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Bananafish Essay Research Paper EssayInnocence LostThe world

Bananafish Essay, Research Paper


Innocence Lost

The world of childhood is protected from many of the problems of the world. The

adult world is mentally, physically, and socially an adjustment that can be very difficult for

some people. There is sometimes a reluctance to accept adulthood. In “A Perfect Day for

Bananafish,” as well as “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” J.D. Salinger focuses not only on

the loss of innocence with youth, but also on events that have changed his characters

forever. Ironically, it is often the children, seemingly the perfect models of carefree life

and thought, who make this loss most evident.

The main character in Salinger’s story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is Seymour

Glass. He is married to a woman named Muriel, whose name both looks and sounds like

the word “material.” This could possibly symbolize that she, like her mother, is shallow,

fashion-conscious, and unwilling to learn German in order to read delicate, world-weary

poets. In the story, Seymour and his wife Muriel have gone to Florida for a vacation like

the one they had before the war. Muriel’s parents are worried about her because of

Seymour’s behavior since his discharge from the military. They believe he has gone crazy,

yet this is not quite the case. Living through the war has stripped Seymour of his “inner

child.” The things he saw and experienced were too horrible to forget. Because of this,

Seymour has lost his innocence, and its presence was greatly missed.

In the story, Seymour meets a little girl, four-year-old Sybil. One day at the beach

Sybil asks her mother, “Did you see more glass?” Her mother becomes annoyed and tells

her to run off and play. It was then that Sybil meets up with “see more glass” on the

beach. There, Seymour is reluctant to remove his beach robe because he wants to cover

his “tattoos”; to Seymour they were an “adult” decoration. These tattoos couldn’t be

seen, but they were felt. To Seymour, they were imaginary marks of adulthood, which he


Later on the beach, Seymour tells Sybil, “We’ll see if we can catch a bananafish.”

He tells the young girl a tale of fish who swim into holes filled with bananas. These

bananafish then gorge themselves on the fruit and, too fat to swim out of the holes, die of

banana fever. Like these bananafish, phonies of the world are guilty of bingeing

themselves with meaningless material objects until they become so superficial they are

beyond hope of ever attaining spiritual purity. These people are intentional bananafishes.

Seymour, like the bananafish, desires the innocence, the childhood that was

wrapped before him in a yellow package. However, when Sybil admits she sees a

bananafish with six bananas in its mouth, Seymour realizes that she is already on the path

toward becoming a superficial bananafish. In a few years Sybil will be like her mother,

interested only in how another woman has her scarf tied.

At the end of their play-time, Seymour suddenly picks up one of Sybil’s feet, kisses

the arch, and announces, “We’re going in now.” He returns to the hotel and gets into the

elevator with a young woman, whom he accuses of looking at his feet. The woman denies

his accusations, which angers Seymour even more. He then tells her, “If you want to look

at my feet, say so, but don’t be a God-damned sneak about it.” Seymour’s fixation upon

his feet, which do not resemble the childlike feet that he desires to have, and the woman in

the elevator’s scorn towards Seymour’s accusations, drive him to dislike the adult world

even more. Seymour is the bananafish who cannot escape the hole and achieve the

spiritualism and childlike characteristics that he so desires. In his opinion, Seymour

believes that by committing suicide, he will be given the chance that he wants and needs:

to start all over again.

Succeeding the incident in the elevator, Seymour continues to his room where, “he

went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol,

and fired a bullet through his right temple.” This is an example of innocence lost. When

innocence is lost, it is lost forever. Seymour wants out of a world that is too material. He

no longer wanted to live as an adult. If childhood came to an end, so he decided, must

adulthood. Realizing this, he fired the bullet, dying of his own desires. What’s gone is

gone, what’s done is done.

“’I was a nice girl,’ she pleaded, ‘wasn’t I?’” This is another example of lost

innocence. It is the sound of innocence remembered, long after it has passed. In

Salinger’s story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” there is the same conflict between

innocence and adulthood. The main character, Eloise, closely resembles Muriel from

“Bananafish.” She is shallow, selfish, and self-absorbed. Throughout the story, Eloise

struggles with her lost innocence.

In the beginning of the story, Mary Jane arrives at Eloise’s house. The two

women are old roommates from college, and while visiting, reminisce upon their old

college days. The character of the women is shown through their shallow conversation,

still gossiping like school girls, while drinking and smoking cigarettes.

Later, the two women are interrupted by Ramona, Eloise’s young daughter. She is

accompanied by Jimmy, her imaginary boyfriend. While Mary Jane seems to be amused by

Ramona, there is a sense that Eloise is not affected or even interested. When Ramona

asks to go back out and play (“because Jimmy left his sword outside”), Eloise replies,

“Oh, him and his goddam sword. Well. Go ahead. Put your galoshes back on.”

The women carry on, and Eloise convinces Mary Jane to call in sick so that she

could stay longer. They begin to talk about Walt, an old love of Eloise’s who was killed

in the military. Eloise tells Mary Jane a story about her and Walt: “Once I fell down…I fell

and twisted my ankle. He said, ‘Poor Uncle Wiggily.’ He meant my ankle. Poor old

Uncle Wiggily, he called it…God, he was nice.” Eloise becomes very sentimental and cries

to her friend Mary Jane.

Eloise realized the spark of youth that she lost with the death of Walt, the man she

truly loved, with help from Ramona. Although Ramona is nearly blind, the eye of her

imagination is wide open, and she sees Jimmy, her invisible boyfriend, quite clearly. Eloise

is fond of Jimmy and Ramona’s make-believe most likely because they subconsciously

remind her of the time when she was happiest and still had the innocence of her youth

intact, the period during which she was in love with Walt. Walt, who complemented the

child within Eloise with his own carefree silliness, was the embodiment of Eloise’s

innocence. When he was killed, so was the child in Eloise. She did not realize this fact,

however, until many years later. Her innocence had drifted away, unnoticed, until Eloise

believed she had always been the adult she had come to be. It took a reliving of the

experience of Walt’s death through Ramona and the death of imaginary Jimmy to make

her realize what had happened. When Jimmy was “run over,” Ramona quickly replaced

him with Mickey (whose invisibleness made him seem equal to Jimmy through Eloise’s

adult eyes). The anger she showed toward Ramona upon the introduction of Mickey was

truly anger she felt toward herself, who replaced Walt with Lew as if it didn’t matter, as if

no injustice had been committed. She had replaced her inner child with an adult and had

never been quite happy since. It was only when she looked at her life through Ramona’s

glasses that she was able to mourn the loss of Walt, her innocence, her own Jimmy, the

invisible, the original, the irreplaceable.

Although innocence can never be recovered once it is lost, there is still something

left behind. Salinger’s stories “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Uncle Wiggily in

Connecticut”, make this quite clear. The stories end after the loss of innocence has been

acknowledged. The reader, then, can decide what will happen to the character, just as she

is left with a choice about what to do with her own adulthood. We can choose to go out

with a bang or let the wind blow us where it will.