“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...
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“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is composed of three interconnected story lines, the first and third of them realistic, the second a kind of fantasy. As the story opens, Muriel Glass is alone in her hotel room, presumably in Miami Beach, waiting for her call to her mother to be put through. She is polishing her fingernails when the telephone rings, but she does not drop everything to answer it. She replaces the cap of her nail polish, gets an ash tray, sits down on one of the twin beds, and answers the telephone on the fifth or sixth ring.
Muriel’s mother, talking from a northern city, is worried at not having heard from Muriel sooner. As the conversation progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that something is seriously wrong with Seymour, Muriel’s husband, who had been mustered out of the army after World War II and who has been hospitalized up until now. Muriel has waited for him through the war and during the time he was hospitalized.
Muriel’s mother is particularly distressed to learn that Muriel allowed Seymour to drive the car on their trip to Florida. He has already damaged Muriel’s father’s car by driving it into a tree, which he seems to have a compulsion to do. The mother urges her daughter to come home at once. She tells Muriel that her father will pay for her to take a trip away by herself to think things out. Muriel mentions that she met the hotel’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rieser, who asked her if her husband, who looks wan and pale, is ill.
Muriel also asks if her mother knows where a book of German poetry is that Seymour sent her from Germany. Seymour considers the poems to be by the only great poet of the century, presumably Rainer Maria Rilke, and wants Muriel to learn...
(The entire section is 710 words.)