A Perfect Day for Bananafish

by: J. D. Salinger

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs

Materialism

Salinger is critiquing the shallowness of materialism through Muriel and her world of wealth. Each time we see Muriel, she is luxuriating in wealth—she wears a white silk dressing gown, fixes her Saks blouse, meticulously paints her nails, and uses fine leather luggage. Seymour tells Sybil that Muriel may be getting her hair dyed “mink.” These suggestions of a luxurious lifestyle demonstrate the divide between Muriel and Seymour. She reads women’s magazines while Seymour reads poetry. She is more concerned with her clothes and the current fashion trends than with her husband’s emotional and psychological problems. Even when she and her mother are discussing Seymour’s erratic, dangerous behavior and unstable mental state, the talk keeps floating back to fashion and idle gossip. Muriel’s obsession with material goods alienates Seymour from Muriel and her world, just as Mrs. Carpenter’s indulgence in martinis and gossip shuts out Sybil.

Seeing

The idea of seeing permeates “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” Seymour’s name sounds like “see more,” a confusion that Sybil’s mother falls prey to when Sybil talks to her about “see more glass.” Sybil’s name also references seeing; in Greek mythology, a sibyl was a seer. Seymour, or “see more,” suggests that Seymour is literally able to see more than other people. Because of his traumatic experiences in the war, he has a greater understanding of life and can recognize the materialism and superficiality of the world around him. Like Seymour, Sybil can see what others cannot, though her openness is a function of her childishness rather than of trauma and regret. She easily sees the imaginary bananafish that Seymour tells her about and is therefore able to “see” Seymour in a way the adults in his life cannot.