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Thread: Short Story Club: A Perfect Day for Bananafish by Salinger

  1. #46
    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    And concerning "The Wasteland" I found this:

    The epigraph to T. S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" (1922) is a quote from the Satyricon where Trimalchio states, "For I myself once saw with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a cage, and when the boys asked her, 'Sibyl, what do you want?' she answered 'I want to die.'".[5]

    Also concerning the child Sybil, while I agree that there is something buried in this story about sexuality, I, too, felt uneasy at Seymore's conversation with the little girl, but it had nothing to do with sex. I thought he was going to kill her.

    I did wonder if something would happen with Muriel. She was so very much in denial, and I think that was a suspenseful element that Salinger may have deliberately incorporated. I think he wanted us to wonder what was going to happen. We know from the outset that Seymour is unstable, possible a loose cannon. Will he, we wonder, take anyone else out with him?

    As to the bananfish, I think a metaphor can incorporate two ideas, and I think that could be the case here. There is a specific, overt allusion to a lack of spiritual depth in Muriel, and an implied idea that the small girl Sybil has what Muriel lacks.

    Hence the kiss. It is the kiss of death. He is saying goodbye to the good things the world has. He can no longer find them in his life or in himself.

    I found this on our own website:


    "Anchises replied by explaining the plan of
    creation. The Creator, he told him, originally made the material
    of which souls are composed, of the four elements, fire, air,
    earth, and water, all which, when united, took the form of the
    most excellent part, fire, and became FLAME. This material was
    scattered like seed among the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and
    stars. Of this seed the inferior gods created man and all other
    animals, mingling it with various proportions of earth, by which
    its purity was alloyed and reduced. Thus the more earth
    predominates in the composition, the less pure is the individual;
    and we see men and women with their full-grown bodies have not
    the purity of childhood. So in proportion to the time which the
    union of body and soul has lasted, is the impurity contracted by
    the spiritual part. This impurity must be purged away after
    death, which is done by ventilating the souls in the current of
    winds, or merging them in water, or burning out their impurities
    by fire. Some few, of whom Anchises intimates that he is one,
    are admitted at once to Elysium, there to remain. But the rest,
    after the impurities of earth are purged away, are sent back to
    life endowed with new bodies, having had the remembrance of their
    former lives effectually washed away by the waters of Lethe.
    Some, however, there still are, so thoroughly corrupted, that
    they are not fit to be entrusted with human bodies, and these are
    made into brute animals, lions, tigers, cats, dogs, monkeys, etc.
    "

    I found it here:


    http://www.online-literature.com/bul...logy_fable/25/


    In this story Sybil is leading Aeneas into the underworld.
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
    "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Bonzai
    "Some people say I done alright for a girl." Melanie Safka

  2. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by qimissung View Post
    Also concerning the child Sybil, while I agree that there is something buried in this story about sexuality, I, too, felt uneasy at Seymore's conversation with the little girl, but it had nothing to do with sex. I thought he was going to kill her.
    I thought the same thing as he was pulling her out into the sea.

    Until she was able to get off and run back towards the hotel, I kept thinking...any minute now...
    I'd rather have questions that I can't answer than answers that I can't question.

  3. #48
    Dreaming away Sapphire's Avatar
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    That is very interesting, GiMissung.

    And yes LMK, same here - and again at the closing line (but in that case the other girl, the older girl, the wive).
    It is not too late, to be wild for roundabouts - to be wild for life
    Wolfsheim - It is not too late

  4. #49
    tea-timing book queen bouquin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by downing View Post
    Hello everyone! I read this again now and I keep wondering why do you all say that he didn't fit in the children's universe? To me, the discussion with Sybil is just ok, except the fact that she is disturbed by him kissing her feet. Ideas anyone? It would help me a great deal.


    I agree with you. What a brilliant dialogue between Sybil and Seymour, what a splendid conversation between adult and child! And when Sybil is so cute and audacious as to say that she has spotted a bananafish (with six bananas in its mouth, no less!) what could be more natural a thing for a grown-up to do than give that child a kiss! Sybil, however, is a plucky, proud, impudent little tyke so it's almost like second nature to her to react in a seemingly negative way. But you know what? I don't think she was at all displeased. We have to bear in mind that just moments earlier she had to lay down her cards when she was compelled to bring up the thorny topic of Sharon Lipschutz; and yet, she has also to maintain her dignity, so it might not be too bad an idea to play the ice queen every now and then! But notice that when Seymour asks her if she's had enough of their frolic in the water, she exclaims, "No!"

