Study Guide

A Perfect Day for Bananafish Quotes

  • Spirituality

    Section I (Muriel in the Hotel)
    Muriel Glass

    "He's played the piano both nights we've been here." (1.70)

    We know from the other Glass stories that Seymour is a poet; now we are reminded again that he is, at heart, a sort of artist.

    "I don't know, Mother. I guess because he's so pale and all," said the girl. "Anyway, after Bingo he and his wife asked me if I wouldn't like to join them for a drink. So I did. His wife was horrible. You remember that awful dinner dress we saw in Bonwit's window? The one you said you'd have to have a tiny, tiny – " (1.74)

    Muriel is so distracted by materialistic things like fashion that she can't focus on the matter at hand, what the psychiatrist had to say about Seymour. Spiritually, she is at a very different place than is her husband.

    "All right, all right. He calls me Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948," the girl said, and giggled. (1.34)

    This gives us some insight into Muriel's relationship with Seymour. Her giggle implies that she doesn't take him too seriously – which may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, she misses the gravity of his illness. On the other hand, she balances out his serious, moody spirituality. Check out Salinger's story, "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters," for more insights.

    "You know Seymour," said the girl, and crossed her legs again. "He says he doesn't want a lot of fools looking at his tattoo."

    "He doesn't have any tattoo! Did he get one in the Army?"

    "No, Mother. No, dear," said the girl, and stood up. (1.107-9)

    Much of what Seymour says implies a hidden – and often spiritual – meaning.

    Section II (Seymour on the Beach and in the Hotel)
    Seymour Glass

    "The lady?" the young man brushed some sand out of his thin hair. "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." (2.20)

    What does this tell us about Seymour's perception of his wife?

    "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 seventy-eight bananas." He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. "Naturally, after that they're so fat they can't get out of the hole again. Can't fit through the door." (2.35)

    Some critics have claimed that this metaphor refers to the way humans gorge themselves on material pleasures. We'll talk about this more in "What's Up with the Title?"

    Mrs. Carpenter was putting sun-tan oil on Sybil's shoulders, spreading it down over the delicate, winglike blades of her back. (2.3)

    Notice that Sybil's shoulder-blades are described as "wing-like." Salinger implies that there is something angelic about her childlike innocence.

    He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled of new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover. (2.108)

    This is an entirely different environment than the outdoor setting of the story's first half. There's something artificial and materialistic about the hotel room.

    Sybil Carpenter

    "See more glass," said Sybil Carpenter, who was staying at the hotel with her mother. "Did you see more glass?" (2.1)

    Sybil reveals a key insight here: Seymour can see more than others.

  • Innocence

    Section I (Muriel in the Hotel)
    Muriel Glass

    "All right. Just all right, though. We couldn't get the room we had before the war," said the girl. (1.87)

    In other words, things are fundamentally different after the war than they were before.

    "Well. How's your blue coat?"

    "All right. I had some of the padding taken out." (1.83-4)

    Many have pointed out the color imagery in "Perfect Day for Bananafish" and suggested that blue represents innocence; check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for the scoop.

    "I couldn't travel now anyway. I'm so sunburned I can hardly move." (1.60)

    Some critics think that the sun/sun block/paleness of various characters is a metaphor for different degrees of innocence. See "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more.

    "He won't take his bathrobe off? Why not?"

    "I don't know. I guess because he's so pale." (1.104-5)

    There's that sun imagery again. If getting sun represents being jaded by wordly experiences, then Seymour has taken steps to preserve his innocence.

    "I just got here, Mother. This is the first vacation I've had in years, and I'm not going to just pack everything and come home," said the girl. (1.60)

    Muriel's reasons for staying are essentially selfish; she isn't considering Seymour or his well-being.

    She went over to the window seat for her cigarettes, lit one, and returned to her seat on the bed. "Mother?" she said, exhaling smoke. (1.44)

    Notice that Muriel is indoors, and surrounded by smoke and nail polish. The atmosphere is very different from that in which Seymour is placed – outside, on the beach, in the sun and the clean air.

    She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty. (1.2)

    Muriel comes across as being one of those popular, beautiful, materialistic girls. There's a shallowness to her character that contrasts with, say, Sybil's pureness.

