A perfect day for Bananafish and the terrible consequences of a World War on those who directly experienced
“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.
A large-scale war like the Second World War (but, as we will later see, also the First World War) will reshape the social and political background of the whole planet but, moreover, there were serious consequences also for what concerns the psychological stability of every individual. In particular soldiers, who were obliged to live in constant contact with death and to experience aguish, a deeper feeling than fear since caused by what we could define as “fear of nothing”, a sort of vertigo due to the possibility of the annihilation of ourselves. That’s why many of the survivors, after the war, couldn’t live their lives fully, as finally conscious of the atrocities men are capable of, and found themselves suffering from very serious mental illness such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. That is the case of Salinger himself, who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Nuremberg after discovering the atrocities committed by the Nazis, but also of the characters of the first short story of this collection. Seymour Glass is a twenty-eight year old war veteran on holiday in Florida with his wife, Muriel. A Perfect Day for Bananafish opens with a dialogue between Muriel and her mother, where we find several references to the fact Seymour may suffer from depression; Muriel’s mother stresses the facts she’s worried for her daughter because of Seymour’s mental instability, letting understand that she didn’t want him to drive, referring to some “funny business with the trees” and saying that “it was a perfect crime the Army released him from the hospital”. Moreover, when Seymour’s character finally appears, we have the impression there’s something strange about him. His behavior and his reactions to the outside world remind us of those of Septimus Warren Smith form Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf. As a matter of fact, both Seymour and Septimus went through the war and they both experienced its consequences on their psyches.
Septimus Warren Smith is an extremely sensitive man who can suddenly fall prey to panic and fear or feelings of guilt. The cause of these feelings lies in the death of his best friend, Evans, during the First World War. He is a ‘shell shock case’, one of the victims of industrialized warfare. After the war, Septimus is haunted by the specter of Evans; he suffers from headaches and insomnia. He cannot stand the idea of having a child; he is sexually impotent. As we saw in the passage we analyzed in class, “Clarissa and Septimus”, there are several sentences that convey the idea that Septimus suffers from depression. He’s alienated from reality, he feels guilty, his reaction to his wife’s words is angry and aggressive, he seems to panic and he shows his tendency to lose balance when his intention to suicide is clearly stated.
On the other hand, when Seymour Glass is first named in A Perfect Day for Bananafish we immediately have the impression that there’s something weird about him. Apart from Muriel’s mother suggesting he possibly had strange (or even dangerous) behaviors before, his appearance itself appears to us as a somatization of his depression, as his pallor makes even the psychiatrist of the hotel worry (“…he asked me if Seymour’s been sick or something. So I said—“ “Why’d he asked that?” “I don’t know, Mother. I guess because he’s so pale and all”). Moreover, we notice that he suffers from hallucinations (he’s convinced he has a tattoo while he doesn’t have any and he confuses yellow with blue), he talks about strange things (the Bananafish) as if he was being delirious and he reacts angrily when he thinks a woman is staring at his feet (“If you want to look at my feet, say so,” said the young man. “But don’t be a God-damned sneak about it.”).
Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs. Dalloway and Seymour Glass in Nine Stories are both shell-shocked war vets, set adrift in peacetime society and unable to cope with their surroundings and, in the end of the stories, as a result of their psychic paralysis, they both suicide. The first jumps out of the window of his room, while the latter “fires a bullet through his right temple”, as to express their inability to reinstate in a society where they are no longer able to live and where they feel strangers.