    Anybody care to compare the conversation between Muriel and her mom against that between Sybil and Seymour?
    Last edited by bouquin; 08-09-2010 at 05:25 AM.
    And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives.
    - Willa Cather, The Professor's House

  5. #50
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qimissung View Post
    Also concerning the child Sybil, while I agree that there is something buried in this story about sexuality, I, too, felt uneasy at Seymore's conversation with the little girl, but it had nothing to do with sex. I thought he was going to kill her.
    Interesting that you and others felt this way toward Sybil. I never for a moment felt he was going to hurt the girl in any way. But I can understand the anxiety in the reader based on Muriel's conversation with her mother.

    I did wonder if something would happen with Muriel. She was so very much in denial, and I think that was a suspenseful element that Salinger may have deliberately incorporated. I think he wanted us to wonder what was going to happen. We know from the outset that Seymour is unstable, possible a loose cannon. Will he, we wonder, take anyone else out with him?
    Yes, I agree. And to be honest, I have always felt this ending to be wrong. I did want to talk about it at some point, but perhaps we can wait a bit longer.

    As to the bananfish, I think a metaphor can incorporate two ideas, and I think that could be the case here. There is a specific, overt allusion to a lack of spiritual depth in Muriel, and an implied idea that the small girl Sybil has what Muriel lacks.

    Hence the kiss. It is the kiss of death. He is saying goodbye to the good things the world has. He can no longer find them in his life or in himself.
    I never thought about the kiss as a goodbye, but yes it fits.

    Quote Originally Posted by qimissung View Post
    I found this on our own website:


    "Anchises replied by explaining the plan of
    creation. The Creator, he told him, originally made the material
    of which souls are composed, of the four elements, fire, air,
    earth, and water, all which, when united, took the form of the
    most excellent part, fire, and became FLAME. This material was
    scattered like seed among the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and
    stars. Of this seed the inferior gods created man and all other
    animals, mingling it with various proportions of earth, by which
    its purity was alloyed and reduced. Thus the more earth
    predominates in the composition, the less pure is the individual;
    and we see men and women with their full-grown bodies have not
    the purity of childhood. So in proportion to the time which the
    union of body and soul has lasted, is the impurity contracted by
    the spiritual part. This impurity must be purged away after
    death, which is done by ventilating the souls in the current of
    winds, or merging them in water, or burning out their impurities
    by fire. Some few, of whom Anchises intimates that he is one,
    are admitted at once to Elysium, there to remain. But the rest,
    after the impurities of earth are purged away, are sent back to
    life endowed with new bodies, having had the remembrance of their
    former lives effectually washed away by the waters of Lethe.
    Some, however, there still are, so thoroughly corrupted, that
    they are not fit to be entrusted with human bodies, and these are
    made into brute animals, lions, tigers, cats, dogs, monkeys, etc.
    "
    Quote Originally Posted by qimissung View Post
    I found it here:


    http://www.online-literature.com/bul...logy_fable/25/


    In this story Sybil is leading Aeneas into the underworld.
    Yes, the Cumean Sybil is the female who leads Aeneas into the underworld. I think Sybil's name in the story is intended as an echo of the prophetess.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    Books are embalmed minds.

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  6. #51
    Dreaming away Sapphire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil
    And to be honest, I have always felt this ending to be wrong.
    The first time I read it, I really liked how Sallinger put the thought of "murder" in my head, made me miss the idea of "suicide" (as I didn't quite catch that in the conversation of Muriel with her mother) and then gave that nice twist in the last sentence...
    So in my eyes, it isn't wrong :no: What use would it be to Seymour, to kill Muriel? You yourself said that in shooting himself, he might finally shock his wife. And that was his purpose... so in that context, wouldn't the ending be just right?
    It is not too late, to be wild for roundabouts - to be wild for life
    Wolfsheim - It is not too late

  7. #52
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sapphire View Post
    The first time I read it, I really liked how Sallinger put the thought of "murder" in my head, made me miss the idea of "suicide" (as I didn't quite catch that in the conversation of Muriel with her mother) and then gave that nice twist in the last sentence...
    So in my eyes, it isn't wrong :no: What use would it be to Seymour, to kill Muriel? You yourself said that in shooting himself, he might finally shock his wife. And that was his purpose... so in that context, wouldn't the ending be just right?
    No, killing Muriel would be even a worse ending. I didn't think the sudden dramatic blowing one's brain out at the end was prepared. Yes, it is prepared thematically, but emotionally it feels wrong. I'll explain more later.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    Books are embalmed minds.

