Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Salinger has a strong sense of the dramatic, and he often constructs his stories as though they were plays. In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” one finds the elements of a three-act play, the third act of which has two scenes. Salinger appears to have an inherent understanding of dramatic technique, and he is able to integrate this into his writing of short stories.

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” demonstrates how well Salinger uses specific detail in his work. The first section of the story is particularly strong in its use of such detail. Salinger turns Muriel’s polishing of her fingernails into a carefully detailed and telling act that reveals her personality extremely well. The reader immediately sees in Muriel a woman in control. When the telephone rings, she does not have the immediate response that is common to most people in twentieth century society. She lets it ring until she has done what she has to do; then, with complete mastery of the situation, she answers the phone.

Muriel also controls quite convincingly the telephone conversation with her mother, who certainly is a woman of strong convictions and definite personality. Salinger is particularly deft in not allowing readers to see Muriel and Seymour in any sort of interaction. The only time they are together in the story, Muriel is asleep. By handling his materials in this way, Salinger leaves it to the reader to suppose what their times together must have been like.

Salinger’s wit helps to build his readers’ impressions of Muriel. He tells them that she does not drop everything to answer a telephone, that “she looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.” Perhaps Salinger’s greatest triumph in terms of technique is that he always evinces a respect for the intellectual capacity of his readers.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

J. D. Salinger’s America is a loveless place that provides little opportunity for romantic or spiritual achievement. Seymour Glass is a poetic saint caught in a stifling marriage to Muriel, whom he has dubbed “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948.” Their honeymoon only emphasizes their separateness and the impossibility of real intimacy between them: While an unfeeling Muriel concerns herself with drying her nails and gabbing on the phone with her mother about her new husband’s questionable sanity, Seymour roams the beach. There he meets and courts the affection of a little girl, Sybil Carpenter, whose innocence and natural sympathy for his loneliness both please him (he plants a kiss on her ankle) and force him to weigh a child’s warmth against the bleakness of the adult responsibilities that face him.

The story’s title refers to a tale which Seymour relates to Sybil about mythical fish that presumably swim into holes deep in the ocean floor where bananas are hidden; once there, the bananafish gorge themselves until they are too fat to escape the holes, thereby sealing their doom. Likewise, Seymour is a victim of gluttony: He is so vulnerable to sensation, so overwhelmed by the mysteries of his universe, that he cannot return to society again--especially not as that society is defined by the small-minded concerns of his wife and his mother-in-law.

The shocking end to the story exemplifies what dedicated readers of Salinger have come to appreciate as the intricate relationship between humor and misfortune. On one page, we are laughing at Seymour’s caustic encounter with a woman in the hotel elevator, and on the next we are confronted with his calmly methodical suicide, Seymour’s “banana fever.” Seymour is but one of Salinger’s perceptive, feeling heroes surrounded by people who limit themselves to artificial gestures and shallow desires. It is a perfect day to purge himself of participation in such company.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Birth of American Postmodernism
Literary movements rarely begin on clear and set dates; the postmodernist movement was no...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Every symbol (in life and in literature) is composed of two parts: the symbol (the actual picture, such as a skull and...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1940s: Magazine fiction is a hot commodity: a nation of readers seeks entertainment in the pages of periodicals like the New...

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research Sigmund Freud's ideas of the id, the ego and the superego. To what degree do Seymour's actions reflect these different parts of the...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is Salinger's most famous work. The novel follows Holden Caulfield, a disaffected prep-school dropout,...

(The entire section is 322 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Babbitt, Irving, Rousseau and Romanticism, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1919, pp. 215, 308, 319.


(The entire section is 396 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Alexander, Paul. Salinger: A Biography. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1999.

Alsen, Eberhard. A Reader’s Guide to J. D. Salinger. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Belcher, William F., and James W. Lee, eds. J. D. Salinger and the Critics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1962.

French, Warren T. J. D. Salinger. Rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976.

Hamilton, Ian. In Search of J. D. Salinger. New York: Random House, 1988.

Kotzen, Kip, and Thomas Beller, eds. With Love and Squalor: Fourteen Writers Respond to the Work of J. D. Salinger. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

Lundquist, James. J. D. Salinger. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979.

Steinle, Pamela Hunt. In Cold Fear: “The Catcher in the Rye” Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000.

Sublette, Jack R. J. D. Salinger: An Annotated Bibliography, 1938-1981. New York: Garland, 1984.