‘‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’’ first appeared in the January 31, 1948, issue of the New Yorker and was collected as the first piece in Nine Stories (1953). The story is the first concerning a member of the fictional Glass family Salinger created, whose members figure in much of his work.
Seymour, the oldest of the Glass children, is Salinger's main character in one of his most elusive pieces of writing. The reader of "Bananafish" learns that Seymour, a veteran of World War II, has had trouble readjusting to civilian life—an understandable problem that thousands of soldiers had to face. However, his suicide in the story's final paragraph shocks most readers and then leaves them scratching their heads, trying to understand why, exactly, Seymour pulled the trigger.
This apparent lack of motive is at the heart of the critical debate on the story. Some readers find Seymour's wife, Muriel, partially to blame, as her self-interest seems to overshadow what should be her wifely concern for her troubled husband. Others view Seymour as something of a guru, a man wise enough to know that his world can only corrupt him and who, therefore, escapes from it. Also plausible is the idea that Seymour is like the bananafish he describes: a man so glutted (with horror or pleasure) that he can no longer survive. Multiple interpretations are possible, which makes the story's meaning ripe for debate, a much-disputed point for both professional critics and casual fans. Regardless of what specific motive a reader assigns to Seymour's suicide, he or she is sure to be involved in Salinger's elaborate game of symbols, colors, and other indirect means of storytelling.