American author J.D. Salinger is most famous for his novel Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951. But before the infamous Holden Caulfield came the Glass family – the focus of many of Salinger's most well-known short stories.
The Glass family is a fictional creation of Salinger, featuring seven children of staggering intelligence, wisdom, and precociousness. These characters pop up again and again in Salinger's short stories, either as the main characters or as peripheral connections. And it all starts with "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the story of Seymour Glass, the oldest of the Glass children.
Salinger wrote "Bananafish" in 1948 when he was still relatively unknown. In the story, Seymour Glass, just back from his service in World War II, struggles with mental illness while vacationing with his wife in Florida. The story explores themes of innocence, youth, and spirituality (a reflection of Salinger's growing interest in Eastern philosophy and meditation). The folks at New Yorker were so impressed with the story that they published it immediately and signed a "right of first refusal" for any more of Salinger's stories. Thus Salinger was launched to fame – long before Catcher in the Rye.
"Bananafish" is famous not only as the beginning of the Glass family saga, but also for its highly enigmatic ending. We won't spoil it for you by giving anything away here, but the story's shocking and perhaps confusing conclusion has left critics debating Salinger's intentions, not to mention the real meaning of the story. Now that we've thoroughly enticed you, you can get to reading the story already.
Clothes, cars, video games, food, TV – it's easy to like this stuff. It's easy to get caught up in material pleasures, to worry about what you're going to wear or what you look like or what's going to feel good. In fact, it's normal to worry about this stuff. If you met someone who didn't give a hoot about any of it, you'd might think he or she was crazy.
"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" does two important things. One, it reminds us that there is more to life than clothes, food, and TV. Number two, it calls into question our definitions of words like "sane" and "crazy." (Or, in the words of a cheesy 90s action movie, "What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office?") When you shift around your perspective a little bit, when you start asking what's really important in life, you start to wonder if maybe we've got it all wrong, and the people we think of as "crazy" have got it right after all.
At least, that's the question Salinger inspires us to ask. Throw in some of the greatest dialogue written in the last fifty years and an adorable four-year-old girl, and you've got a short story that is definitely worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read. And the fifteen years it will take you to figure it out.