Jerome David (J. D.) Salinger is one of the most beloved and secretive American novelists of the twentieth century, as famous for being a recluse as he is for his fiction. Born in 1919 to a Jewish father and Irish-Catholic mother, Salinger spent his childhood in New York City, where he was part of the affluent social circles that he would later write about. Salinger attended the Valley Forge Military Academy and served in the army during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania and later took writing courses at Columbia University. Salinger began his literary career by writing short stories for magazines in the late 1940s. He admired and emulated the sparse prose style of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and, like Hemingway, wrote about darker aspects of human nature, death, and suicide.
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” appeared in the New Yorker in 1948 and was later republished as the opening story in the collection Nine Stories (1953). In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Salinger introduces the Glass family, who would become recurring characters in his fiction. In the next ten years, Salinger published three other Glass family stories in the New Yorker: “Franny,” “Zooey,” and “Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters.” These stories appear in Salinger’s other books, which include Franny and Zooey (1961) and Raise the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). Critics revered Nine Stories, but Salinger’s other works were not so well received. The siblings of the Glass family were criticized for being unkind and obnoxious.
Salinger’s first novel, Catcher in the Rye (1951), was the critical and popular success that launched Salinger into both literary fame and social scandal. Catcher quickly became an American classic, and its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, became the voice of a generation that was coming of age in the postwar era. After the popular success and controversy of Catcher and the criticism of his subsequent works, Salinger isolated himself from the world, publishing little and maintaining a private life.
Salinger wrote “Bananafish” in postwar America, when many veterans of World War II were struggling with the readjustment to civilian life. The story includes many of the elements that Salinger revisits throughout his career, including the idea of the outsider, male angst, critique of New York society, contempt for materialism, and the redemptive nature of children. Seymour Glass, like many of Salinger’s other protagonists, is an unhappy outsider, critiquing the society of which he is part. Salinger’s heroes are most like him in this regard—outsiders who are dissatisfied with society and therefore remove themselves from it by either self-seclusion (like Salinger himself) or suicide.
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