    She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand. (1.1)

    Materialism is a hallmark of the adult world in this short story.

    Sybil Carpenter

    "See more glass," said Sybil Carpenter, who was staying at the hotel with her mother. "Did you see more glass?"

    "Pussycat, stop saying that. It's driving Mommy absolutely crazy. Hold still, please." (2.1-2)

    Notice that a child identifies this key insight about Seymour, while her mother, an adult, misses it completely.

    Section II (Seymour on the Beach and in the Hotel)

    Sybil stopped walking and yanked her hand away from him. She picked up an ordinary beach shell and looked at it with elaborate interest. She threw it down. (2.48)

    Sybil is characterized by the curiosity and interest typical of young children.

    "It was really just an ordinary silk handkerchief – you could see when you got up close," said the woman in the beach chair beside Mrs. Carpenter's. "I wish I knew how she tied it. It was really darling." (2.4)

    Just like Muriel and her mother, these women appear shallow and materialistic in contrast to Seymour and Sybil.

    The young man suddenly picked up one of Sybil's wet feet, which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch. (2.91)

    This small movement demonstrates such reverence and love for youth and innocence on Seymour's part.

    Seymour Glass

    "I see you're looking at my feet," he said to her when the car was in motion.

    "I beg your pardon?" said the woman.

    "I said I see you're looking at my feet."

    "I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor," said the woman, and faced the doors of the car. (2.2-5)

    This is the first time that Seymour seems strange to us. What's so interesting is that his behavior hasn't changed at all since he was joking around with Sybil. While that sort behavior may be perfectly acceptable around children, it appears mad, or crazy, in the adult world.

  • Sex

    Section I (Muriel in the Hotel)

    She read an article in a women's pocket-size magazine, called "Sex Is Fun-or Hell." (1.1)

    This theme is introduced to the text early. Salinger gets us thinking (and speculating) about Seymour and Muriel's sexual relationship.

    He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies calibre 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple. (1.109)

    At this point, the reader either feels bad for suspecting Seymour of pedophilia, or vindicated (if he or she suspects that Seymour killed himself out of guilt for his sexual desires).

    Muriel Glass

    "I said he drove very nicely, Mother. Now, please. I asked him to stay close to the white line, and all, and he knew what I meant, and he did. He was even trying not to look at the trees-you could tell. Did Daddy get the car fixed, incidentally?" (1.24)

    We can infer from this passage that Seymour, perhaps intentionally, drove a car into a tree. Some readers have posited that this aggression is sexual in nature.

    Section II (Seymour on the Beach and in the Hotel)
    Seymour Glass

    "Sybil," he said, "you're looking fine. It's good to see you. Tell me about yourself." He reached in front of him and took both of Sybil's ankles in his hands. "I'm Capricorn," he said. "What are you?" (2.26)

    Do you think that Seymour's conversation with Sybil borders on the flirtatious?

    "I was sitting there, playing. And you were nowhere in sight. And Sharon Lipschutz came over and sat down next to me. I couldn't push her off, could I?"

    "Yes."

    "Oh, no. No. I couldn't do that," said the young man. "I'll tell you what I did do, though."

    "What?"

    "I pretended she was you." (2.30-34)

    Seymour's conversation with Sybil alternates between adult flirtation and child-like jokes.

    Sybil Carpenter

    "Sharon Lipschutz said you let her sit on the piano seat with you," Sybil said.

    […]

    "Next time, push her off," Sybil said. (2.27-37)

    Sybil definitely has a harmless crush on Seymour.

    The young man suddenly picked up one of Sybil's wet feet, which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch. (2.92)

    This is the point in the story where the reader, if he or she has suspected any sexual motivation on Seymour's part, might re-evaluate. This movement seems to reveal reverence, rather than sexual desire.

  • Madness

    Section I (Muriel in the Hotel)

    "You know Seymour," said the girl, and crossed her legs again. "He says he doesn't want a lot of fools looking at his tattoo."

    "He doesn't have any tattoo! Did he get one in the Army?"

    "No, Mother. No, dear," said the girl, and stood up. (1.107-9)

    Here, we suspect that Muriel actually does understand something about Seymour. It's perfectly clear to her that he's speaking metaphorically, while her mother is left in the dark.

