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Noah Sneider Bananafish

Readers Guide – “A Perfect Day For Bananafish”

Publication Details:

The New Yorker January 31, 1948.  Pages 21-25. Later published as part of the collection Nine Stories.

Character List:

Seymour Glass

A young, newlywed soldier who has just returned from the war.  He’s on vacation with his wife in Florida.

Muriel Glass

Seymour’s wife.

Muriel’s Mother

Muriel’s mother, who expresses great concern about Seymour’s state of mind.

Sybil Carpenter

A four-year-old little girl who interacts with Seymour on the beach.  She and her mother are staying in the same hotel as Seymour and Muriel.

Mrs. Carpenter

Sybil’s mother.

Sharon Lipschutz

Another little girl who is staying in the same hotel.

Plot Synopsis:

The story opens on Muriel alone in she and Seymour’s hotel room.  Her call finally gets connected, and she proceeds to have a long conversation with her mother, who expresses a great deal of concern about Muriel because she seems to think that Seymour is crazy.

The scene changes.  Sybil is on the beach, having suntan lotion applied by her mother.  Her mother leaves to go back up to the hotel to have a drink

Sybil walks down the beach and approaches a man (Seymour) who is lying in his robe on the beach.  He and Sybil have a characteristically Salingeresque conversation wherein Seymour tells Sybil to keep an eye out for bananafish.  He exaplains that bananafish “lead a very tragic life” in that they swim into a hole underwater and gorge themselves on bananas so much that they can’t get out and die.

After he and Sybil’s time in the water Seymour goes back into the hotel.  He has a strange outburst at fellow hotel guests in the elevator, goes back into his hotel room, looks at his wife, retrieves his gun from his luggage, sits on the bed, and shoots himself in the head.

Reviews:

For reviews of Nine Stories in general, please see the Nine Stories Primary Text Page.

Criticism:

for an overview of each critical article, click on the link to each, or visit our Bibliographical Journal Article section.

Fassano, Anthony:  “Salinger’s A Perfect Day for Bananafish”  Explicator (66:3) 2008, 149-50

Greiner, Donald J:  “Updike and Salinger:  a literary incident.”  Critique: studies in contemporary fiction (47:2) 2006, 415-30.

Lacy, Robert:  “Sing a song of Sonny”  Sewanee Review (113:2) 2005, 309-316

Smith, Dominic:  “Salinger’s Nine Stories:  fifty years later”  Antioch Review (61:4) 2003, 639-49

Alsen, Eberhard:  “New light on the nervous breakdowns of Salinger’s Sergeant X and Seymour Glass”  CLA Journal (45:3) 2002, 379-87

Malcolm, Janet:  “Justice to J.D. Salinger”  New York Review of Books (48:10) 2001, 16-21

Lane, Gary:  “Seymour’s Suicide Again:  A New Reading of J.D. Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish'”  Studies in Short Fiction 10.1 (winter 1973) p 27-34  reprinted in Short Stories for Students Ed David A Galens Vol. 17.  Detroit Gale, 2003 from Literature Resource Center

Moran, Daniel:  “Critical Essay on ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish'” Short Stories for Students.  Ed. David A. Galens Vol. 17 Detroit Gale, 2003 from Literature Resource Center

Allsop, Kenneth:  The Dissentient Mood  “The Angry Decade:  A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen-Fifties

Cotter, James Finn:  “A Source for Seymour’s Suicide:  Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories”  papers on Language and Literature 25.1 (Winter 1989) p83-98  reprinted in Short Stories for Students

In JSTOR

Levine, P:  “JD Salinger:  The Development of the Misfit Hero” Twentieth Century Literature 1958

Wiegand, W:  “JD Salinger:  seventy-eight bananas”  Chicago Review, 1958

Baskett, SS:  “The Splendid/Squalid World of JD Salinger”  Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 1963

Smith, D:  “Salinger’s Nine Stories:  Fifty Years Later”  The Antioch Review, 2003

Glazier, L:  “The Glass Family Saga:  Argument and Epiphany”  College English, 1965

Boe, AF:  For Seymour:  With Love and Judgement”  Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 1963

Bryan, JE:  “Salinger’s Seymour’s Suicide”  College English, 1962

Mazzaro, JL:  “People in Glass Houses” The North American Review, 1964

Other sources

O’Hearn, S:  “The development of Seymour Glass as a figure of hope in the fiction of JD Salinger”  Open Dissertations and Theses, 1982

Themes and Discussion Points:

As you will learn if you browse the critical articles listed above, there are a myriad of things that Salinger scholars like to discuss when talking about “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”  Here is a list of critical questions that the articles above will help you answer.

