With his almost nonchalant suicide at the story's end, Seymour has become one of American literature's most enigmatic characters. ‘‘Why did he do it?'' is a difficult question with which many readers and writers struggle; an overview of the story, however, suggests a few possible routes of inquiry about Seymour's past and present problems.
The reader learns (from Muriel's conversation with her mother) that Seymour served in the United States Army and spent an undisclosed amount of time in a veteran's hospital, presumably for psychiatric evaluation or recovery. Since the story was first published in 1948, the reader can assume that Seymour (like his creator) saw action in World War II that affected him in terrible and unspoken ways. The reader also learns that Seymour tried to crash his father-in-law's car into a tree, attempted some "business" with a window (also presumably self-destructive), said ‘‘horrible things’’ to Muriel's grandmother about ‘‘her plans for passing away,’’ tried to do ‘‘something with Granny's chair’’ and harmed ‘‘all those lovely pictures from Bermuda.’’ Obviously, Seymour is preoccupied with death, a preoccupation that becomes a reality in the final paragraph.
Seymour's war experiences have left him so badly shaken that he searches for some form of purity in what he sees as a dangerous and corrupt world. Thus, his only two friends at the hotel are Sybil and Sharon: two little girls...
(The entire section is 348 words.)