“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger GROUP 1 Topic: Innocence Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” shows the contrasting worlds of adults and children. He shows children with curiosity, purity, innocence, imagination, and adults with materialism, shallowness, and selfishness. In some degree, Salinger glorifies children yet shows some condemnation towards the attitudes of adults. Perhaps he is also saying that children are more spiritually advanced than adults, capable of seeing with more than just the eyes (the heart/soul). Questions: 1) Come up with a thematic statement for the story based on the topic “Innocence.” Give evidence to support this. 2) In what ways is Seymour innocent? In what ways is he not? What does "innocence" mean in this story, anyway? 3) How is the adult world characterized in this story? The world of children? 4) When do these two worlds come in conflict? What are the consequences? Statement to debate with class: Seymour is better suited to the world of children than to the world of adults. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger GROUP 2 Topic: Madness Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is about a young man who has returned from fighting in the Second World War and is going through what today we would call PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder. This term, though common today, wasn’t around in the 1940s, and mental illness was not a subject most people were well-informed about. Therefore, Seymour is incredibly misunderstood by those around him, and for this reason, he seeks refuge in the world of children, where his “madness” seems to be simple joking dialogue. The story makes us think about what is actually “mad,” and even questions the legitimacy of conversations that so-called “normal adults” have. Questions: 1) Come up with a thematic statement for the story based on the topic “madness.” Give evidence to support this. 2) How does Salinger let us know about Seymour's mental condition without directly spelling it out? What hints does he give us? 3) Does Muriel care about Seymour's mental condition? Does she understand it? Does she take it seriously? 4) What does Seymour's condition have to do with the war? 5) How sympathetic is the world to Seymour's condition? Is this fair? Statement to debate with class: Seymour shoots himself when he realizes that real innocence isn't possible in a corrupt world. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger GROUP 3 Topic: Spirituality Salinger wrote "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" when he was highly interested in Zen Buddhism. The word "Zen" (Japanese) derives from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning "meditation." Zen Buddhism focuses on attaining enlightenment (bodhi) through meditation. It teaches that all human beings have the potential to attain enlightenment, within them, but this has been clouded by ignorance. To overcome this ignorance, Zen rejects the study of scriptures, religious rites, devotional practices, and good works in favor of meditation leading to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality. The epigraph to this story's collection suggests that we approach each tale as though it were a Zen kōan, a riddle with no logical answer. "Bananafish" in many ways rejects logical knowledge in favor of spiritual wisdom. It also condemns materialism as a great danger to the soul's well-being. Epigraph: We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping? --A ZEN KOAN Questions: 1) Come up with a thematic statement for the story based on the topic “spirituality.” Give evidence to support this. 2) What's up with Seymour's nickname for Muriel, "Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948"? 3) What does Seymour mean when he tells Muriel that he doesn't want people to look at his tattoo? 4) Why does Sybil like Seymour so much? Why does Seymour like Sybil so much? Statement to debate with class: Seymour's suicide is equivalent to a spiritual victory. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger GROUP 4 Topic: Isolation Mental illness can be very isolating, and J.D. Saliger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” explores these effects. Seymour Glass, having just returned from fighting in the Second World War, has difficulty adjusting to being home, most likely due to the things he witnessed overseas. Seymour self-isolates to an extent, but he is also alienated by a so-called normal society that doesn’t understand his mental condition. He finds himself “alone” in several ways: physical, mental, and spiritual. Questions: 1) Come up with a thematic statement for the story based on the topic “isolation.” Give evidence to support this. 2) How close are Seymour and Muriel? 3) Does Seymour form a real connection with Sybil, or does he remain isolated from the rest of the world? 4) Is Seymour fit for society? (Or maybe we should ask if society is fit for Seymour…) Statement to debate with class: Salinger portrays Seymour as superior to the other materialistic adults in his story. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger GROUP 5 Topic: Sex Because J.D. Salinger was interested in Zen Buddhism, he wrote about material things that prevent spiritual enlightenment. In the story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” sex can be seen as one of these threats to the soul’s well-being. In the Zen spirit of the story, physical pleasures distract us from pursuing what really matters, and they have no real value. While his commentary on sex is not directly stated, it can be inferred by reading between the lines, or by knowing a little bit about his philosophies and reading some of his other works on these characters. Questions: 1) Come up with a thematic statement for the story based on the topic “sex.” Give evidence to support this. 2) What can we infer about Seymour and Muriel's sexual relationship? What hints are we given in the text? 3) At first, are we meant to suspect some inappropriate sexual tinge to Seymour and Sybil's friendship? Does this seem intentional on Salinger's part? Once the story is over, does your opinion about this change? 4) How does Seymour feel about sex? Statement to debate with the class: Seymour kills himself out of shame for his sexual desire for Sybil.
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