1.  Why do you think Seymour kills himself at the end of the story?

2.  Why did the author choose that fate for Seymour?

3.  How do you explain Salinger’s need to revisit the topic of Seymour so often in his later work?  Do you think he regretted killing Seymour off in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish?”

4.  What do you think of the way that shell shock/war trauma is characterized in the story?  Do you think that Muriel is sympathetic to Seymour’s mental condition?

5.  What is the significance of Sybil?  Why do you think Seymour relates to Sybil better than to others?

6.  What is the significance of feet in this story?  Why does Seymour kiss the bottom of Sybil’s foot, and why does Seymour accuse the lady in the elevator  of looking at his feet?

7.  Why does Seymour want Sybil to look for Bananafish in the first place, and what is a Bananafish?

photo credit of Noah Sneider’s incredible work – http://www.noahsneider.com

“The Holy Refusal”: A Vedantic Interpretation of J.D. Salinger’s Silence

MLA Citation:

Pattanaik, Dipti R. “”The Holy Refusal”: A Vedantic Interpretation of J.D. Salinger’s Silence.” MELUS23.2 (1998). JSTOR. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/468015>.

First Paragraph:

“The silence of J.D. Salinger continues to be an enigma.  That a successful writer should cease to publish at the height of his glory not only defeats our everyday notions about success, it also baffles the serious students of Salinger’s work and life.”

Summary

Pattanaik cites biographer Ian Hamilton and Salinger scholars Warren French and James Lundquist trying to sort out the reasons Salinger may have gone into seclusion.  He also cites Ihab Hassan’s The Dismemberment of Orpheus as a place where “a more rigorous analysis of Salinger’s refusal to publish his works and make himself public…”

Pattanaik attempts to use “the Eastern religions and mystic Catholicism” to find an answer to his question.  He ultimately comes to the conclusion that Salinger’s silence is a result of the author’s attempt at “right living” and that it is all explainable through his characters.

Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye

Photo from ABE Books website

Written by Elizabeth Downing Johnson – December 2009

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye has attracted a lot of attention in its 58 years of literary life.  Published in 1951, the novel received mixed critical reviews, garnering praise from The New Yorker, The Book-of-the-Month Club, Atlantic, Time, and Saturday Review (to name a few), but receiving criticism from publications like The New Republic, The Nation, New York Herald Tribune, Catholic World, and The Christian Science Monitor.  A decade later, schools and libraries would ban The Catcher in the Rye, stating that the language was inappropriate and that the themes were blasphemous and immoral.  Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, testified that he was sure that “the large part of me is Holden Caulfield,” (Jones, 1), and John Hinckley Jr,’s attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, as well as Robert John Bardo’s murder of a young television star, are also associated with the novel.

Obviously, not all press is good press, and despite Salinger’s notorious reclusive behavior, readers of The Catcher in the Rye can be sure that Salinger’s intention was not to encourage psychotic behavior.  Along with this assumption, one could also assume that Salinger’s intention was not to spawn a published “Unauthorized Fictional Examination of the Relationship Between J.D. Salinger and his Most Famous Character,” which is the claim printed on the back cover of a book titled 60 Years Later:  Coming Through the Rye.  This book, written by one Fredrik Colting (pen name J.D. California) was the topic of many news stories in the summer of 2009.  In fact, Salinger’s legal representation put a stop to the book’s American publication, stating that the book was a “rip off, pure and simple”  (Staff, Concord Monitor).  Since the book is still (as of December, 2009) unpublishable in the United States, so far no examination has been made to discern whether the book actually “works” as a sequel or as a “fictional examination” of Salinger and his relationship with Holden Caulfield.  In order to do this, one would have to read 60 Years Later and compare it to the themes and style of The Catcher in the Rye.  Luckily, (or unluckily), I have done so, and will attempt herein to give an objective analysis of the book and its relationship to Salinger’s masterpiece.  Despite any attempt at objectivity, the textual and thematic analysis will prove that Colting’s attempt falls short of its goal.

