A Perfect Day for Bananafish

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Seymour Glass, the protagonist of the short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger, would undoubtedly agree with Dylan. His story is seemingly a very common one; a soldier returns from war and finds himself unable to relate to those around him, and, without meaningful relationships, suffers a mental breakdown that ultimately ends in suicide. On the outside it seems as though Seymour follows this prototype exactly, but in reality, re-acclimating to civilian life only serves as a catalyst for a much older, much deeper psychological distinction. Seymour Glass takes his own life because he believes he is fundamentally different from everyone else, a point illustrated not only in his inability to maintain relationships with other people but also by Seymour himself in his story about bananafish. Seymour is unable to connect with people his own age because, after his experiences as a soldier, he finds their focus on shallow things repulsive. What he perceives as the universal focus of adults is exemplified by Mrs. Glass’ comment to her mother: “We couldn’t get the room we had before the war…. The people are awful this year… they look as if they drove down in a truck” (Salinger 9). Though her husband is obviously in a very fragile mental state (Mrs. Glass’ mother makes it increasingly clear that she thinks her daughter is in danger), Mrs. Glass finds insulting the other vacationers more important than defending her husband’s sanity. Even when talking about possibly connecting Seymour with a psychiatrist, she cannot help but mention the wife of the doctor she spoke to, describing her as “horrible” and “all hips” (8). The same sort of vacuousness pervades the whole resort in which Seymour is staying and forces him to physically remove himself from the small society, instead preferring to spend his time alone on the beach away from the area designated for guests of the hotel. Seymour feels the need to protect himself, sensitive as he is, from the poisonous judgments of adults, by remaining constantly covered by a bathrobe, never speaking, and keeping a margin of safety between himself and others. He is so sensitive, in fact, that when a woman looks at the ground in his presence, Seymour bitterly accuses her of looking at what he thinks are his “two normal feet,” agitating her so much that she needs to get off of the elevator they were sharing (18). The adults are so disturbing to Seymour not only because they are shallow (a view he must have held before his time in the army) but because they remain shallow even after he has experienced the horrible, profound realities of war. He has been shaken to the point of mental instability, but the people around him continue to live as though nothing has happened. This relatively normal veteran experience alone alienates Seymour from other civilians, but when combined with his preconceived notions about the evils of superficiality, a hindrance becomes a disability, making it literally impossible for Seymour to interact with anyone his age. However, it is important to note that even though Seymour distances himself from other adults, it is his affliction, and not theirs, that causes his alienation. Seymour does not see the people he is surrounded by as totally evil, and although he occasionally lashes out at them, he does not blame them for his inability to connect. The world which Seymour inhabits “is firmly established by its references to the sophistication, polish, manners, and locales associated with… Salinger’s educated upper middle class” (Prigozy). Superiority is the norm, and very few people, if any, exist with sensibilities similar to Seymour’s. But even though the adults’ comments are often derisive, inhabitants of Seymour’s world are not genuinely cruel-hearted, only uncaring. Mrs. Glass is especially indifferent to her husband’s situation, and critics have suggested that Seymour’s suicide is actually the result of a “clash of character between husband and wife”...
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