Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The meanings of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” have been much discussed. On one hand, a number of reputable critics think that the story simply relates some events in a day that culminated in the suicide of a disturbed person. Other critics think of the story as a metaphorical representation of what happens to sensitive people in a materialistic society filled with people who are as greedy as the bananafish about which Seymour tells Sybil. J. D. Salinger is fond of writing about the phoniness of modern society, as he did so effectively in his best-known novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951). “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” especially on its metaphoric level, explores the same theme.
Seymour, whose name perhaps indicates that he sees more clearly than other people, has dubbed his wife “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948,” and this designation, about which Muriel tells her mother, refers probably to Muriel’s tendency always to do what is best at any give time or in any situation. She is a capable person, but she has no staunch set of values. She is malleable, and Seymour does not appreciate her malleability. Although Muriel waited for Seymour through the war and through his hospitalization, Seymour sees her as someone with whom he cannot communicate.
Seymour constantly does things to unnerve people and to make them notice him. He complains that people stare at his tattoo, even though he does not have a tattoo; he accuses an...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
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Almost everything (and everyone) in Seymour's world is tainted by shallowness, vanity, or violence. The most obvious example of this state of affairs is the war, which destroyed a part of Seymour that he is only able to recognize in the two children he befriends at the hotel. Muriel is almost completely self-absorbed: all of her actions in the story's opening paragraph have to do with her appearance (moving a button, cleaning a skirt, polishing her nails, washing her comb and brush, tweezing a mole); when asked by Seymour to read the poems of Rainer Marie Rilke, she mocks Seymour's enthusiasm and instead flips through a brainless article titled ‘‘Sex Is Fun—or Hell.’’ (Presumably she has to be told the answer to this riddle.) Despite Seymour's past indications that his mind was collapsing, she brushes aside her mother's concern because this is ''the first vacation’’ she has had ‘‘in years.’’ Her coat is of equal concern to her as her husband's troubled mind, and the reader is invited to believe that she let Seymour drive to Florida not out of any great faith in him but because she is not the kind of girl who would drive herself (as the reader is told, she is ''a girl for who a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing’’).
Like The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, Seymour Glass is a person whose essential innocence marks him as unfit for the world in which he finds himself;...
(The entire section is 555 words.)