The images of war remain imbedded in an individual’s mind, making it difficult for anyone who has faced the horrors of war to reassimilate themselves within society. People who have never faced the horrible images lack the understanding and compassion needed for a war veteran to reestablish themselves. The alienation an individual suffers from family and friends thrusts them further into a world of confusion, forcing them to take drastic actions to find peace. The effects of war have the capacity to undermine the belief system that a person once lived by, cuasing them to question every aspect of their life. J.D. Salinger eloquently places the reader into the life of Seymour Glass at a time when he is struggling to find peace in his life after returning home from World War II, in the short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” Seymour’s struggle emanates from the psychological effects of the war, alienation from society, lack of compassion and understanding from his peers, and the lack of innocence he finds in the materialistic post-war society he returns home to.
Seymour Glass is a veteran of World War II, who is caught in a tangled emotional web. The horrors of the war have left him reeling from post traumatic stress disorder. Once a strong, spiritual man who thrived on innocence and tradionional Jewish values, Seymour returns to a materialistc post-war society that does not understand the emotional trauma of a veteran. He finds himself in an emotional whirlwind of which he cannot escape. The Holocaust defied every sense of reason that Seymour had, and he now questions his beliefs and values. He is confused by all of the horrible experiences he faced in Germany, and is unable to reconnect with anything that he used to cherish and find comfort in.
Seymour is married to a typical Jewish American Princess named Muriel, who is more concerned with her own materialistic needs than those of the man she married. He once found her so simple and innocent, yet she has become a shallow, self-absorbed woman who completely lacks understanding and compassion. Muriel and Seymour venture to Florida for a second honeymoon upon his return from Germany. The post-war psychological effects Seymour suffers become apparent during a telephone conversation between Muriel and her mother. They discuss Seymour and his habits with complete lack of understanding or compassion for the state of confusion caused by the horrible images and experiences of World War II. Muriel dismisses the odd behavior of her husband and shows no concern for his inablility to reconnect with society. Seymour tried to reach our to muriel while in Germany, by sending her a book of poems that he treasured. However, Muriel regards that poems are just words on paper not worth her trouble when she speaks with her mother, saying, “He said that the poems happen to be written by the only great poet of the century. He said I should’ve bought a translation or something. Or learned the language, if you please.” She does not care that Seymour treasured these poems, and was emotionally sharing his experiences. Muriel’s mother has the same pretentious attitude as her daughter as expressed when Muriel says, “The people are awful this year. You should see what sits next to use in the dining room. at the next table. They look as if they drove down in a truck.” Her mother replies, “Well, it’s that way all over.” She refers to people around her as “what”, instead of “who” as if she is of high stature and the rest of society are simple people not worthy of her. Muriel’s parents are preoccupied with the psychological status of Seymour and express great concern for the safety of their daughter. Seymour does not have anyone he can turn to for support. Muriel is completely ignorant to the fact the Seymour is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. She is so caught up in her own image of a perfect world that she refuses to see the pain that her husband is suffering.
Seymour is a spiritual man, who delights in innocence, as shown through his relaitonship with Sybil. He has been reluctant to remove his robe in front of other people as he feels that they will see his inner turmoil, yet he removes it without hesitation to swim with Sybil. He shows disdain for Muriel when Sybil asks, “Where’s the lady?” Seymour replies, “That’s hard to say, Sybil. She may be in any one of a thousand places. At the hairdresser’s having her hair dyed mink. Or making dolls for poor children, in her room.” He doesn’t want to return to his thoughs, and directs Sybil sway from the discussion. Seymour is fond of Sybil, yet he cannot deny that she is destined to become a pretentious Jewish American Princess like Muriel. sybil has already exhibited this behavior in her comments about pushing Sharon Lipshutz off the piano bench. Seymour clearly expresses disappointment in Sybil and shows his appreciation for innocence when he says, “What I like particularly about her is that she never does anything mean to little dogs in the lobby of the hotel. That little toy bull that belongs to that lady from Canada, for instance. You probably won;t velieve this, but some little girls like to poke that little dog with balloon sticks. Sharon doesn’t. She’s never mean or unkind. That’s why I like her so much.”
The bananafish seem to be an analogy to Seymour. He describes them as, “They lead a very tragic life. Well, 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. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as severty-eight bananas.” “Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door.” Then he replies to Sybil’s question of the bananafish’s fate by saying, “Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die.” This discussion is Seymour describing himself and the effects of the war. He went to war as an ordinary man, then he engorged on so much death, destruction, and horror during the war that he is unable to escape his emotions. He is unable to leave behind all of the memories and return to life, as he know it before leaving. He kisses Sybil’s foot in complete adoration in an act of closure. He has delighted in her naive innocence, but knows that he is like that bananafish and unable to come out of his hole of emotional despair. He shows his feelings transparency to other adults when he yells at the lady in the elevator about looking at his feet. His feet appear to be normal, yet they have taken him on a journey that has corrupted his very existence and left him unable to turn back the hands of time.
In conclusion, Seymour has struggled with being a bananafish who has engorged on too many horrors in his life to continue living. The effects of the war, alienation from society, lack of compassion and understanding from his peers, and the lack of innocence he found in the materialistic post-war society has left him in a hole he cannot get out of. To have started a marriage to a simple, innocent woman at this location in Florida and now to end the marriage with a shallow, self-absorbed woman by committing suicide at the same location is significant in that he has come full circle. His life started at the hotel with hopes and dreams, and now ends at the hotel with emotional turmoil and pain. he clearly commits suicide in the room with Muriel as a message to her that her shallow, pretentious attitude will not save her from society. Seymour has struggled with his life in a callous society, now Muriel will struggle with his death.