Materialism: a Growing Epidemic

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Can self-indulgence and materialism lead to social chaos and self-destruction? In “Teddy” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” J.D. Salinger reveals that the ostentation of society results in the downfalls of the protagonists. Both Seymour Glass and Teddy McArdle feel embarrassed and uncomfortable because of their distinctions from the majority of the people they are surrounded by. Seymour suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome as an affect of the war, and Teddy retains the mind of a child genius. Through the use of symbolic settings, materialistic flat characters and protagonists with unique minds, Salinger demonstrates that an excess of human superficiality causes astonishment, distress and eventually leads to self-destruction, like suicide.

Playing a large symbolic role, the environments that surround the protagonists in their main struggles reveal the American fascination with physical or material goods. In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Seymour and Muriel Glass return to a beachfront resort in Florida, where they spent their honeymoon several years ago. While on the beach itself, Sybil Carpenter asks her mother, “Did you see more glass?” (11). Using wordplay and symbolism, Salinger connects Seymour’s mental state to a material item that can be found on a beach. Glass is extremely fragile and easily damaged, just like Seymour’s mind. Meeting Sybil on a beach, where people sometimes go to look for sea glass, symbolizes how Seymour is like a broken piece of sea glass. Mentally shattered after returning from the war, Seymour can be closely linked to this small object found on a beach. In comparison, in “Teddy” the McArdle family travels across the Atlantic Ocean in a lavish cruise ship. Describing the vessel, Salinger writes, “Below the sports Deck, on the broad, after end of the Sun Deck, uncompromisingly alfresco, were some seventy-five or more deck chairs, set up and aligned seven or eight rows deep, with aisles just wide enough for the deck steward...
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