Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

In his controversial biography, In Search of J. D. Salinger, Ian Hamilton calls ‘‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish" "spare, teasingly mysterious, withheld’’—surely a deliberate understatement in light of the great deal of ink the critical community has spilled over the story. In his essay ‘‘A Critical Perspective on the Works of J. D. Salinger’’ (collected in Harold Bloom's 2002 J. D. Salinger, part of the Bloom's Bio-Critiques series), Clifford Mills remarks that Salinger's stories may be read as ''riddles without any obvious solutions'' and points of departure for ‘‘thinking, questioning’’ and ‘‘meditating.’’ Knowing the degree to which readers yearn for a solution to the story's mystery, Mills concedes that Seymour's suicide is ''one of the central riddles of Salinger's later fiction.’’ In his famous essay, ‘‘J. D. Salinger: 'Everybody's Favorite'’’ (also collected by Bloom), the renowned critic Alfred Kazin praises Salinger's having ‘‘done an honest and stimulating professional job’’ in his stories, which project ‘‘emotion like a cry from the stage’’ and reveal their author's ‘‘almost compulsive need to fill in each inch of his canvas, each moment of his scene.'' However, Kazin also remarks that Salinger is guilty of "cute" characterization and writing laden with ''self-conscious charm and prankishness.’’ Still, he admits that ''A Perfect Day for Bananafish'' does possess a ‘‘brilliantly entertaining texture.’’

There are almost as many opinions about why Seymour kills himself as there are readers of the story, which is why a combination of praise and puzzlement is found in many critical appraisals. For example, in his essay, ‘‘J. D. Salinger: Seventy-Eight Bananas’’...

(The entire section is 725 words.)