Adventures in Reading


“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger
“They lead a very tragic life.”

Sometimes you will discover something and even though you know you have to be the last person in the world to know about this thing it is no different than if you personally had discovered fire (or, even more importantly, s’mores). This is how I felt roughly a page into “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” when all of the petals unfurled and I discovered s’mores, or to be more exact Seymour Glass. Earlier this year I read Salinger’s Franny and Zooey but little did I know that the birth of this book laid in a 1948 short story from The New Yorker entitled “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is a snippet from the lives of Muriel and Seymour Glass. They have driven from New York to Florida on an abrupt vacation and concluding the reader’s short acquaintance with them Seymour returns to the hotel room, calmly sits on the bed, and shoots himself in the head. I admit this was another story where I fell flat on my face for the twist.

Salinger brilliantly creates a subtle rhythm of abnormalcy throughout the otherwise very normal occurrences in the story. The opening of the tale portrays Muriel Glass with complete calmness and poise removing a stain from her suit, painting her nails, as she awaits a phone call from her mother. It’s nearly agonizing for the reader watching her continue through her steps even as the phone is ringing. Then Salinger kicks in that twinge of discomfort: “I’ve been worried to death about you. Why haven’t you phoned? Are you all right?” The conversation leads to further suspicion as the mother asks “Did he try any of that funny business with the trees?” and later in the conversation Muriel giggling tells her mother that “he” refers to her as “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948.”

However, from here on out the story utterly radiates calm and nearly a full return to normalcy. The scene changes to a small girl being lathered up in sunscreen by her mother for a day on the beach. Sybil runs into Seymour and the two hold a friendly conversation as an adult and child acquaintance might have – think teasing and silly. This leads to Seymour briefly taking Sybil out into the ocean as he pushes her on a flotation raft. During this time Seymour tells her about the bananafish: fish that gorge themselves on bananas they find in holes, later cannot leave the holes from the banana intake, and die of banana fever. Before returning to shore Sybil is thrilled when she sees a bananafish.

I keep wondering about the bananafish. Is someone in the story meant to be the bananafish? Is the bananafish story a parable? Are the bananas symbolic? Because after the bananafish story Seymour returns to the hotel, has a brief and rude exchange with a woman in the elevator who may or may not be staring at Seymour’s feet, and he kills himself as his wife sleeps on the next bed over. In retrospect the story is strangely calm from his wife’s sequential behavior up to Seymour pulling out the gun. But it’s the suggestions, those blips on the radar, that create an unnerving balance to the tale. Not to mention perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story: Why did Seymour kill himself?

Now more than ever I want to reread Franny and Zooey not to mention the remainder of the tales in Nine Stories.

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7 Comments

Oh, I know that story — my friend Mari was reading the Nine Stories, and she read the Bananafish one out loud to me one afternoon.

I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder.

Comment by Christine

Did you read this in ‘Nine Stories’? I loved that book so much. I hated ‘Catcher in the Rye’ the first time I read it, but I loved all of ‘Nine Stories.’ ‘Teddy’ is my favorite.

Comment by raych

Christine: It was an amazing story and I hadn’t previously realized Salinger had a short story collection.

Raych: Yes, this was from Nine Stories (whoops – should have mentioned that!) and has been prodding me to pick up and (re)read more Salinger.

Comment by bookchronicle

I read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” about once a year. It disturbs me every time. But I can not stop. Thank you for writing about it. The rest of the stories are wonderful, specially “For Esme With Love and Squalor”.

Comment by Juliette

Yeah, I’m a sophomore in high school and we just read the first three. I’m just trying to figure out what would make a good essay topic pertaining to “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”.

Comment by Chloé

Juliette: I could most definitely see rereading “Banafish” yearly. I confess I haven’t delved into the rest of Nine Stories but I am definitely looking into it.

Chloé: Did you like “Banafish”? Why? I usually find the topics to my research papers nestled somewhere in those questions. For example, I loathed Jane Austen and last year I decided to find out exactly why I hated her so much. After some digging it turns out I love the woman and wrote about one of the reasons why – Austen’s use of stock characters.

Comment by bookchronicle

[…] and over again, I think my YouTube Veldt won’t eat my parents.  It’s a perfect day for Bananafish, but as I sit on my porch watching YouTube I wonder what other wonders I’m missing.  […]

Pingback by SensoryMetrics » My YouTube Veldt




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