In J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories there are many tales centered on children, who are often depicted as a symbol of hope and connected with the values that stand in contrast to the ones typical of the adults corrupted by materialism. In my essay, I would like to concentrate on the portrayal of children in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Teddy”. Even though the way these characters are depicted is similar, a child protagonist in each of the stories is representative of different things. While Sibyl can be seen as a prototype of a childlike innocence, purity and simplicity, Teddy can hardly be considered a prototypical innocent child. Despite the simplicity of Sibyl’s thinking, her presence and behavior help the reader draw many complex conclusions about the main adult in the story “A Perfect Day For Bananafish”, Seymour Glass. Having many abilities and experiences but still being a child at the same time, Teddy also provides us with an in depth understanding of the adult world. In my essay, I would therefore like to contrast and compare the things the children stand for and represent, and the way they provide us with the illumination of the motives and values of the adult world.
The fact that Sibyl Carpenter can be seen as a representative of a pure innocence has a profound impact on the development of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. The certainty that Sibyl is a pure child character is encouraged by the use of the color blue in several parts of the story that is, next to the color white, known to represent innocence and purity. When Seymour first sees Sybil, he says: “That’s a fine bathing suit you have on. If there is one thing I like, it’s a blue bathing suit.” (Salinger 12) Even though in reality it is not blue but yellow, through this single reference, the innocence of a child seems to be pointed out by Seymour.
Almost as soon as Sybil is introduced, it is made obvious that she is characterized by the simplicity typical of children of her age. She seems to ingeniously believe basically everything that is told to her and this is the reason why she accepts the existence of a Bananafish without a doubt when Seymour Glass tells her about it: “Sybil, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.We’ll see if we can catch a Bananafish” (Salinger 13). Towards the end of the interaction between Seymour and Sibyl, Seymour “picked up one of Sybil’s wet feet, which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch” (Salinger 17). She responded with a sharp “hey!”, but other than that, she did not react at all. In the sample of a few lines, it is shown that Sybil still has the traits of personality typically found in children. When they are offended, they generally do not stay upset for a long time, much the same as how Sybil immediately forgives Seymour. In spite of being one of the main characters of the story, it is clear that she is still a little girl, with all the traits that come with that age.
Teddy, the main character in J.D. Salinger’s short story of the same name, is very different from Sybil Carpenter in that he can hardly be considered child like. One can say that he stands somewhere between a child and an adult. Being ten years old, he has obviously retained some of the youthful innocence but because of his abilities, experiences and experience, he cannot be seen as fully innocent. Teddy is a child prodigy, he can predict the future, and remembers instances from his previous lives believing in reincarnation. While he can be considered blessed to possess all of these abilities, it is also a curse to be ten years old and have to suffer through this. At one point, Teddy says: “It will either happen today or February 14th 1958, when I am 16.” (Salinger 182) He is most likely referring to the day that he will die, being capable of knowing this information because of the abilities that set him apart from the world. Moreover, he has intelligence that puts him in the same class or even higher as most adults, so he...
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McCoppin, Rachel Season: War, Children and Altruism in J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. Akademeia, Vol.1, No.1 (2011).
Salinger, J.D. Nine Stories. Toronto : Bantam, 1986.
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