In any comparative analysis, the best place to start is the text itself.  Themes are debatable, but the text itself does not lie.  This will be the first step in our journey, only after an introduction to 60 Years Later:  Coming Through The Rye for those who have not had the chance (or the inclination) to buy it from another country.  The plot of the novel follows an elderly Mr. C., who wakes up in a nursing home thinking that he is still the young Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.  He is confused and thinks that his brother D.B. has been there the week before (while we find out later in the novel that D.B. died some time ago from a drug overdose), and he is shocked when he looks in the mirror and sees an old man looking back at him.  The narrative is interrupted intermittently by italicized text that is supposed to be Salinger himself pondering over the fact that Holden seems to have had a whole life in the years since Salinger wrote his original story.  The second chapter consists of only two sentences, “I’m bringing him back.  After all these years I’ve finally decided to bring him back” (Colting, 9).  The first four chapters are a slightly hallucinogenic account of Mr. C.’s description of his surroundings and his realization that he is now an old man.  The end of the forth chapter ends with another section of what is supposed to be Salinger’s internal narrative, wherein he decides that

The most important rule, the one you cannot break or go around, is that everyone here needs to have a past.  It’s really true everywhere but especially so here.  If you don’t have a past you don’t exist.  So I have to give him something to hold on to;  I need to give him a life.  Right now he’s confused, the poor boy.  Who wouldn’t be?  But it will pass.  This very moment he is nothing but empty space.  He is like a piece of paper upon which you have once started a story,and then locked in a box and buried deep in the ground.  Now, 60 years later, you dig that same box up and continue the story from where the last sentence ended  (Colting, 36).

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Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”

Publication Details

“For Esme – With Love and Squalor” was published in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950.  It was later collected in Nine Stories (1953)

Character List

Staff Sergeant X (also The Narrator)

Narrator of the story, who has suffered shell shock and is telling us the story of a special child he met right before his unit participated in the D Day landings, as well as the dark period he suffered after battle.  The story is split parts, and in one part the narration is first person, in the other it is third person.  The third person narration is the point in the story where the narrator is referred to as “Staff Sergeant X.”

Esme

The young girl who has a conversation with Sergeant X the day before he goes into battle, and subsequently sends him a letter that reaches him once the battle is over.  In the beginning of the story, we are told that Esme is getting married, and that she invited Sergeant X to the ceremony, even though she only met him once.

Charles

Esme’s little brother, a source of comic relief in the story and the focus on many critical studies along with the two main characters.

Corporal Z (Clay)

Sergeant X’s roommate after the battle.  Some critics say he is the foil to Sergeant X’s character, and others say he represents the “squalor” from the title.  He is crass and crude, and very much a caricature of a young, toughened Army grunt.

Miss Megley

Esme and Charles’ governess.  She has a small role in the story, mainly as a not-very-good governess who allows the children to sit with and talk to Sergeant X.

Staff Sergeant X’s Wife

Barely mentioned.

Mother Goucher

Sergeant X’s mother-in-law.  Mentioned at the beginning of the story.

Background

Salinger:  A Biography by Paul Alexander tells us:

“As soon as The New Yorker published ‘For Esme – With Love and Squalor,’ Salinger began to hear from readers.  On April 20, he wrote to Lobrano from Westport to tell him that he had already gotten more letters about ‘For Esme’ than he head for any story he had published.”

Hamish Hamilton (a British publisher) wanted to publish a collection of Salinger’s stories.  Salinger was reluctant.  He ended up publishing Nine Stories (not with Hamilton), but “two months after Little, Brown published Nine Stories, Hamish Hamilton released the book in England.  There was, however, one major difference between the American and British versions.  Hamilton felt strongly that the generic name Nine Stories would have been the worst possible title to put on the book and he somehow convinced Saligner to let him use as the title for the collection “For Esme – With Love and Squalor,” the story that was perhaps Salinger’s most famous in England if not the United States as well.  To the public, Hamilton also finessed the fact that the book was a collection of stories by emphasizing in the advertising copy the idea that For Esme was the next book from the author of The Catcher in the Rye.  Hamilton wanted to downplay the truth, since story collections never sell as well as novels.”