    She sat down on one of the made-up twin beds and – it was the fifth or sixth ring – picked up the phone. (1.2)

    It sounds here like Muriel is selfish or at least self-centered. We have to wonder how this affects the way she deals with Seymour's madness.

    "Well. In the first place, he said it was a perfect crime the Army released him from the hospital – my word of honor. He very definitely told your father there's a chance – a very great chance, he said – that Seymour may completely lose control of himself. My word of honor." (1.51)

    Much of the tension of the story is introduced this way; we wonder if, indeed, Seymour will "lose control of himself" by the end of the story.

    "Did he try any of that funny business with the trees?" (1.23)

    Salinger very subtly informs his reader of Seymour's madness without giving us too many explicit details.

    "He told him everything. At least, he said he did – you know your father. The trees. That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away. What he did with all those lovely pictures from Bermuda – everything." (1.49)

    Seymour seems to have a very different take on death than most people. It's likely that whatever he said to "Granny" about her "passing away" was not taken in the spirit it was intended.

    Section II (Seymour on the Beach and in the Hotel)
    Seymour Glass

    Ask me something else, Sybil," he said. "That's a fine bathing suit you have on. If there's one thing I like, it's a blue bathing suit."

    Sybil stared at him, then looked down at her protruding stomach. "This is a yellow," she said. "This is a yellow."

    "It is? Come a little closer." Sybil took a step forward. "You're absolutely right. What a fool I am." (20.20-22)

    At this point, we know that Seymour is mentally unstable because of Muriel's conversation with her mother. So all his comments to Sybil leave us guessing: is he really unstable, or just playfully joking with this little girl?

    "Yes. Yes, I do," said the young man. "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 believe 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."

    Sybil was silent. (2.64-5)

    Passages like this one can convince us of Seymour's sanity. He's clearly joking with Sybil, as any adult who is great with children might. He even takes an opportunity to reprimand her – if playfully – as an authoritative adult.

    "I see you're looking at my feet," he said to her when the car was in motion.

    "I beg your pardon?" said the woman.

    "I said I see you're looking at my feet."

    "I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor," said the woman, and faced the doors of the car. (2.2-5)

    This is the first time that Seymour appears to us to be abnormal. What's so interesting is that his behavior hasn't changed at all since he was joking around with Sybil. While this behavior might be perfectly acceptable around children, it appears inappropriate in the adult world.

    Sybil Carpenter

    "My daddy's coming tomorrow on a nairiplane," Sybil said, kicking sand.

    […] "Well, it's about time he got here, your daddy. I've been expecting him hourly. Hourly." (2.17-18)

    Seymour's nonsensical conversation has a place with Sybil – this is a perfectly acceptable, playful way to talk to children.

    "See more glass," said Sybil Carpenter, who was staying at the hotel with her mother. "Did you see more glass?"

    "Pussycat, stop saying that. It's driving Mommy absolutely crazy. Hold still, please." (2.1-2)

    Important spiritual insights are often taken for nonsense or gibberish in this story.

  • Isolation

    Section I (Muriel in the Hotel)

    She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand. (1.1)

    Muriel's materialism sets her markedly apart from Seymour. With such fundamental differences, we wonder how close the two of them are.

    Muriel Glass

    "I mean all he does is lie there. He won't take his bathrobe off." (1.103)

    Seymour makes attempts to insulate and isolate himself from the rest of the world. He's afraid to reveal any of himself.

    "Mother," the girl interrupted, "listen to me. You remember that book he sent me from Germany? You know – those German poems. What'd I do with it? I've been racking my – " (1.36)

    Seymour is clearly quite earnest in asking Muriel to read the poems (Rilke, we can infer). But she doesn't take his request seriously at all, and instead misplaces the book he so valued.

    Section II (Seymour on the Beach and in the Hotel)
    Seymour Glass

    "The lady?" the young man brushed some sand out of his thin hair. "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." (2.20)

    This passage reminds us that Seymour and Muriel are never actually together at any point in this story – until Seymour's death at the end.

    Lying prone now, he made two fists, set one on top of the other, and rested his chin on the top one. "Ask me something else, Sybil," he said. (2.20)

    Seymour is desperate to make a connection with Sybil. His interactions with her constitute the only real relationship he has in this story.