In my memory, I had a number of things very wrong about the story. Seymour has not just been married, he’s been married for 6 years. Also, Seymour is not happy (my mind had merged his state of mind on his wedding day (Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters) with that of his on Banana Fish day); he is in crisis. Naturally, Salinger is not direct with this, but this time ‘round, Mr. Glass came across to me as a very sad man at the end of his rope, this being most strongly expressed by the snippy little exchange about his feet with the unfortunate woman in the elevator.
What’s he so unhappy about? Why should Mega-sensitive-Zen Poet-Mystic-Holy Fool commit the ultimate selfish act of suicide and furthermore commit it within three feet of his wife, creating a horrific traumatic event she’ll never get over? The banana fish parable may be a clue to this or it may not. The story itself, one suspects, is a koan of sorts. Or, the parable may be a total red herring—just a funny story for the kid. But if it does mean something, well, what?
First, the title. It’s a perfect day for banana fish in the sense that it turns out to be a good day for Seymour to talk about them with one of J.D.’s magic children and then, in the emotional zenith of the piece, have the magic child actually spot one. That’s what the little girl does—she sees one in the water, carrying away about six bananas. At which point Seymour—in pure Zen joy—kisses her on the arch of her foot. I think something invisible happening in the reader’s head between this smack on the foot and the bang of the pistol is the “meaning” of the story. As for what banana fish stand for, I think it’s more Buddhist imagery. Salinger slathers this Buddhist business, like too much peanut butter on a Ritz, all over these Glass stories. I never got much with the Buddhism myself, except that back in the mid-sixties, when I last read this stuff, this level was taken very seriously, as if Salinger’s entire oeuvre was some kind of religious text to be decoded. The banana fish story was key, and I thought I had it nailed then, but of course I didn’t, and I’m clear now that Salinger doesn’t want it nailed (even though he keeps diddling with it anyway in the later stories). However, if you want to assign meaning, I think that, just as a Buddhist text states that we are “all primarily Buddha”, Seymour is saying we are also all primarily banana fish. It’s simply being human to be a banana fish, but it’s also the unenlightened state being inner “full”, whereas the enlightened state is inner “empty”. That is, emptying oneself of all transitory emotions and such—so that the lotus blossom will open inside your head and all that stuff. I think Seymour hasn’t made it to this state; he has remained a banana fish—full of emotions and transitory cares and everyday nonsense—and he’s stuck in the cave, so: a bullet to the head.
What about Buddy, in Seymour, an Introduction, saying he wrote the damn thing? Well, I, for one, am not so pleased about this little gambit. I think the smarty pants author is messing with the head of the average youthful, needy, Salinger reader, who wants some answers. Anyway, the game is this. If Mr. J.D. Salinger writes the story, we have the omniscient author, who was right there on the beach, in the ocean with Seymour and the little girl, in the hotel room, hearing the whole banana fish thing, seeing Seymour blow his brains out—he’s just reporting the events to us. But when Mr. Buddy Glass says he wrote it, well, that rips omniscience. Buddy wasn’t there, he just made the whole thing up, possibly as mere cathartic therapy in the wake of his brother’s death. No wonder someone says it’s more about you, Buddy, yeah, you being the most normal and unsaintly of all the Glasses; it’s your inner Seymour, not the real Seymour. Yours, Buddy, you who are really J.D. Salinger; so we’re back to square one: it’s just a story. Ha. Ha.
My pique at these Glass stories is probably just a banana fish’s resentment that the holy man author turned out to be just to a banana fish, too. If anything dates these pieces I think it’s the Zen element, which was hip and trendy enough in the mid to late fifties with the Beats, people over in France, and just about all academic intellectuals for Fellini to make fun of a Zen-o-phile in 1960s La Dolce Vita; naturally, in that film, the intellectual blows his brains out. I doubt that Salinger was a full fledged Buddhist or even a seeker. When he gets hold of, say, a Taoist parable or one of Seymour’s double haiku--or Franny's endless prayer--he seems more a sentimentalizer.
June 29, 2005