Seymour Glass, the protagonist of the short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger, would undoubtedly agree with Dylan. His story is seemingly a very common one; a soldier returns from war and finds himself unable to relate to those around him, and, without meaningful relationships, suffers a mental breakdown that ultimately ends in suicide. On the outside it seems as though Seymour follows this prototype exactly, but in reality, re-acclimating to civilian life only serves as a catalyst for a much older, much deeper psychological distinction.
Seymour Glass takes his own life because he believes he is fundamentally different from everyone else, a point illustrated not only in his inability to maintain relationships with other people but also by Seymour himself in his story about bananafish. Seymour is unable to connect with people his own age because, after his experiences as a soldier, he finds their focus on shallow things repulsive. What he perceives as the universal focus of adults is exemplified by Mrs.
Glass’ comment to her mother: “We couldn’t get the room we had before the war….
The people are awful this year… they look as if they drove down in a truck” (Salinger 9). Though her husband is obviously in a very fragile mental state (Mrs. Glass’ mother makes it increasingly clear that she thinks her daughter is in danger), Mrs. Glass finds insulting the other vacationers more important than defending her husband’s sanity. Even when talking about possibly connecting Seymour with a psychiatrist, she cannot help but mention the wife of the doctor she spoke to, describing her as “horrible” and “all hips” (8).
The same sort of vacuousness pervades the whole resort in which Seymour is staying and forces him to physically remove himself from the small society, instead preferring to spend his time alone on the beach away from the area designated for guests of the hotel. Seymour feels the need to protect himself, sensitive as he is, from the poisonous judgments of adults, by remaining constantly covered by a bathrobe, never speaking, and keeping a margin of safety between himself and others.
He is so sensitive, in fact, that when a woman looks at the ground in his presence, Seymour bitterly accuses her of looking at what he thinks are his “two normal feet,” agitating her so much that she needs to get off of the elevator they were sharing (18). The adults are so disturbing to Seymour not only because they are shallow (a view he must have held before his time in the army) but because they remain shallow even after he has experienced the horrible, profound realities of war.
He has been shaken to the point of mental instability, but the people around him continue to live as though nothing has happened. This relatively normal veteran experience alone alienates Seymour from other civilians, but when combined with his preconceived notions about the evils of superficiality, a hindrance becomes a disability, making it literally impossible for Seymour to interact with anyone his age. However, it is important to note that even though Seymour distances himself from other adults, it is his affliction, and not theirs, that causes his alienation.
Seymour does not see the people he is surrounded by as totally evil, and although he occasionally lashes out at them, he does not blame them for his inability to connect. The world which Seymour inhabits “is firmly established by its references to the sophistication, polish, manners, and locales associated with… Salinger’s educated upper middle class” (Prigozy). Superiority is the norm, and very few people, if any, exist with sensibilities similar to Seymour’s. But even though the adults’ comments are often derisive, inhabitants of Seymour’s world are not genuinely cruel-hearted, only uncaring.
Mrs. Glass is especially indifferent to her husband’s situation, and critics have suggested that Seymour’s suicide is actually the result of a “clash of character between husband and wife” (Seed). However, Seymour does not wish to punish his wife for following the dictates of society. Instead, Seymour sees his death as “a release for her to engage life again at a level she can apprehend, and a release for himself from a physicality that has simply ceased to be endurable” (Miller 564).
His suicide, therefore, is not simply a desperate end to a toxic marriage, but a mutual victory, since it allows Mrs. Glass to continue with her carefree lifestyle and provides Seymour with a means of escape. Nevertheless, before he comes to the extreme conclusion that he must die, Seymour attempts to befriend young girls, the only other people around him. Although Seymour can only communicate with and positively respond to children, those relationships ultimately deteriorate because the child does not have the mental capacity to maintain the relationship.
In explaining to his young friend Sybil why he spends time with another girl, Sharon Lipschutz, despite Sybil’s protests, Seymour reveals exactly why he is drawn to children: “She’s never mean or unkind. That’s why I like her so much” (Salinger 15). That qualification eliminates all adults at the resort, so he shuts himself to them both emotionally and physically. But Sybil, like most other children, has no patience for listening to her mother talking to a friend about handkerchiefs and judges neither Seymour nor anyone else on physical appearances.
Seymour sees her as a pure entity, uncorrupted by the world. Trusting her goodness, he even removes his bathrobe, his shield, when they spend time together. He speaks to her freely and lightly, and when he makes cryptic comments that reveal his inner turmoil (at one point, when Sybil comments on a float Seymour uses as a headrest, he responds, “it needs more air than I’m willing to admit,” which adults might recognize as a melancholy double entendre) she takes them at face value rather than becoming uncomfortable or anxious (12).
