Study Guide

A Perfect Day for Bananafish Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By J.D. Salinger

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

A Note Before We Start

Before we talk about any of these symbols, you should know that there are two camps when it comes to interpreting "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." One camp is all about the deep hidden meaning, thinking that every line, perhaps even every word has some carefully chosen significance. From this viewpoint, it matters that Seymour's room is 507, rather than 213. It matters that Seymour's swim trunks are blue. It matters that Sybil likes to eat wax, not jellybeans or pencils. The other camp bases its interpretation largely on the epigraph, which tells us not to approach this story with logic. To pick it apart analytically is to misinterpret Salinger's intentions.

We're going to go ahead and discuss the possible meanings of these different symbols, but keep in mind that it might all be for naught.

The Bananafish

We discuss this central theme in "What's Up with the Title?" See you there.

The Color Blue

Notice that Seymour's swim trunks are blue, while Sybil wears a yellow bathing suit. Yet Seymour says to her, "That's a fine bathing suit you have on. If there's one thing I like, it's a blue bathing suit" (2.20). If we think of blue as associated with purity or innocence, then it makes sense that Seymour is wearing blue trunks. It also makes sense that he thinks Sybil is wearing a blue bathing suit. She is pure and innocent, so he associates her with the color blue.

Actually, there's an interesting aside in Salinger's short story "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters" that Buddy Glass tells about his brother Seymour. When their sister Franny was a ten months old, Seymour read her a story to stop her from fussing one night. The story he read was a Taoist tale about Duke Mu of China and an enlightened man named Po Lo. The Duke asked Po Lo to send him a man who could pick out a superior horse from a group of animals. Po Lo does, and the Duke employs this man to pick out a horse for him. The man does, and when the emperor asks about its color and sex, the man tells him it is a brown mare. When the horse arrives, however, it is a black stallion. The Duke is peeved that this guy can't even tell the color and sex of a horse, but Po Lo is ecstatic. The man has learned to look at the horse's "spiritual mechanism," he says. "In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external."

That's seems to be what's going on here with Seymour. Seymour sees Sybil's spiritual mechanism, her internal qualities of purity and innocence. So he sees her in the color blue, rather than the yellow she actually wears.

Sunburns

Notice that Seymour is very pale and doesn't want to get any sun on the beach. Muriel, on the other hand, is inside because she's sun-burned so badly. Getting too much sun is sort of equivalent to getting burned by material pursuits. Or, it could be equivalent to being jaded by experiences in the world. If this is the case, Seymour has maintained his spiritual purity or his youthful innocence, while Muriel has not. You might also want to consider the woman in the elevator with zinc salve on her nose, or the fact that Sybil is being slathered with sun-tan oil when we first meet her.

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