Tag Archives: A Perfect Day for Bananafish

A Source for Seymour’s Suicide: Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories by James Finn Cotter

MLA Citation:

Cotter, James Finn.  “A Source for Seymour’s Suicide: Rilke’s Voices and Salinger’s Nine Stories“. Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature: 25.1 ( 1989 Winter), pp. 83-98.

First Paragraph:

J. D. Salinger’s short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” employs the traditional device of a surprise ending. Seymour Glass returns to his Miami hotel room, glances at his wife asleep on her bed, takes from his luggage a heavy-caliber German automatic, sits down on his bed, looks again at Muriel, and fires a bullet through his head.

Summary:

Cotter, after giving a laundry list of possible explanations for Seymour’s suicide, including theories as wide-ranging as sexual frustration to the fulfillment of nirvana, examines the influence of Rilke’s poetry. He starts with “Bananafish specifically, noting that several previous scholars have also pointed to the likelihood that the German poet Seymour refers to in “Bananafish” is Rilke. He compares “Bananafish” to “The Song of Suicide” noting parallels and suggesting connections that include a concentration on materialism, especially connected to the stomach and with “hunger”.  Cotter then expands his analysis to include the other Voices, which as he notes also contain nine items, (ten, with the addition of a title page) and their connections to Nine Stories.

The Phony World and the Nice World by Warren French

MLA Citation:

French, Warren G. “The Phony World and the Nice World.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 4.1 (1963): 21-30. Print.

First Paragraphwisconsin journal for french uw article:

“Just as one inspecting real estate must seek some central promontory from which to get the lay of the land, so the critic trying to get an author’s work into perspective seeks some central document that provides a focal point from which the others must be viewed.  Since the work on any considerable writer is, furthermore, likely to embody a complexity of subtly insinuated themes rather than to reiterate a single, baldly stated idea, more than one of his works may serve as a center for organizing a study of his achievement.  So far comprehensive evaluations of J.D. Salinger’s work have been built around two short stories; I propose to utilize a third.”

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Aerial View of New York City

Salinger and the Literary Geography of a Real and Fictional New York City

Written by Angelica Bega-Hart, November 2009.

According to Phillip Lapote there are ten themes [1] that occur “obsessively” in fiction written about or situated in New York City. (Lapote, xviii) Though Salinger does not appear at all in Lapote’s bulky anthology, several of those themes are manifest n Salinger’s writing.  As Ruth Prigozy notes,

The local references in Nine Stories clearly indicate a recognizable fictive world: New York City predominates, from the opening line in “A Prefect Day,” set in Miami but alluding to “ninety seven New York advertising men” (3). In “The Laughing Man, ” the precise geography of the city forms a substructure for the double layered story as does the east side of Manhattan for the dramatized encounters of “Just Before the War.” Whether the characters are on vacation, on a ship, in a foreign country, or in a Connecticut suburb of the city, the sensibility of Salinger’s world is firmly established by its references to the sophistication, polish, manners, and locales associated with the New York City of Salinger’s educated upper middle class. (qtd in Bloom, 93)

Certainly, Salinger’s familiarity with the city was an important part of his ability to portray it in a “precise” and stylized manner. And Salinger was as familiar with the city as anyone. Raised in New York, Salinger was born in 1919 to Sol Salinger and Marie (Miriam) Jillich at the Nursery and Child’s Hospital on West 61st Street. “Sonny” as he was nicknamed, went home to 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. As his father’s success increased the family moved to a house on West 82nd Street on the Upper West Side and then later to the fashionable and ritzy Upper East Side, to the building located at 1133 Park Avenue. (Alexander, 31-35) William Maxwell would later argue that Saliner’s childhood gave him a unique perspective on the city that would later dominate the settings for much of his fiction, saying:

JEROME DAVID SALINGER was born in New York City on January 1, 1919. So far as the present population is concerned, there is a cleavage between those who have come to the city as adults and those who were born and raised there, for a New York childhood is a special experience. For one thing, the landmarks have a very different connotation. As a boy Jerry Salinger played on the steps of public buildings that a non-native would recognize immediately and that he never knew the names of. He rode his bicycle in Central Park. He fell into the Lagoon. Those almost apotheosized department stores, Macy’s and Gimbel’s, still mean to him the toy department at Christmas. Park Avenue means taking a cab to Grand Central at the beginning of vacation. (Dead Caulfields [2])

