The Courage to be an Absolute Nobody

A startling shift in point-of-view.

Shaunta Grimes
4 min readApr 4, 2019

Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

This is a line from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. It’s . . . startling.

I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.

It takes my breath away.

At first I was like . . . what does that even mean?

What kind of courage does it take to have to be an absolute nobody?

Doesn’t that mean not trying?

For some reason, it made me think of that scene in The Knight’s Tale where Heather Ledger’s character tells the pretty girl that he will win his tournament for her, and she says — you don’t win for me. You win for yourself. If you want to prove you love me, do your worst.

And he’s flabbergasted. It’s never occurred to him to try to lose. I mean, he’s worked so hard to get good — really good — at the whole jousting thing. Now he’s supposed to not care about winning?

That’s how that line from Franny and Zooey makes me feel.

Here’s more context for that quote. (Emphasis mine.)

I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid I will compete- that’s what scares me. That’s why I quit the Theater Department. Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.

You can read Salinger’s short story, Franny, here.

Shaunta Grimes

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