Literature Study GuidesNine StoriesA Perfect Day For Bananafish Summary

Nine Stories | Study Guide

J.D. Salinger

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Course Hero. "Nine Stories Study Guide." August 11, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nine-Stories/.

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Course Hero, "Nine Stories Study Guide," August 11, 2017, accessed September 24, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nine-Stories/.

Nine Stories | "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" | Summary

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Summary

Muriel Glass, a girl "who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing," sits in mules and a white dressing gown, reading a fashion magazine and painting her fingernails as she waits for the Florida hotel operator to connect her to her mother in New York. Once they are connected, the main subject of the telephone conversation—with some detours to chat about fashion—is Muriel's husband, Seymour Glass, who has recently been released from an Army psychiatric hospital after serving a tour of duty in World War II.

Muriel's mother expresses concern that she has not heard from her daughter and asks if Seymour tried "any of that funny business with the trees." Muriel insists he drove "very nicely" and asks if her father had the car repaired yet. Muriel's mother recounts her husband's conversation with a psychiatrist, Dr. Sivetski, who said there is a strong possibility Seymour will completely lose control of himself.

Muriel minimizes her mother's concerns. Her attitude toward Seymour is one of fond indulgence, as if he were a child. She jokes he expects her to learn German just to read a book of poetry he gave her, and she repeats to her mother some of the odd things Seymour has said. Muriel reiterates she is fine and Seymour is not a "raving maniac."

The narrative segues from the hotel room to the beach, where Mrs. Carpenter is putting suntan oil on her preschooler, Sybil Carpenter, who is wearing a yellow two-piece bathing suit. Sybil repeats aloud, "See more glass," until her frustrated mother releases her and heads up to the hotel bar for a martini, leaving Sybil to her own devices.

The little girl walks a quarter mile up the beach until she reaches Seymour Glass, who is lying on the sand in a terrycloth robe. Seymour banters flirtatiously with the girl, telling her, among other things, that if there's one thing he likes, it is a blue bathing suit. Sybil alternates between consternation at his deadpan humor and jealousy at Sharon Lipschutz, who sat next to Seymour on the hotel lobby piano bench.

Finally, Seymour takes off his robe and walks with Sybil to the water, where he holds on to an inflatable raft and pushes the nervous girl through the waves. Perhaps to distract her, Seymour tells Sybil it is "a perfect day for bananafish" and relates the story of how bananafish are "ordinary-looking" until they enter holes where there are bananas. He says the fish become consumed with greed and eat so many bananas they can't escape back through the hole and, instead, perish of "banana fever." The raft crests a wave, and Sybil claims to have seen a bananafish underwater, swimming along with six bananas in its mouth. Overcome with gratitude, Seymour kisses her foot and abruptly takes the raft back to shore, causing Sybil to run "without regret" in the direction of the hotel and back to her mother.

Back at his hotel, Seymour, still holding the inflatable raft, rides an elevator with a woman wearing zinc salve on her nose. He tells her not to "be a sneak" about looking at his feet. Confused and affronted, she looks away. Seymour enters his room, removes a pistol from his luggage, and, after casting a glance at Muriel asleep on one of the twin beds in the room, puts a bullet through his right temple.

Analysis

The story begins with Muriel Glass, a character who "uses the time" she has to wait for a phone call as though time were another consumer good, like nail polish or a fashion magazine. Muriel demonstrates how practicality, materialism, and entitlement are the norm for the postwar upper-middle-class society in which Seymour finds himself. Although she indulges him, she does not take Seymour Glass seriously as a man or a husband. Aside from her forgetting where she put the book of German poetry he wants her to read, another hint of this is the fact that she is not wearing her rings.

The meaning of the story lies in the parable of the bananafish, which die from a "terrible disease" when they consume so much they can't escape, a scenario through which J. D. Salinger implies materialism (i.e., becoming like Muriel and her mother). On the other end of the spectrum, the story of the bananafish explores childhood innocence, where the imagination is still free to roam uncensored. This view is exemplified in the character of Sybil Carpenter, who does not simply indulge Seymour but actually shares in his vision, telling him she saw a bananafish with her own eyes. Moreover, the bananafish Sybil envisions swims freely with bananas in its mouth rather than being trapped down in the hole. Her hopeful variation on the story suggests there is still grace in the world—after all, her first name means prophetess, while "Carpenter" evokes Christ—and it arouses momentary gratitude and joy from Seymour.

Seymour himself is a contradictory figure. He shows tenderness and compassion toward Sybil when he guides her through the water, but he shoots himself in the head in the same room as his sleeping wife, possibly as a gesture of resentment. He preaches kindness to Sybil—but at the same time he manipulates her jealousy by saying her rival, Sharon Lipschutz, would never poke a dog with a stick. When he chides the woman on the elevator for looking at his feet, he could be complaining she refuses to look straight at him, another human being. Yet his aggressive nonconformity literally causes her to turn her back. Whether because of post-traumatic stress disorder or some existential malaise, Seymour has given up on life, and the only possible solution he feels he has is to kill himself.

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