Salinger’s time in New York lasted until his early teens, when he went away to prep school in Pennsylvania, but after a few brief years, he was back in the city of his birth attending college at New York University’s Washington Square College and later taking classes with Whit Burnett at Columbia University.  Perhaps more importantly, Salinger came back to New York at the conclusion of the war and spent time in Greenwich Village where he made connections with other aspiring writers. (Alexander, 114)

Despite Salinger’s New York roots and the tendency of his stories to focus on New Yorkers with overt references to important New York City landmarks, Salinger is not often anthologized as a New York writer. Most often included in anthologies about the Big Apple are earlier writers such as Washington Irving and Walt Whitman and from Salinger’s generation, John Cheever, John Updike, and the Beat poets. One anthology of New York writing that does include Salinger is David Remnick’s Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. In it, Remnick includes stories that “reflect the city’s moods and crises over seventy-five years,” from writers who “are legion” and who have “helped create a powerful and complex portrait of New York.” Most importantly, Remnick says he aims for a “quality of endurance” (Remnick, xii) Remnick apparently sees such a quality in one of Salinger’s earliest short stories, “A Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” which illustrates a scene that would eventually be rewritten (from a different point of view) and incorporated into Salinger’s most famous work, The Catcher in Rye. It remains unclear if, as Paul Alexander suggests, Salinger may have prevented his work from being reproduced in anthologies [3] and whether this fabled decision of Salinger’s is the primary reason for his lack of inclusion in a number of New York anthologies. (Alexander, 24)

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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

Salinger Now: An Appraisal

MLA Citation:

Blotner, Joseph L. “Salinger Now: An Appraisal.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 4.1 (Winter 1963): 100-08. Print.

First Paragraph:

“As I began to write this essay I had come to it fresh from reading three items that seemed to me suggestive in different ways. The first was a report that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies had overtaken and passed J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as the most-read novel among young college readers. Also, I had just gone through a book entitled Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, which contained nearly three hundred pages about the author contributed by twenty-five writers. Finally, I had seen a report that Salinger had given permission for the publication in book form of two more previously-published Glass stories, to be called Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.2 These items suggested to me comments which I wanted to make about matters of change and stasis – to use a currently fashionable word – in the public and the criticism, and the work, respectively, of J. D. Salinger. In brief, it appears that he is now past the peak of the popularity he enjoyed in the late 1950’s. Further, Salinger criticism has now resolved itself into a dialogue in which the Anti’s, scarcely heard at first, now have substantial and vocal representation, a colloquy which has its own set of cliches and war-horse citations of evidence. The recent published and republished work itself is part of an extended phase of preoccupation with spiritual crises which has concerned the author for nearly ten years now, a phase in which the only change discernable has been an even more intense interest in the spiritual coupled with increasing experiment characterized most strikingly by prolixity of style. To indicate a further direction, all of this makes a Salinger adherent wish for certain things, almost for a moratorium now on Salinger criticism as well as for evidence that this gifted writer has assimilated the influences which have both informed and swamped his later work, evidence that he is ready to break through from a minor phase to a major one, as he once did earlier in his career.” (100)

Summary:

Written in 1963, Blotner’s article suggests the high point of Salinger’s popularity has passed, but leaves open the possibility (the hope?) that Salinger may still renew or even surpass his previous success. He writes:

…all of this makes a Salinger adherent wish for certain things, almost for a moratorium now on Salinger criticism as well as for evidence that this gifted writer has assimilated the influences which have both informed and swamped his later work, evidence that he is ready to break through from a minor phase to a major one, as he once did earlier in his career. (101)

He further notes that the “antis” (those who are more critical of Salinger’s work) have gained standing and that early critics who praised Salinger, while still in the majority have been increasingly silent. Therefore, Blotner is less optimistic about the state of Salinger criticism, stating:

one wonders how long, even with Catcher and the non-religious stories in the Salinger corpus considered too, such a relatively slim body of work can support such extensive analysis. (102)

Blotner begins the essay noting that William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies has overtaken The Catcher in the Rye as the most read novel among young college readers. He revisits this issue later in the essay as he discusses Salinger’s move away from dealing with the squalid world to dealing more exclusively with love.

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