In the article “History is a Bath of Blood,” William James writes that “modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us” (James 303). However, his claims do not seem true of many returning veterans found in literature.
In the short stories “Soldier’s Home” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the two protagonists’ lives after brutal wars explicitly demonstrate the idea that although they survived their battles, their fascination with war is no longer there. Still, they find it difficult to adjust to normalcy after all they have seen. For both Krebs and Seymour, wars have dehumanized them and let them become social outsiders and pathetic heroes who are not likely to escape from their emotional predicament and return into normal family lives.
In the beginning of “Soldier’s Home,” the author mentions two different pictures, the difference between them suggests that Krebs’ personality has irrevocably changed as a result of the war. The first picture shows Krebs with his “fraternity brothers” in college (Hemingway 133). This indicates that he enjoyed strong bonds with his peers and felt a sense of belonging. In the second picture, he is with a corporal and two unattractive German girls, and his uniform seems too small for him. This illustrates a stark difference in Krebs, as he used to pay heed to his appearance and be passionate and optimistic about his life like other teenagers.
The later picture shows that the war has ruined Krebs’ subjective sense of morality. He is no longer naive and enthusiastic; the extreme negatively and sorrow he has experienced has made him apathetic and dishonest. Krebs “had been badly, sickeningly frightened all the time. In this way he lost everything” (Hemingway 134). When Krebs returns home, he realizes that most people, including his parents, do not want to listen to his war stories unless he lies about some details. “His mother would have given him breakfast in bed if he had wanted it.
She often came in when he was in bed and asked him to tell her about the war, but her attention always wandered. His father was non-committal” (Hemingway 134). Krebs becomes less communicative and settles into a simple routine. “He was sleeping late in bed, getting up to walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room. He loved to play pool.
In the evening he practiced on his clarinet, strolled down town, read and went to bed” (Hemingway 134). It seems that he gradually loses his interest in living because the war has corrupted his spirit and brought psychological trauma to him. Krebs is a tragic character who feels the burden of the dark side of war. His mother persuades him to find a job and to become independent, rather than relying on her and his father. He refuses his mother’s advice initially, and he expresses his inner-feelings to her when he says, “I don’t love anybody.
He soon realizes he was wrong to say this to his mother and comforts her with dishonest words “I was just angry at something. I didn’t mean I didn’t love you” (Hemingway 138). In truth, he is no longer faithful, not to the people in his village, nor his family. At the end of the story, Krebs accepts his mother’s suggestion. He is aware of the fact that he can never fit in where he lives. He starts a new life in Kansas City, even though this was never his plan in the first place (Hemingway 138). By taking this action, he is deceiving himself in order to attempt to lead a normal life.
It is hard to determine for sure if his new life in the bigger city will help him cope, but it is certain that he will never be the same person as he was before the war. Seymour’s situation is even worse than Krebs’. “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish” starts with a conversation between Muriel, Seymour’s wife, and her mother. “Dr. Sivtski said Seymour may completely lose control. ” (Salinger 118) This indicates that Seymour has been emotional and erratic since his return from battle. Muriel’s parents are worried about her, especially when Muriel’s mother knows it is Seymour who drives her daughter to Florida.
Muriel tells her mother to calm down, “I asked him to stay close to the white line, and all, and he knew what I meant, and he did. He was even trying not to look at the trees – you could tell. Did Daddy get the car fixed, incidentally? ” Seymour is psychologically unstable and tends to get distracted when he drives. It is clear that Seymour’s mental condition is getting worse. Though he loves his wife, Seymour refers to her as “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948,” which does not seem funny to women of her age (Salinger 118).
His statement fits in with a larger trend of him becoming more misanthropic and critical of society. Additionally, he reads poems in German and sometimes plays the piano, implying that he is in pursuit of a higher quality of life (Salinger 118). This puts him in direct contrast with Muriel, who only cares about fashion. This rift can be seen during Seymour’s conversation with little Sybil when she asks about Muriel’s whereabouts. Seymour makes it clear to Sybil that he is not concerned with Muriel’s activities (Salinger 118).
When Sybil talks to her mother about Seymour, she says, “I mean all he does is lie there. He won’t take his bathrobe off” (Salinger 118). This clearly shows that Seymour does not believe in this world. What is more, this world does not believe in him, which is apparent through his interactions with others. Consequently, he lacks opportunities to positively communicate with the people he loves in order to release his inner pressures. Because he cannot cope with the overwhelming negativity the war left him with, he commits suicide in his hotel room (Salinger 118).
His experience after war is a tragedy; he does not seek a proper way to resolve his psychological issue, which leads to his demise. During the story, Seymour uses the bananafish as metaphor for himself. “Well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas… Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door” (Salinger 118).
If Seymour is a bananafish, we all are bananafish. Naive Sybil and Sharon, one day they will swim into this hole, and they will become jealous, sensitive, or avaricious “like pigs. ” Their memories will eventually transform into increasing desires. Seymour has endured too many pains and is trapped in this “hole. ” Thus, Seymour decides to release himself, fulfilling the promise of the title. This is a perfect day for a bananafish. Seymour’s story makes it clear that he only looks at the negative side of his life and feels reluctant to make any change.
Ultimately, he is swallowed by his own despair, which results in an inevitable outcome. Undeniably, war brings negative effects to soldiers who return to their hometowns afterwards. Their confidence in the good of humanity is shaken, and it is hard for them to see anything but pain and helplessness in life. In the stories “Soldier’s Home” and “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish,” the main characters are confused and hopeless, having lost all direction and sense of purpose. The difference is in the characters’ respective support systems.
Thanks to more empathetic forces around him, Krebs has an epiphany and is determined to start a new life in a new town. Seymour, on the other hand, has no such support and he resorts to rescue himself from his sorrow by ending his life with a gun. Returning veterans are emotionally fragile; they are often alienated from their families and face an extreme sense of isolation. The horrors they have witnessed on the battlefield can be unbearable for them to make sense of. Based on his these two stories play out, it is clear that loved ones and society in general should aim to give returning veterans as much support as possible.