J.D. Salinger

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

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A Perfect Day for Bananafish Summary

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“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is a short story by iconic American author J.D. Salinger. First published in The New Yorker in 1948, it is considered one of Salinger’s breakthrough works, establishing the unique voice, flair for character and energetic dialogue, and inventive style that would become his trademarks. The story centers on a young New York City couple, Seymour and Muriel Glass, as they visit a Florida resort, and the bizarre, life-changing experiences they have there.

In the opening scene, Muriel is at the seaside resort hotel, talking on the phone to her mother. She and Seymour married five years ago. However, she has noticed that ever since he returned home from fighting in the Second World War, Seymour has been different. He has recently been released from a military hospital. Muriel seems to suggest that Seymour was there for psychiatric treatment. She explains to her mother that Seymour has been behaving strangely and antisocially and can barely function in social settings. Her mother is extremely worried and tells Muriel that Seymour may lose control and do something dangerous. Muriel is largely unconcerned, and she dismisses what she sees as her mother’s outsized reaction to the issue. She assures her mother that Seymour is fine and his odd behaviors of late are all perfectly harmless and manageable.

The second scene begins as four-year-old Sybil Carpenter sits on the beach with her mother. As her mother applies sunscreen to Sybil’s back, Sybil chants, “See more glass,” which only confuses her mother. Sybil then goes off to play, while her mother goes off to drink, and Sybil soon finds Seymour on a nearly empty stretch of the beach. The two have met before during their stay at the resort, and Seymour appears to be great with children.

Sybil scolds Seymour for letting another girl at the resort, Sharon Lipschutz, sit with him the night before when he played the piano in the hotel lounge. Sybil wants him to decide who he prefers to be friends with, Sharon Lipschutz or herself. In response to this ultimatum, he tells Sybil that he saw her being mean to the dog of another hotel guest, which silences her.

Seymour pacifies Sybil by telling her about the bananafish and suggesting that they go into the water and try to catch one. As he puts her on a small raft, he explains that bannafish are normal fish, but if they swim into the hole of a banana, they will gorge themselves on the fruit until they swell up and die inside it. Sybil, unimpressed by this tale, claims she has seen a bananafish with six bananas in its mouth. Amused, Seymour places a light, innocent kiss on one of Sybil’s feet. They return to the shore, where she goes off to find her mother.

As he walks back to the hotel, Seymour’s mood changes and darkens. While riding in the elevator, he angrily accuses another hotel guest of being a “god-damned sneak” and staring at his feet. Not surprisingly, she thinks he is crazy.

Once back in the room, Seymour finds Muriel asleep. He goes to his luggage and removes a pistol. Then, he sits on the twin bed opposite the one where Muriel naps. He raises the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger.

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is the first of Salinger’s works to feature the Glass family, who would go on to figure prominently in some of his later fiction. Seymour is a character in several Salinger novels and stories, including Franny and Zooey. Interestingly, in the novella Seymour: An Introduction, Seymour’s younger brother, Buddy, claims to have written “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and says that the Seymour described in the story is actually more like himself, Buddy, than Seymour. Buddy and Seymour were reportedly very close before Seymour’s suicide in 1948.

Though the events described in the story seem straightforward, they hint at much deeper meanings. There is the disconnect between Seymour and Muriel, which suggests a lack of communication and honesty, as well as a certain amount of willful ignorance regarding Muriel’s decision to brush off her husband’s distressing behavioral changes. There is the relationship between Seymour and Sybil, with Sybil representing the innocence that Seymour lost during the war. There is the bananafish allegory, which may be a reference to the rising consumerism of the post-war era and the inherent emptiness of it. There is Seymour’s explosion at the woman in the elevator; this indicates that Seymour feels exposed, seen in uncomfortable ways, perhaps as a result of the traumatic memories of the war he carries. Finally, the entire tale could be a scathing indictment of war and how the battles continue long after the troops have gone home. They are fought in the hearts and minds and spirits of the soldiers who were there—even when those soldiers are in completely benign, even idyllic surroundings, like a seaside resort in Florida.