Analysis: Nine Stories by JD Salinger
For those like me who couldn't find any insightful analyses about this collection on the Internet: You're welcome. I have finally figured out what this is about (I think).
So the fancy book club met a couple weeks ago to discuss Nine Stories by JD Salinger. Much despair was had because of our varied and confused insights into Salinger's stories. Was Seymour a pedophile? What's up with the random last line in "Just Before the War with the Eskimos?" How should we interpret Nine Stories? And although I haven't answered most of these questions, I can at least answer the last. So for those of who don't know how to absorb the collection, here's a little solace:
All of these short stories are about the loss of innocence and the attempt to gain it back. The characters are stuck between innocence and adulthood. And, interestingly, nearly all of the stories feature an interaction between a child and an adult, the child generally being an ideal or a tool for the adult to regain innocence - but not always. In some, even the child is struggling with the loss of ideals.
Seymour Glass is the main character in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," and he's recently returned from the war with mental wounds serious enough to require psychiatric help. The first half of the story shows a telephone conversation between his new wife, Muriel, and her mother. Their discussion revolves around Seymour's problems, and - when compared to our firsthand experience with those problems - we realize how little they grasp and how little either of them has invested in his well-being. In the second part of "Bananafish" Seymour speaks with a young girl named Sybil about catching (mythical) bananafish - a fish whose quest for food leads to its a demise. The encounter is a bit disturbing - sexual language abound - and we get a feel for Seymour's anguish, although specifics are murky. Salinger uses every word to his advantage - in a very subtle way - and, needless to say, the encounter is quite unsettling. We have that distress confirmed when, at the end of the story, Seymour retires to the hotel room - where his wife is sleeping - sits next to her, and shoots himself. The significance of the bananafish is, of course, Seymour's alignment with it. The fish's quest for food translates to Seymour's quest for innocence. His quest, like the fish's, ends in death. Sybil represents Seymour's ultimate goal, which is why their interaction is so unnerving. It seems, on the outside, like he's preying on her (like the bananafish does its food), but he's actually after what she represents: innocence. He gets his fill and bloats so that he can't fit back into a world where people like his wife and mother-in-law rule. They are Sybil's antithesis, and Seymour is caught between the two different existences. It's in this limbo where Seymour - and many of Salinger's protagonists in Nine Stories - perish.
Eloise and Mary Jane are former college roommates who reconnect in "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" (my personal fave). Mary Jane visits Eloise at her house, and thus ensues a night of drunken revelations. Immediately, Eloise appears unhappy to the point of severity, and Mary Jane takes a back seat to Eloise's readily apparent issues. We learn that Eloise lost the love of her life in the war (a common villain in Nine Stories) and has resigned herself to a lackluster, unwanted marriage. She's so unsatisfied with her life and her past that she takes it out on everyone, especially her daughter Ramona who has an imaginary friend - symbolic of dreamy innocence and also indicative of a void she's trying to fill (the lack of compassion from her mother). In one poignant scene in "Uncle Wiggily," Eloise berates Ramona with incredible rage. In the end - after a LOT of alcohol - Eloise admits her weakness: transposing her anger onto others. She resents the loss of her first love, resents her loss of innocence, and resents the people who still have...
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