A Perfect Day for Bananafish

by

J. D. Salinger

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A Perfect Day for Bananafish Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J. D. Salinger's A Perfect Day for Bananafish. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J. D. Salinger

Jerome David Salinger grew up on Park Avenue in Manhattan, New York. His father was a successful Jewish cheese importer, and his mother was Scotch-Irish Catholic. After struggling in several prep schools, Salinger attended Valley Forge Military Academy from 1934 to 1936. He went on to enroll in several colleges, including New York University and Columbia, though he never graduated. He took a fiction-writing class in 1939 at Columbia that cemented the dabbling in writing he had done since his early teens. During World War II, Salinger ended up in the U.S. Army’s infantry division and served in combat, including the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Salinger continued to write during the war, and in 1940 he published his first short story in Story magazine. He went on to publish many stories in The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and others from 1941 to 1948. In 1951, he published his only full-length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which rocketed Salinger into the public eye. Salinger, however, hated his sudden fame and retired from New York to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 2010. In his final years, he continued to avoid contact with the media and ceased publishing any new works.
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Historical Context of A Perfect Day for Bananafish

World War II robbed millions of young men and women of their youthful innocence, and Salinger himself witnessed the slaughter of thousands at Normandy, one of the war’s bloodiest battles. In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Salinger’s World War II experience is reflected in Seymour’s longing for his pre-war innocence; his cynical view of adult society; his psychological agony; and, of course, his eventual suicide. During World War II, product shortages and rationing of goods such as rubber and fuel meant that there was a stunning lack of consumer goods available to purchase. The end of World War II in 1945 saw sharp uptick in American consumerism—in the face of a new abundance of jobs and higher wages, coupled with the shortage of products available for purchase in years’ past, Americans were suddenly eager to spend their money. Thanks to newly developed technologies during the war, many new products came on the market, such as nylon, plastics, Styrofoam, the aerosol spray can, and more. Ad agencies also began to spend more and more following WWII—some advertisers even taking to television rather than radio to support their brands—further fueling the growing atmosphere of materialism. In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Muriel embodies this shallow culture of consumerism.

Other Books Related to A Perfect Day for Bananafish

Salinger was famously private and detested the media, so not much is known about who or what influenced his work. It is known, however, that he met with Ernest Hemingway in Paris during World War II, which suggests that Salinger admired Hemingway’s work. Many of Hemingway’s stories featuring protagonist Nick Adams—such as “Big Two-Hearted River” and “The Three-Day Blow” bear thematic resemblance to “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” In “Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick has just returned from World War I and is grappling with the unpleasant memories and emotions associated with that experience, though he largely attempts to avoid these emotions. In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Seymour Glass has recently returned from fighting in World War II and is similarly emotionally traumatized and fails to articulate how he’s feeling. In “The Three-Day Blow,” in which Nick also appears, Hemingway explores the generational angst of the Lost Generation—a generation of youths, including Hemingway himself, who came of age in between World War I and World War II. This generation grew disillusioned with traditional American values, because these conventions seemed hollow, materialistic, and devoid of meaning after the wartime atrocities they had witnessed. Like Nick, who feels aimless and “lost” without such values to ground his choices, Seymour also struggles to exist in such a materialistic, shallow world. The thought of living in such a world after all he’s experienced in the war is so hard for him to fathom, in fact, that he commits suicide at the end of the story. Salinger’s only full-length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, centers around a male protagonist who’s also alienated from other people and is in psychological distress, as much of the novel focuses on Holden Caulfield’s depression and suicidal thoughts. Other books that grapple with mental illness include Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Key Facts about A Perfect Day for Bananafish
  • Full Title: A Perfect Day for Bananafish
  • When Written: Late 1940s
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 1948 in The New Yorker; 1953 in Nine Stories
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: A resort on the coast of Florida in 1948
  • Climax: Seymour shoots himself in the temple.
  • Antagonist: Emotional trauma from war; American consumerism; isolation
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for A Perfect Day for Bananafish

Family Affair. Many of Salinger’s stories feature other members of the Glass family, but “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is the only one in which Seymour Glass, the eldest child in the family, appears in real time. In other stories, he’s referred to in passing or appears in other characters’ memories.