Salinger?S ?A Perfect Day For Bananafish? Essay, Research Paper
The characters in Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” seem to exist in opposite worlds. On one hand, Salinger creates Muriel to represent materialism and superficiality and on the other hand, he creates Sybil to provide justification of the child-like innocence rarely found in society. Salinger’s main character, Seymour, is aware of the superficiality expressed in Muriel’s world and chooses not to be apart of it. Seymour wants to be apart of the simple immaterial world that Sybil represents. Nevertheless, Seymour find himself trapped between two worlds unable to regain the one he desires. Therefore, Salinger bases “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” on Seymour’s disillusionment with life and his inability to regain a child-like perception of the world. Salinger’s portrayals Seymour and his wold are described below.
Sybil is composed of all the characteristics Seymour is seeking. She is young, innocent and childlike and therefore not polluted by the materialism, mistrust and snobbery known to society. Furthermore, her actions suggest that she relates to Seymour because he seems to act like a child somewhat similar to herself (for example Sybil feels secure around Seymour but feels insecure when sitting with her own mother). This would imply that Seymour does not appear abnormal to her because she, unlike most, she has the ability to see through his exterior and is not intimidated by what she has found. In the later part of the story she continually repeats the phase “see more glass”(10) using the term “glass” to describe her own unique ability to see through the transparency of superficial people (much like her own mother).
What Seymour respects most about Sybil is that she is to innocent to apply or make judgments upon what she sees, she is only able to blindly comment on its happenings. For instance, when referring to how many tigers ran around the tree Sybil commented “Only six!”(14), similarly when asked how many bananas the banana fish were eating she exclaimed “Six!”(16). Firstly, Sybil’s use of the number “six” suggests that she is repeating the phase phrase six figure but in a simplified manner. Secondly, Sybil’s reference to the phrase six figure depicts her mothers monopolizing influence on her. For instance, the bathing suit purchased by Sybil’s mother, is composed of adult colors rather than the youthful “blue” that Seymour expects to see. A similar idea is expressed by Sybil’s mother when spreading suntan “oil” on Sybil’s back in a downwards motion. If yellow is then a adult color and symbolizes materialism, and “downwards motion” symbolizes oppression then Sybil’s mothers behavior may suggest that she is discouraging her daughter’s naive behavior and attempting to force her to grow up prematurely. Sybil is most likely unaware of her mother’s influence on her child-like manner and therefore she will never fully appreciate her present youth until it is lost. In contrast, Seymour is revived by Sybil’s innocence and near the end of the story “The young man suddenly picked up one of Sybil’s wet feet, which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch”(17). In essence, Seymour was thanking her for verifying to him that life can still be so simple. Seymour knows that if he was not branded by a painful adulthood “the tattoo”(10) that he would be able to see the Bananafish. But unfortunately most tattoos are permanent.
Seymour is not content in a materialistic society. Seymour, similar in pronunciation to “See more” suggests that he is in search of someone or something. Moreover, Seymour’s surname “Glass” refers to a form of transparency or, in contrast, maybe materialism. This is evident in Muriel’s statement “ She kept asking me if Seymour is related to that Suzanne Glass that has the place on Madison Ave – the millinery”(8) this comment suggests that Seymour has come from a wealthy family. It is ironic that as much as they approve of wealth both psychiatrists Dr Rieser and Dr. Sivetski, lead Muriel and her parents to believe that Seymour “may completely lose control”(7). Likewise, Muriel’s mother for example “The trees. That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away. What he did with those lovely pictures from Bermuda — everything.” (6) Following these sentences Muriel’s describes Seymour’s actions as those of a ”raving maniac”(9). They are not taking into account that psychiatrists base their analysis on materialism and on the biased development of individual, such as Seymour, in society. Both the psychiatrists and Muriel’s mother base their analysis on the assumption that his pale color and unorthodox ways somehow suggests that he is unfit for society. Of course, if this were the case Seymour would be unable to differentiate between right and wrong. Semour’s behavior may not be within the realm of normal acceptability but it also cannot be categorized as irrational.
Seymour’s appearance is in sharp contrast to that of his materialistic wife. He, more specifically, is untouched by the sun and is not described as been preoccupied with superficial appearances, and so on. Muriel on the other hand, is extremely sunburnt. It is as if the yellow sun has dominated her. Do the gold effects of the sun symbolize materialism, esthetics, and superficiality?
Is Seymour’s wife unable to see past the surface of her shallow existence? Salinger seemed to have answered these questions when naming Muriel’s character. Muriel similar to “mural” or the Latin word “muralis” indeed suggests that her life pertains to or is like a wall. Secondly, Muriel is a static, flat character just like a painting. If she were dynamic she would have substance, she would change her opinion or attitude, but she never does. Muriel, known only by her obsession with the superficial aspects of life(fashion, sex, nail lacquer, etc.) leads us to believe that in fact she is a painting that was originally molded to portray the image society would expect of a “Lady” of her caliber. In turn, it does not seem to matter who Muriel is in Salingers’s story but what she represents.
In conclusion, Seymour is similar to the bananafish as he swam his way up the stream of life ingesting the materialism and superficiality that past him on his journey. Half way up the stream he stopped pondered why he had even bothered in the first place. Now he cannot go back down the stream (to Sybil) against the current and cannot bear to continue (with Muriel). At this point Seymour is described as having “banana fever” or becoming so engulfed in materialism. His only rational option would be to stay in the banana hole and die.
Salinger, J.D. Nine Stories: A Perfect Day for Bananafish. United States: Little, Brown and Company Limited, 1991.