In , J. This event was a major step in his literary career. First, it brought Salinger serious critical acclaim. Second, it established a working relationship between the author and The New Yorker. The magazine offered Salinger a right of first refusal contract, and he subsequently published his new work almost exclusively in the New Yorker.
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As far as Seymour's death is concerned, the authorial tone maintains its distance from the topic at hand, betraying no real opinion of its own on the matter. The author leaves it up to his reader to interpret this tale. Salinger's narrative technique, dialogue, and powers of characterization have been praised by many critics, as has the structure and effect of "Bananafish" in particular.
The psychological complexity of Seymour Glass and the story's enigmatic conclusion have given it solid standing in the short story canon. The bananafish are one of the story's key symbols. To understand what's going on here, we've got to take a closer look at the text: "This is a perfect day for bananafish. They're very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I've known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas.
Can't fit through the door. They die. It's a terrible disease. One angle you might take is to think about the story's spiritual or Zen Buddhism theme. See "What's Up with the Epigraph? By stuffing themselves full of bananas, the bananafish are focusing physical needs or pleasures. This is not unlike the materialistic adults in the story such as Muriel, Muriel's mother, and Mrs. Carpenter with their talk of clothes, fashion, or drinks.
Seymour, who sees more, is aware of this sort of gluttony and wants to avoid it all costs. He doesn't want to gorge himself on bananas. Which leads us nicely into the discussion of "What's Up with the Ending?
If Seymour is filled with shame at his death, it may be that he suspects himself of such "banana-fever. Go ahead and check out "What's Up with the Ending? Why does Seymour commit suicide? This is possibly one of the most highly-debated short story questions of the last fifty years. There are dozens of theories, and we can't be sure which one of them is "right.
It also might be, as we argue in "What's Up with the Epigraph," that the "answer" to this question can't be logically conceptualized. In any case, here's a little pupu platter of Seymour theories: 1 Innocence, Children, and the War Let's not forget that Seymour's mental troubles are the result of the war, and that he's suffering from what today we would probably call post-traumatic stress disorder though this term wasn't yet around when Salinger was writing.
We infer that Seymour has witnessed some awful things during his time in the service, and that he's having a hard time readjusting to being home. We see that he's retreated into a largely insular world, and that he's no longer comfortable interacting with most adults. Sybil offers him a glimpse of the world as he would like it to be — innocent, curious, and pure — but his interaction with the woman in the elevator reminds him that the adult world is actually nothing like this.
Unable to cope with reality, and unable to function normally, Seymour turns to suicide. As hinted at in the epigraph to Nine Stories , there is a common theme of Zen Buddhism in Salinger's work. In "Teddy," a young child genius is somewhat of a Zen master. He discusses his flirtation with enlightenment in a previous life, and he casually foretells his own death.
It's interesting to note that both "Bananafish" and "Teddy" end with the death of the main character. At first, the tone of these deaths may seem very different. Teddy calmly accepts his accidental death as a step on the road to enlightenment, and there is tranquility even in the jarring ending. What of the conclusion to Bananafish, though? Is it a jarring, painful ending, quite different from that of Teddy? Or is Seymour's death, too, a calm and accepting step in the right spiritual direction?
In "Teddy," for example, the title character explains that death is in many ways like waking up. It's no coincidence that Muriel is sleeping in the bed nearby when Seymour puts the gun to his head. He's waking up; she's still asleep. Consider the idea of the bananafish.
We flesh out this idea a but more in "What's Up with the Title? Seymour doesn't want to be like the bananafish, pigging out on physical desires, so he kills himself. He ends his physical existence, but not, many argue, his spiritual one. He's attracted to Sybil and even goes so far as to kiss her foot.
He's then filled with shame at his action and so kills himself, preserving Sybil's purity in the process. It's unlikely that Salinger intended this as a line of reasoning, but there you have it. We know from Seymour's nickname for Muriel that the year is In later Glass family works, narrator Buddy Glass confirms that his brother Seymour committed suicide in , allowing us to deduce that Seymour was 30 or 31 at the time.
It's interesting to consider the sort of dual setting we have in this story. The first half takes place in a hotel room indoors, where a sun-burnt Muriel talks on the phone to her mother. The second half takes place outside, in the sun and in the ocean, where a pale Seymour plays with young Sybil.
It's appropriate that Muriel is indoors; she's materialistic and certainly less aware of the world at least spiritually than Seymour.
It's also appropriate that Sybil and Seymour are outside, in the purity of the natural elements. It's striking that when Seymour enters the hotel room, he is immediately hit with the smell of "new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover" 2. This world — the materialistic world of his wife — is very different than the pure, natural world he just occupied with Sybil. We know the sound of two hands clapping.
But what is the sound of one hand clapping? While Eastern philosophy isn't explicitly discussed in "Bananafish," it's easy to see a spiritual theme reflected in the story. If this stuff interests you, we'd recommend reading "Bananafish" and "Teddy" the final piece in the Nine Stories collection together. These two works book-end Nine Stories , literally and thematically, and "Teddy" really informs the way that we read and interpret "Bananafish.
His theory is that we are all so distracted and filled up with the useless things we learn in school — like math and science and grammar and logic — that we don't open ourselves to real spiritual truths. To get at those, you have to "empty yourself" of all logical truths. Similarly, in Salinger's novel Franny and Zooey , college student Franny Glass Seymour's younger sister complains that in school, they learn nothing but this useless knowledge.
Their goal is to amass as much of it as quickly as possible, which Franny finds no more noble than trying to amass wealth, fame, or any material good. Knowledge is pointless, she says, unless it ultimately leads to wisdom.
Which brings us to the epigraph. But the answer to the riddle isn't logical. If we ask you, "What is the square root of ? The question has logical answer. What is the sound of one hand clapping? If you meditate on this long enough, claim the Zen Buddhists, you will come up with an answer. But it's not a logical answer that you could explain to someone else.
In other words, you can't Google the answer to this one. You have to intuit it on your own. What does this have to do with "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"? Remember that the point of an epigraph is to inform the way we read a work. The epigraph provides the author with an opportunity to give us a hint or sometimes tell us directly how to interpret his writing.
This epigraph reminds us that some questions — actually, the most important questions, spiritually speaking — don't have logical answers. And, of course, the big question in "Bananafish" is…why does Seymour kill himself? There may be an answer to his question, but it's not one that anyone could write down or explain in a thesis paper.
Perhaps we're meant to meditate on this and the other stories in the collection, but we're not meant to "figure out" what the "answer" is.
If you buy into this theory, you might very well take issue with all the "deep hidden meaning" conclusions that critics have drawn and that we've explored in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory. And this is certainly a legitimate approach to the text.
Maybe it's better to walk away from "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" with an emotional or spiritual reaction, rather than an analytical one. Salinger is so famous for his tell-tale writing style, we figured we would just call it what it is.
Observe all of these typical Salinger trademarks: Italicized words for emphasis give the dialogue a natural phonetic feel. Incomplete sentences reflect the way people really talk. Physical movements are described in poignant, conscientious detail. The narrator is removed from the action but intimately aware of what's important. In short, you should be able to recognize this as trademark-Salinger even in a dark alley on a windless night. Before we talk about any of these symbols, you should know that there are two camps when it comes to interpreting "A Perfect Day for Bananafish.
J. D. Salinger: Seeing the Glass Family (A Perfect Day For Bananafish)
A Perfect Day for Bananafish
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A Perfect Day for Bananafish Analysis