Hamilton put the book out in 1953.  It did not do well financially, but was well-received critically.  Later the same year, Hamilton sold the book to Ace Books – a mass market publisher.  They did not usually deal with “real literature.”  Hamilton thought it was a good financial decision.  Ace published the book with an inappropriate picture of an older, sexy blond girl on the cover.  Hamilton didn’t consult Salinger before the sale, and Salinger was truly angry.  Salinger never spoke to him again.

ForEsmeWithLoveAndSqualor

Ace Books cover Image of "For Esme with Love & Squalor"

Plot Synopsis

The story opens with a first person narrator informing the reader that he received an invitation for an English wedding that will take place April 18th.  He expresses a desire to go to the wedding, but tells the reader that his mother-in-law (Mother Grencher) is coming to visit, so he can’t.  He says that he has “jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago.”

The narrator then tells us that in April of 1944 he was stationed in Devon, England.  We learn that he is American, that he was an enlisted man, and that he was part of a “rather specialized pre-Invasion training course.”  His unit trained for three weeks, and then they were scheduled to be a part the “D Day Landings.”  On this last night before the deployment, the narrator had already packed his bags, so he gets on his outdoor things and walks into town.

Once in town, he stops at a church where schoolchildren are having choir practice.  He notices one child in particular, who has a clearer and nicer voice than the other children.  She is around thirteen years old, and is a very pretty child.  After the song ends, the narrator goes to a tearoom.  Soon after, the pretty young girl from choir practice comes into the tearoom with a governess and a little boy.

The girl eventually approaches the narrator, and he asks her to join him.  The conversation that takes place is witty and delightful, and the narrator is obviously very impressed by his companion’s intelligence.  The girl, named Esme, tells the narrator about her aspirations, her past, her family, and we learn that her father has died in the war.

Esme’s brother Charles comes over and tells the narrator a joke, “What did one wall say to the other wall?  Meet you at the corner!”  Charles is very amused by his joke and laughs uproariously.

The narrator notices the large wristwatch that Esme is wearing.  It belonged to her father.  She, having learned that the narrator was a “professional short-story writer” before the war, tells the narrator that she wishes he would write a story for her – and that she prefers “stories about squalor.”

Charles tells his joke again, and the narrator finishes the punch line.  Charles gets angry and stomps away, and soon it is time for the children to leave the tea house.  Before she goes, Esme asks the narrator if he wants for her to write to him, because she writes “extremely articulate letters.”  The narrator gives her his rank and name so she can write to him.  She tells him she’ll write to him first so that he doesn’t feel “compromised” in any way.  Charles and Esme come back into the tea room because Charles wants to kiss the narrator goodbye.  The narrator asks Charles “What did one wall say to the other wall?” and Charles happily replies, “Meet you at the corner!”

The narration shifts and we have the first person narrator telling us that “this is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes.”  The narration shifts to a third person narrator and the setting of the story shifts to Gaufurt, Bavaria “several weeks after V-E Day.”

Staff Sergeant X, possibly recovering from a nervous breakdown and suffering shell shock.  He is not able to sleep, he is chain-smoking, his gums are bleeding, and he is generally in ill health.  His friend Clay, whom he refers to as “Corporal Z” talks to him about his girlfriend Loretta, and tries to get X to come to some parties in town.  X declines, and stays in his room alone.  He finds a pile of mail that he had not yet opened, and opens a letter that is from Esme.

In the letter Esme apologizes for her delay in writing, and asks him to “reply as soon as possible.”  She sends her father’s wristwatch in the package, and at the end of the letter Charles has added “HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHARLES.”

X finally starts to feel sleepy, and the reader is left with the feeling that he might come out of this after all. Continue reading

J.D. SALINGER

About SalingerinContext.org

This site is an independent study project by two graduate students at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Elizabeth Downing Johnson and Angelica Bega Hart are both M.A. Literature students in the Graduate program of VCU’s English Department.  We  started this website as an independent study after taking a graduate seminar on Salinger in 2009.  Our professor for that class was Dr. Bryant Mangum, a wonderful professor who will eventually be grading us.

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