“A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” published first in The New Yorker and later in the collection Nine Stories, is one of Salinger’s best-known and most puzzling stories. Although a few generally accepted themes can be identified, critics are widely divided as to the significance of the title, symbolism, and climax of the story.
The story opens with Muriel Glass, the wife of Seymour, oldest of the Glass children, waiting for a telephone call to be put through to New York. When the phone rings, the party on the other end of the line is Muriel’s mother, who is extremely concerned about Seymour’s state of mind and Muriel’s safety. Muriel’s mother is afraid that Seymour will “lose control of himself”—evidently with good reason. Seymour has recently driven a car into a tree, among other alarming acts that Muriel’s mother relates: “That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away. What he did with all those lovely pictures from Bermuda . . . what he tried to do with Granny’s chair.” During the course of the conversation the reader learns that Seymour was in Europe during the war and afterward was placed in an Army hospital, presumably as a psychiatric case. The Army apparently decided that Seymour was well enough for release, but his behavior remains erratic, at least by Muriel’s mother’s account. Muriel herself does not seem overly concerned, but she promises to call her mother “the instant he does, or says, anything at all funny,” as her mother puts it, before Muriel hangs up.
The scene then shifts to the beach outside the hotel, where Seymour is lying on his back in his bathrobe. Sybil Carpenter, a little girl Seymour has befriended, approaches him and says, “Are you going in the water, see more glass?” Sybil is fascinated with Seymour’s name, and she keeps repeating it like some kind of incantation: “Did you see more glass?” After some seemingly disconnected banter about the color of Sybil’s bathing suit and the lack of air in Seymour’s rubber float, Seymour takes Sybil down to the water. As they begin to wade in, Seymour tells Sybil, “You just keep your eyes open for any bananafish. This is a...
(The entire section is 919 words.)