This is entry #89 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words series.
[Content warning: The following contains a brief depiction and a discussion of suicide.]
Excerpts from J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”:
“Muriel. Now, listen to me.”
“Your father talked to Dr. Sivetski.”
“Oh?” said the girl
“He told him everything. At least, he said he did – you know your father. The trees. That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her places for passing away. What he did with all those lovely pictures from Bermuda – everything.”
“Well?” said the girl
“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. My word of honor.”
“Sybil,” he said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll see if we can catch a bananafish.”
“A bananafish,” he said, and undid the belt of his robe. He took off the robe. His shoulders were white and narrow, and his trunks were royal blue. He folded the robe, first lengthwise, then in thirds. […]. He bent over, picked up the float, and secured it under his right arm. Then, with his left hand, he took Sybil’s hand.
He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled of new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover.
He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies calibre 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.”
Philosopher: Sean T. Murphy (Southern Utah University)
Artwork: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” short story by J.D. Salinger. In Nine Stories (1953).
Words: The 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report states that 16 veterans commit suicide daily. Imagine surviving an artillery barrage, your body pressed against the frozen ground of the Ardennes forest (where Salinger served during WWII). Eardrums shot, friends dead, their bodies, once housing senses of humor, smiles, and vital spirits now in pieces small enough to fit in your helmet. Welcome home! Time for vacation; for grocery shopping; for loving and being present. The story’s value lies in its disturbingly elegant handling of the returned soldier’s plight. Perhaps Salinger is wondering whether anyone ever really returns from war.