A Perfect Day for Bananafish
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World War II had a profound effect on everyone who risked their lives for their country. The soldiers who were fortunate enough to make it out alive were often scarred for life and dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Post-war America and the experiences that the soldiers suffered during WWII were so disconnected from each other that many veterans could no longer fit in with society. When America’s troops came home, the country had changed dramatically as it had developed into a consumerist society. In J.D Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Seymour Glass is a war veteran who is dealing with PTSD. His experiences in the war changed him forever, and he could no longer fit in with the consumerist America.
Seymour Glass tells the story of the bananafish to a young girl named Sybil Carpenter. He says that “[bananafish] swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas. Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again” (p. 16). When Seymour Glass tells the story of the bananafish to young Sybil, he is actually describing his hatred for both the way the war changed him and how America changed while he was fighting for the country he used to know.
Seymour Glass uses the story of the bananafish as a metaphor for the undeniable transformation he went through during the war and how he despises what the war did to him mentally. Seymour entered the war as an ordinary American, but came home a changed man dealing with PTSD after he witnessed the horrors of battle. Similarly, the bananafish entered the hole as normal fish, but were no longer able to fit back through the door after their experience in the banana hole. When Seymour was relieved of his duties in the war, his traumatizing experiences followed him back to America.
He cannot escape the memories of war or his mental illness. Seymour changed so dramatically that he is no longer able to coincide with and relate to the American society. Seymour says and does things that are unprovoked and unacceptable, like when he says, “If you want to look at my feet, say so, but don’t be a God-damned sneak about it,” (p. 17) to the woman in the elevator. The woman was looking unassumingly at Seymour’s feet, but he reacts in a violent way because violence was the only action and reaction he knew during the war. His society during the war was full of conflict and violence and he is unable to readjust to the civilized American culture when he comes home. The bananafish are unable to fit back through the door into the open ocean that they came from, just as Seymour is unable to fit back into the American way that he once lived by.
The story of the bananafish also represents Seymour’s discontent with America’s rapid transformation into a consumerist society. The bananafish consume so many bananas inside the hole that they cannot escape and they die. Americans are so consumed with buying everything they can that they lose track of more important goals in life and forget about saving for the future. Seymour thinks his generation became pretentious and materialistic, and this is the reason he describes Muriel as “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948” (p. 5). Seymour gives her this new nickname because she acts very snobbish and ostentatious. Muriel is always worried about her nails, talks to her mother about her new clothes, and complains that she did not get as nice of a room as before the war. Seymour doesn’t even respect his wife, Muriel, anymore because she has turned into the epitome of consumerism, which he loathes. The reason that Seymour is always with Sybil and Sharon Lipschutz is because they are young and unaffected by the consumerism that has plagued the new America. All young people have a level of innocence that Seymour is seeking because he cannot stand to live within his own materialistic generation. To Seymour, the story of the bananafish is the story of America’s shift to a consumerist society, and how it has destroyed the ideals of the country he used to know.
Seymour Glass uses the story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” as a direct metaphor for the negative effects that the war had on him and how Americans developed consumerist attitudes while he was fighting overseas. It is understood that wars are dangerous, full of violence, and can leave soldiers scarred for life. But, Seymour Glass’ situation is an example of how a war can completely remove a soldier from the society he or she used to know so well. Seymour is unable to fit in anymore because he changed in one way during the war while America changed in another way. Seymour, as for many other brave soldiers, no longer has a home because the America he knew is no
longer the same, and neither is he.