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  8. #53
    Dreaming away Sapphire's Avatar
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    Ok. I look forward to it
    It is not too late, to be wild for roundabouts - to be wild for life
    Wolfsheim - It is not too late

  9. #54
    tea-timing book queen bouquin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sapphire View Post
    I think this is arguable. In the conversation with Sybil he is ... well, in my eyes he is serious I read it with a dry kind of humour: to take everything literaly and to play along with what the child says - and add some of his own (the bananafish story).
    His character certainly fascinates me, but I do not know whether his attitude was appreciated by many people. While Sybil took it all literall, Muriel and her folks just did not understand what he was on about. He is something of a tragic, misunderstood figure.



    I don't think it can be argued that Seymour could hold his own in a conversation with a child, with Sybil he has certainly parleyed in a brilliant and witty fashion. and I don't think it can be argued that the child is smitten by him, is fascinated with him.

    If there be any ambiguity in the story, my hunch is that it has been cleverly put there to test the reader if he is going to be swayed by Muriel's mother and her fears of what Seymour could be capable of doing... and so as he reads along it could be that he'd start to feel this undercurrent of doubt and anxiety and so he'd begin to conjecture that maybe Seymour is not only suicidal but gosh! most likely also a pedophile!

    So in a way, for me, the first part of the story (the phone exchange between Muriel and her mom) is a kind of set-up or decoy in order to test if we would go down the path of doubting Seymour or even harshly judging him with regards his conduct with Sybil, which turned out to be all innocent in the end... Who knows, rough and bitter assessment by people around him could have been one factor that led Seymour to end his life.
    Last edited by bouquin; 08-09-2010 at 10:05 AM.
    And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives.
    - Willa Cather, The Professor's House

  10. #55
    Dreaming away Sapphire's Avatar
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    I don't think it can be argued that Seymour could hold his own in a conversation with a child, with Sybil he has certainly parleyed in a brilliant and witty fashion. and I don't think it can be argued that the child is smitten by him, is fascinated with him.
    Quite right.

    I am sorry, I think I read your post wrong When I read

    Quote Originally Posted by Bouquin
    Seymour seems still capable of being gay and witty and entertaining, and fascinate and hold a person's attention.
    I immediately connected this to an image of Seymore being gay and witty and entertaining in an adult crowd. I doubt the people he was surrounded by, would think this the case.
    But you clearly stated that he held his own with the child. So, my bad I agree that he entertained Sybil and that she enjoyed his company. She for one will be sorry that he's gone ...
    It is not too late, to be wild for roundabouts - to be wild for life
    Wolfsheim - It is not too late

  11. #56
    tea-timing book queen bouquin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aliengirl View Post
    I read this story for the first time today. I have gone through all the discussions and they really helped me to see the story from so many different angles. I see I'm quite late. But a few more ideas came into my head. Salinger has obviously used the Bananafish as a metaphor (which LMK has explained so brilliantly) but is feet also a kind of symbol/ metaphor? Why not use Face to show innocence of childhood?
    I was also pondering over Seymore's cause of suicide? He just does not commit suicide in haste. He has earlier shown suicidal tendencies. Muriel's mother gives a hint of this,

    "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."

    And also when she says,
    "Well. In the first place, he said it was a perfect crime the Army released him from the hospital--my word of honor. He very definitely told your father there's a chance--a very great chance, he said--that Seymour may completely lose control of himself. My word of honor."

