who somehow holds the key to decent society. Kill all of the phonies. Indeed. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.
1. Hamlet (Willy Shakespeare, Hamlet) A most moody fellow, profound in thought and discourse, not so great on doing anything – except for royally fucking everything up. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?