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How does Salinger's use of narration affect the meaning of "A Perfect Day For Bananafish"?

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spring09 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 21, 2009 at 11:10 AM via web

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How does Salinger's use of narration affect the meaning of "A Perfect Day For Bananafish"?

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madelynfair | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 22, 2009 at 10:58 AM (Answer #1)

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When selecting narrative point of view, a writer has many choices: first, second, or third person, and within third person, omniscient, third-person discerning, third-person limited, and third-person objective. One can argue that in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" we have the distant, removed tone of third-person objective. Known as "fly on the wall" or the movie camera perspective, this point of view catalogues all the action but doesn't force any judgments on the reader. The reader sees and hears sensory details the way a fly (without attitudes and belief systems) would perceive them. Things happen but it's up to the reader to fit each piece together into a thematic puzzle, what you have called "meaning."

When the story opens, we see "the girl in 507" quite busy at grooming in her hotel room. We see her actions in keeping up her appearance, and we hear her conversation with her mother over the phone. We learn she is Mrs. Glass, or Muriel. Then later we see her husband, Seymour Glass, as he engages in some pretty odd interactions with a little girl named Sibyl on the beach and in the ocean. Note that "odd" is my judgment -- the narrator, an impersonal voice without any particular attitude -- never says that things are odd. Except one key lapse: paragraph #2. There is judgment in that paragraph of Muriel, and I invite you to study it and see the one place where we have some omniscience. The rest of the time, narration goes back to the style of the anonymous cameraperson, or fly on the wall.

Why is this distant, disconnected, and impassive tone an effective narrative voice? Why this one lapse? You can get to these answers by asking yourself which characters you think Salinger wants us as readers to ally ourselves with. Are we supposed to be rooting for Seymour and surprised, even sad, that he commits suicide? If yes, then it might explain why Muriel seems vain in paragraph 2, the popular girl more interested in who has called her than her husband, just returned from WW II, who might be suffering PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). No one in this story gets the final say, however, and no one is perfect, which is perhaps why Salinger didn't choose first person narration (which even with an unreliable narrator can lead to a more clear alliance or empathy with a character) or omniscience (which can invite judgment by the author or almost too much empathy with too many people if we get inside several heads).

I recommend you read the literary criticism and themes analyses and then ask yourself: How does the third-person objective POV help communicate some of these themes? Don't assume that POV isn't as calculated the same way a building is blueprinted or a puzzle is put together; writers think very carefully about which angle(s) and stance(s) to present the story. An interesting final question, if you like the movie camera analogy: where is the camera positioned throughout this tale?

Good luck!

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