    I think perhaps it is the lack of love and trust upon his wife's part which drives him to this extreme step. Or does he want to escape from his own failure to adjust to the adult world? I could not decide what it is.
    Another interesting point is that Muriel's mother warns her that Seymore may harm her but the poor guy harms no one except himself. During his whole conversation with Sybil, I felt that now he would do something odd to the girl. (Actually I was thinking that he would drown her.) Even when he took out the automatic it seemed as if he would shoot his wife. Perhaps the first conversation between Muriel and her mother presented Seymore in a very negative shade. I feel I should read the story again.




    Agreed. I quite exclaimed aloud to myself, "Who doesn't love kissing a baby's or toddler's foot!" The idea of Sybil as a messenger is really great.


    Seymour has in all probability been traumatized by his war experiences. Then Muriel's selfishness and flippant attitude towards his fragile situation have certainly done nothing to help him get back on the mend. She and Seymour are obviously incompatible. She doesn't care for his poetry books; she prefers Bingo nites, he'd rather play the piano.

    Could the kissing of Sybil's feet be an allusion to Jesus washing his disciples' feet? He was nailed on the cross just days afterwards, I think.

    What do you think was that incident regarding Granny's chair? What could Seymour have possibly done with it?
    Last edited by bouquin; 08-09-2010 at 04:11 PM.
    And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives.
    - Willa Cather, The Professor's House

  12. #57
    If grace is an ocean... grace86's Avatar
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    The thing I love and hate about short stories is that they deliberately seem to be ambiguous and open to debate - which is why at times I prefer a novel. But I enjoyed this one.

    I didn't have the opportunity to read all of the posts yet, and I was surprised to see so many comments. I'll just throw myself out there with some thoughts.

    Muriel definitely seems unafraid and unable to be shocked, while completely absorbed in herself. It was frustrating how she and her mother kept interrupting each other. Admittedly, it took me a minute to figure out the business with the trees.

    It was a bit refreshing to change scenes. Maybe mother's had a different sense of security in the 40's but I thought it was pretty messed up for Sybil's mother to leave her alone in the guest part of the beach while she went and had a drink. That a three year old could be safe at the beach by herself is delusional on the mother's part.

    I completely thought something wrong was gonna go on with Seymour and Sybil at the beach. It did seem like Salinger left that open - like he wanted us to feel uneasy considering the previous conversation with Muriel and her mother. But even if it was a bit weird, I think Seymour was interested in the easy innocence of the afternoon. Though it was over really fast...he took her over one wave and brought her back - and while we're left thinking something bad was going to happen, Salinger lets us know that Sybil ran off without a thought. She was carefree and careless.

    Though despite Sybil's innocence I thought it was interesting that she was talking to Seymour about Sharon sitting at the piano with him. She seemed jealous when she said that next time he should push her off the bench. It seems like Sybil didn't want his attention to go anyone else right then. Though he's still focused on innocence - like when he mentions that he likes Sharon because she doesn't kick small dogs. It was a simple and childlike statement from him, and yet I think he wanted to hold on to innocence that is perceived in children.

    As for the bit with the piano, Muriel said he played every night. It seems then that he would drift in and out and he'd have moments of being lucid.

    I have more thoughts, but I got to go now....
    "So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss, and my heart turns violently inside of my chest, I don't have time to maintain these regrets, when I think about, the way....He loves us..."


    http://youtube.com/watch?v=5xXowT4eJjY

  13. #58
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bouquin View Post
    Could the kissing of Sybil's feet be an allusion to Jesus washing his disciples' feet? He was nailed on the cross just days afterwards, I think.
    Whille I do agree that there might be a religious suggestion to the feet, I do think that's just stretching the significance too far. It's a suggestion to associate childhood innocence with a level of spirituality, but I can't find anything more than that.

    What do you think was that incident regarding Granny's chair? What could Seymour have possibly done with it?
    To be honest I laugh every time i read that line. My imagination just runs wild. It's a comic line and I don't think even Salinger had anything specific in mind. Ultimately i have no idea.


    Quote Originally Posted by grace86 View Post
    The thing I love and hate about short stories is that they deliberately seem to be ambiguous and open to debate - which is why at times I prefer a novel. But I enjoyed this one.
    Short stories are great. They are not little novels. They are a different art form than the novel. Novels capture a totality of life. Short stories capture stories of our life.

    I didn't have the opportunity to read all of the posts yet, and I was surprised to see so many comments. I'll just throw myself out there with some thoughts.
    Glad you joined us.

