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Nine Stories | Symbols


The Watch

At the end of "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor," Staff Sergeant X receives a package from Esmé, containing a watch with a broken crystal. The watch has literally followed the narrator around the battlefields of Europe, and bears "at least three ... old A.P.O. numbers." The narrator doesn't have "the courage" to find out if the watch is "otherwise undamaged." In this story the watch represents the narrator, who has been superficially broken by the war and fears the damage is permanent. It symbolizes human compassion, which the horror of war has stopped, or broken. The watch originally belonged to Esmé's father, who was also killed in World War II, fighting in North Africa. She calls it a "lucky talisman," but it is more than that. It is a gift of compassion, bearing immediate curative effects on the narrator, who "stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his ... f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact."


"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is a story full of symbolism, much of it Christian in nature. Sybil Carpenter, the little girl who restores Seymour's faith in childlike innocence just moments before he kills himself, is a prophetess who, like Christ, is a "carpenter." When Seymour guides Sybil gently under the water on his raft, it is akin to John the Baptist's baptizing Christ. The sandy beach far from the hotel, where Seymour lies in his robe, could symbolize the desert wilderness, through which Christ wandered for 40 days. Another symbol with religious connotations is the human foot. When Sybil accepts Seymour's parable of the greedy bananafish at face value, he grabs and kisses the arch of her foot. Later, in the elevator, Seymour chides a woman for sneaking a look at his bare feet. The naked foot is unconfined by social dictates and can even overpower them—with her bare foot, Sylvia crushes a sand castle earlier in the story. But it also symbolizes a Christlike innocence and goodness only Seymour seems able to see and appreciate; to the woman in the elevator, who represents society, the bare foot is a thing of curiosity and possibly annoyance.

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