Their conversation follows a child’s illogical train of thought and Seymour seems most comfortable with Sybil, their friendship to him ideal. However, Sybil’s innocence is a curse to the friendship as much as a blessing, because she does not understand that she must contribute to a relationship for it to survive. Her and Seymour’s farewell is brief and when she runs towards the hotel it is “without regret” (17). Realizing the low esteem in which Sybil holds their friendship, Seymour sees that he cannot form a bond with anyone, innocent or corrupt, and is completely alone.
It is in this realization that Sybil’s true purpose is revealed. Sybil’s function in Seymour’s life is not to provide him with companionship, but rather to show him that he cannot find a companion, and therefore cannot survive. James E. Miller, Jr. presents the compelling argument that she “does not serve to deflect [Seymour] from self-destruction… she does, as a kind of inverted sibyl, young rather than ancient, confirm his deepest intuitions” (563). Because Sybil is so naive, it is not in her power to prevent Seymour’s suicide.
Unable to recognize any warning signs that might be obvious to those wiser than she, Sybil treats Seymour as a playmate and a source of entertainment, rather than a disturbed human being. The turning point of their relationship, when Seymour realizes Sybil’s detachment, is out on the water when he kisses the arch of her foot and she jerks away and looks at him askance (Fassano). Her rejection is his confirmation; when that physical connection is broken, Seymour abandons all hope for any real emotional connection.
But even before he recognizes the severity of his alienation, Seymour expresses what he believes is his role in the world and even predicts his ultimate doom. Seymour’s parable about bananafish is the best example of his perceived alienation because it reflects his belief that there is some basic difference between him and the rest of the world. As he pushes Sybil out to sea, Seymour tells her to look out for bananafish and when asked what they are explains, “They lead a very tragic life…. They swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in.
But… they behave like pigs. After that they’re so fat they can’t get out…. They die” (Salinger 15). Obviously the bananafish are gluttons, but what their gluttony represents is somewhat questionable given Seymour’s tendency to speak cryptically. The meaning that first emerges is that the bananafish represent the superficial people surrounding him. Though they are born “very ordinary-looking” and therefore capable of having what Seymour sees as a respectable life, they overindulge in the physical world’s “bananas,” petty criticism and an overwhelming focus on fads and fashions, and eventually destroy themselves.
His description of the physical world as a “hole” is also significant, as it expresses Seymour’s belief that it is a place that traps people and exposes them to horrible things, never willingly allowing them to escape. Because Seymour cannot envision himself being part of or relating to any member of this world, he kills himself, rather than suffering through a life of isolation. However, since both the parable and the story end in death, the bananafish may also symbolize Seymour, who is a glutton in a very different way.
Another interpretation of the bananafish story casts Seymour as the bananafish, overwhelmed by the physical world and searching for his only way out. Miller asserts that Seymour “is a bananafish, not because he has indulged his senses to the point of grossness, but rather because of his keen sensitivity to the physicality of existence—his senses have been ravaged by the physical world, and he has found himself entrapped and must die” (563). Instead of the people around him overindulging in superficiality, Seymour is the one who is unable to process everything the orld offers, whereas everyone else possesses some sort of spiritual filter that allows them to survive in such a corrupted place. Because Seymour is fatally flawed in this way, he has no hope of surviving in this world, and when he recognizes this, he recognizes also his inevitable end; he has so-called “banana fever” and must die (Salinger 15). Death is the only way to free himself from the physical world to which he is so vulnerable and suicide is a rational response, especially in Seymour’s disturbed, post-war mental state.
Having never revealed his true self to anyone who could comprehend its significance, Seymour dies the way he lived, alone. He is unable to spend time with other adults without lashing out or sustaining psychological pain, and is rejected by the only person he responds positively to since she simply misunderstands the concept of friendship. Because as a soldier he suffered so much yet had no way of being consoled, Seymour’s loneliness mushrooms and eventually envelops him, convincing him that he is fundamentally different from everyone else.
Totally overwhelmed, he takes his own life. But although a sense of alienation rarely results in suicide, a feeling of utter isolation is inevitable in the search for companionship and, therefore, some sort of truth. And even though Seymour’s search for the truth went awry, his journey validates yet another lyric of the ever relevant Bob Dylan: “The truth was obscure, / Too profound and too pure, / To live it you had to explode. ”
Cite this A Perfect Day for Bananafish
A Perfect Day for Bananafish. (2016, Sep 28). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-perfect-day-for-bananafish/