    Muriel definitely seems unafraid and unable to be shocked, while completely absorbed in herself. It was frustrating how she and her mother kept interrupting each other. Admittedly, it took me a minute to figure out the business with the trees.
    I think that's the key in understanding her character and in understanding the conclusion. My imagination wonders if she is even perturbed when she wakes up to find Seymore.

    It was a bit refreshing to change scenes. Maybe mother's had a different sense of security in the 40's but I thought it was pretty messed up for Sybil's mother to leave her alone in the guest part of the beach while she went and had a drink. That a three year old could be safe at the beach by herself is delusional on the mother's part.
    Reading this as a young man, I never thought twice about it, but now as a imminent father I can see. Could it be that Sybil's mother is like Muriel, locked inside herself? Or is it just the mechanics of the story to get Sybil over to Seymore on the beach alone? I assume Salinger could have had the mother walk Sybil over to Seymore, so it's more than just story telling mechanics.

    I completely thought something wrong was gonna go on with Seymour and Sybil at the beach. It did seem like Salinger left that open - like he wanted us to feel uneasy considering the previous conversation with Muriel and her mother. But even if it was a bit weird, I think Seymour was interested in the easy innocence of the afternoon. Though it was over really fast...he took her over one wave and brought her back - and while we're left thinking something bad was going to happen, Salinger lets us know that Sybil ran off without a thought. She was carefree and careless.
    I think that's what Salinger is after - our adult sensibilities to jump to a heinous thought, while really the whole thing is wrapped in childhood innocence.

    Though despite Sybil's innocence I thought it was interesting that she was talking to Seymour about Sharon sitting at the piano with him. She seemed jealous when she said that next time he should push her off the bench. It seems like Sybil didn't want his attention to go anyone else right then. Though he's still focused on innocence - like when he mentions that he likes Sharon because she doesn't kick small dogs. It was a simple and childlike statement from him, and yet I think he wanted to hold on to innocence that is perceived in children.
    Yep. A future Muriel in 20 years?
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    Books are embalmed minds.

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  14. #59
    My mind's in rags breathtest's Avatar
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    I just read the short story, i know i'm a bit late, but all i wanted to say was that i think Salinger can write little children very well. I've also read catcher in the rye, and Caulfield's sister in that is as cute as Sybil is in this. And i agree that maybe Salinger was trying to challenge our own assumptions by making it seem as though something horrid was going to happen with the Sybil and the young man.
    'For sale: baby shoes, never worn'. Hemingway

  15. #60
    tea-timing book queen bouquin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rores28 View Post

    Also my new reckoning of this story is that it is the reader who is in fact the bananafish, entering the black hole of a story and gorging themselves on endless speculative hypotheses to the point that they no longer know what the hell to think and are trapped forever in its frustrating cave of ambiguity.


    To review Seymour's description of bananafish:
    their habits are very peculiar;
    they lead a very tragic life;
    they 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;
    after that, they're so fat they can't get out of the hole again;
    They get banana fever ... They die.

    Ok, so what if Seymour here were alluding to himself and others like him who have been scarred by certain horrific experiences in life? In Seymour's case, the most we can glean is that he's come back unwell from the war; most likely he's suffering from combat stress reaction. We don't know if he also endured psychological/emotional hardships at other times in his life; but suffice to say that his temperament is rather more suited to pursuits of poetry and music and conversations with tiny tots instead of warfare.
    So there he was, just your regular rather mellow kind of guy (ordinary looking when they swim in). But alas, he goes to war (into the hole) and there he is confronted with horrific experiences (a lot of bananas) that he is not able to handle (he behaves like a pig; gets fat). And what he's lived through has been so ghastly perhaps and he just couldn't get a grip so that now he is all mangled and broken inside (can't get out of the hole again). So now he is terribly ill in his soul (banana fever) and as far as he's concerned, he's doomed. So for him it's a perfect day for bananafish ... it's time to die.

    I was wondering also on how come Seymour hit upon "bananafish" in particular. I think it was simply because moments earlier he and Sybil had been discussing her bathing suit which she pointed out was yellow.... so yellow could perhaps be associated with banana; and fish - well, there was the ocean right in front of them.
    Last edited by bouquin; 08-10-2010 at 12:50 PM.

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