Saturday, October 25, 2003

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

J.D. Salinger taught me something important.

Prof. Corum said in his lecture that the underlying message of Salinger's Nine Stories is that the only real form of happiness in the world hides in the world of children. The further into the adult world people slip, the less chance they have of ever achieving true happiness. Throughout the stories, which I think I'll like even more when I read them again, the characters try different methods of masking their dissatisfaction with life: alcohol, repression, and — most shockingly in the first story, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" — suicide. However, Salinger suggests one possible solution: to draw from another of his books, being the catcher in the rye — some wise adult who's there to help make the adult world seem just a bit less sinister to wide-eyed children. Boo Boo Tannenbaum does it in one story. She's the coolest mom ever. Boo Boo's brother, Seymore Glass, does it in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," but he's the one who commits suicide immediately after when he realizes that the happiness he gives to kids is one he can't have.

I'm probably not a catcher in the rye for anyone. This is something I have to work on. But what did strike me is the notion of true happiness being the claim of children only. I agree.

Everything I've done to make myself a happy person has drawn me back to my childhood: my preoccupation with cartoons, my refusal to stop playing video games, the Walter Mitty daydreams, the movies I watch that have these boundlessly creative structures that defy traditional narrative conventions — more like a child's story than anything. Even my tendency to act like a selfish asshole — that's me as a kid, not considering other's feelings because I would rather I had been never taught to do that. It's funny to admit, but I honestly never want to grow up.

Ha. Look at me, typing away before I go to bed. I just realized I'm Doogie freaking Howser.