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Alienation and Literary Elements in A Perfect Day For Bananafish Essay


Alienation is so destructive in society, that it forces and individual to an unthinkable escape. The story A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger explores this idea fully. Seymour Glass, a young World War II veteran, has just been released from the military hospital, and is having difficulty adjusting to normalcy in society. Seymour is in a loveless marriage to his wife Muriel. He cannot connect with her, due to the fact that she is more interested in herself, than her own husband while on their vacation. Muriels family is concerned with Seymours behavior, and fears for their daughters safety. Seymour is so detached from the world he lives in, that he takes the ultimate escape, suicide. The fact that Muriel has no concern for her husbands mental health, and continues her disconnected communication with him, further explains the idea that isolation is destructive in society, and causes and individual to an unthinkable escape.

The main protagonist of this story is Seymour Glass. For starters, he is funny. Hes engaging, entertaining, kind, and obviously amazing with children (Shmoop Editorial Team). His interaction with Sybil explains this behavior. He is a man who has recently returned from the war, and is suffering from post -traumatic stress. It isnt hard to believe that Seymour saw action in World War II that affected him in terrible and unspoken ways (Perfect236). He has a difficult time adapting physically, mentally, and spiritually to a society heavily based on materialism. All the comments about Seymours destruction, explains how volatile he has become. The comments made by Muriels mother regarding Seymours behavior, explains how disturbed he is. The trees. That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away. What he did with all those lovely pictures from Bermuda-everything (Salinger 6). The war has left him so badly broken, that he is determined to find some purity left in the world to hold on to. Martinis, beaches, and phony people constantly crowd his world, and when he, like the bananafish, becomes engorged with nonsense and corruption, the only escape is to take his own life.

Another Protagonist is Muriel, the wife of Seymour Glass. Muriel is a self centered, materialistic woman whose main concerns are herself, and her appearance. Despite the fact that her new marriage to Seymour is strained, she makes no effort to help her husband cope with his mental issues. She lacks the will to understand Seymour's pain. "She [is] a girl who for a ringing phone [drops] exactly nothing," (Theme). She has a conversation with her mother, who is desperately trying to convince her to leave her husband and move back to New York. Your father said last night he would be more than willing to pay for it if youd go away someplace by yourself and think things over. You could take a lovely cruise. We both thought- (Salinger 9). Muriel brushes off the comment and tells her mother she is not leaving her much needed vacation. She is a stubborn woman, and is in denial of the potential danger she is exposed to with Seymour. She has alienated her husband from true happiness in life by adopting the values of a materialistic society, while he cares only for a world of innocence and morality.

Sybil Carpenter is a main protagonist to the story for more reasons than one. She helps Seymour identify with what he believes life should be like: spiritual and pure. Her name alone suggests that she is a prophet like character, who is able to see the bananafish that Seymour describes to her during their swim (Perfect 236). There is a greater wisdom that is visible in her. When Sybil tells her mother that Seymours name is See more glass, it suggests that she has higher wisdom than that of a normal four year old. Her character is important to the story because it reminds Seymour of the innocence that is lacking in the adult world. The fact that Seymour views Sybils canary yellow bathing suit as blue, demonstrates that he saw the innocence in her. This lack of connection to a materialistic society has made being a child more appealing to him. This spiritual demeanor he possesses conflicts with the phony corrupt world he is a part of, and causes Seymours loneliness and anger.

Muriels Mother is another strong character to the story. She is a flat character that never changes. The mother- knows- best attitude is demonstrated throughout her conversation with her daughter, when she says My word of honor(Salinger 6-7). She repeats this statement after several strong opinions of Muriels safety, or lack there of. Deep down inside, she knows that Seymour will eventually lose control of himself, and wants her daughter to be away from that chaos. When she states that Muriels father is more than willing to pay for it suggests she feels that solutions to psychological problems and be bought (Perfect 237). A fortunate situation in life can generate materialism and create a life with no meaning. Muriels parents are more than willing to buy her safety and freedom from life, but she is unwilling to sacrifice her lifestyle. By enabling their daughter, the parents are in part to blame for causing Seymour to have feelings of isolation, and disconnection.

The use of symbols in A Perfect Day for a Bananafish helps demonstrate the ideas of the story dramatically. J.D. Salinger uses symbolism beautifully. The first symbol is the bananafish image. These fish are ordinary In other words, Seymour, a bananafish himself, has become so glutted with sensation that he cannot swim out into society again. It is his own banana fever(Weigand 30). Seymour has taken in so much of the phoniness of society that the only way out is to end his life. Seymour is fat from the overflow of painful emotions he cannot express. At the end of the story, he, like the bananafish, dies( SparkNotes Editors). The way Seymour views his suicide doesnt feel like it is a bad decision, but one that is euphoric and freeing, from a life without meaning.

Another symbol used throughout the story was the color blue. Blue is said to symbolize something being calm, innocent, and spiritual (hence, for example, the blue material in which the Virgin Mary is often depicted in religious paintings) (Novelguide 5). The swim trunks Seymour wore were blue. With the spirituality he possessed, it isnt hard to see why Salinger chose the color blue to represent Seymour. In the beginning of the story Muriel spoke to her mother about a blue coat. Likewise, when Sybil came to the beach where Seymour was laying, he commented on her bathing suit. Thats a fine bathing suit you have on. If theres one thing I like its a blue bathing suit. Sybil stared at him, then looked down at her protruding stomach. This is a yellow (Salinger 12). Seymour saw her bathing suit as blue because he saw the innocence in her. As for Muriels blue coat, she had the padding taken out, so she is less innocent (Moran 244). Seymour identified with the innocence of a child, because that is what war robbed him of, so it was the one thing that was missing from his life.

The repeated use of sunburns is the story is an example of symbolism. When Muriel is having the conversation with her mother in the opening of the story, she states Im so sunburned I can hardly move (Salinger 7). The fact that Muriel had a severe sunburn can be explained by the fact that being burned by the sun, is like being burned by material things in life. Seymour on the other hand, is so pale that he wares a robe out to the beach. His skin is so pale, in fact, he was looked on as being ill. Muriel told her mother that the doctor Asked if that wasnt my husband playing the piano in the other room. I said yes, it was, and he asked me if Seymours been sick or something (Salinger 8). The fact that Seymour had been devoid of the sun describes how he was pure and free from material gain in his life. Also Sybils mother is putting sun tan lotion on her back in the beach scene most likely to shield her from the sun, or symbolically, from materialism itself. Salinger did a fantastic job referencing symbols that are visible in our everyday lives, to help us better understand the story.

Another symbol briefly mentioned in the story is that Seymour did not want to go out in the sun for fear that people would see his tattoo. I believe this means that he did not want people to see his scared mind, body, and soul. When Muriel is conversing with her mother she states, He says he doesnt want a lot of fools looking at his tattoo.(Salinger 10). At this comment, Muriels mother admits that Seymour does not have a tattoo. It can be interpreted by the fact that he has come back from the terrors of the war, and is so badly scared, he doesnt want to be seen or judged by anyone. He feels so out of place in the world that he feels as if he is no longer a part of it. At the mothers inquiry of this alleged tattoo, Muriel says, No, mother. No, dear,(Salinger 10). Once again, her non-chalant attitude towards her husbands odd behavior demonstrates her shallowness, and disinterest in her husbands mental state.

Irony is used in A Perfect day for Bananafish to help dramatize the story. It is ironic that Muriel sees her husband as being perfectly normal when, clearly, he is not. The fact that there is a lack of communication between husband and wife makes it understandable that she sees him as being fine. In the words of Muriel, Motheryou talk about him as though he were a raving maniac- (Salinger 9). We know as the reader that he is mentally ill, but she refuses to see it, or doesnt care to. She doesnt see the importance of her husbands state of mind, because she is so focused on her self. She states to her mother, I just got here mother. This is the first vacation Ive had in years, and Im not going to just pack everything up and come home (Salinger 7). Everything is focused around her, and her wants and needs. This is clearly not a trait that a loving wife would have. This further analyzes the fact that this new marriage, was loveless and disconnected, leaving Seymour alienated from a meaningful life.

Another Irony of the story is that Seymour connects with the innocence of a child, and has difficulty connecting with adults. The fact that his best friend in the story is a four-year old girl, shows the he prefers the innocence and simplicity of a childs life, to the corrupt, selfish adult world. When Sybil wakes Seymour from his nap on the beach, she asks him if he is going in the water, and his reply is I was waiting for you (Salinger 11). We, as the reader, know that he had no intention of going in the water. This friendship grows further when he removes his robe, though he refused to take off in fear people would see his tattoo. We learn from this that he doesnt want prying eyes of the corrupt world seeing him, but at the presence of a child he removes the robe and freely wades into the water. He then begins telling her the story of the imaginary bananafish, and tells her to look out for one. The irony of the situation is that he feels perfectly comfortable talking about his mental struggles, using the bananafish to symbolize his feelings, but is on his honeymoon and cannot communicate with his wife. This proves that loneliness, in a destructive society, can lead to a decision to end life.

The most ironic part of the story is how Seymour is described in the beginning of the story, and later, when he is on the beach with Sybil. The contrast between the monstrous and psychotic Seymour, as seen by his mother-in-lawshe is genuinely worried about her daughterin the first half of the story, and Seymour with Sybil at the beach makes the silent ironic statement of the piece(Hassan 3024). When the story opens, you get a sense that Seymour is a terrible, mental case and needs immediate attention, even though Muriel refuses to admit or see any problem. When the story shifts to the beach with Sybil you get a whole new sense of Seymour. It is clear that he has difficulty accepting society as it is. His connection to a young child proves that he is mentally capable of a human connection, but only feels comfortable with someone who cannot judge him. Muriel and her mother do not understand Seymour, therefore, it forces him into self-alienation.

The story A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger, challenges your mind to think about life in a different light. When you examine the outcome of a man mentally and spiritually disconnected from society, it is easy to see how alienation can cause an individual to an unthinkable escape. Seymour couldnt handle the pressures of the materialistic world, so, like the bananafish in the story, he glutted himself with corruption, and couldnt escape without death. This choice was liberating and spiritually uplifting for Seymour who could not adapt to the world after his return from the war. This story forces you to view the world as it is, and see that through alienation and loneliness, comes unthinkable endings.

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