Burdened By Bullets Robert E. Lee once said, “ What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world”. The assembly of vignettes, Nine Stories, written by J.D Salinger, is set in a post-war era. The collection of stories focuses on the emotional and psychological impact the effects World War II has on certain individuals.
The majority of Salinger’s characters struggle to cope with their personal experiences and fail to find happiness due to their encounters with war.
Seymour Glass, Eloise, and Franklin are all prime examples of Salinger’s characters who battle to escape the negative burdens of war as they attempt to isolate themselves from society and face a never ending self conflict that soon leads to their self plummet into a desolate state.
Throughout the course of the stories: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, and “Just Before the War With the Eskimos”, Salinger conveys the negative impact the effects of war has on specific individuals which victimizes one into a world of isolation; unable to locate self-contentment in a world after the war.
In a “Perfect Day for Bananafish”, Seymour Glass is seen as an unstable and damaged young man who faces post-traumatic stress syndrome from the negative effects of war; thus, causing him to forever alienate himself from society. Seymour’s mental instability causes others to perceive him as a strange and troubled man who, “may completely lose control of himself” (Salinger 6). The traumatic experiences Seymour Glass dealt with in combat followed him into his present life, therefore carrying a drastic emotional and psychological toll on his perception of his own life. The drastic transition into life after war made Seymour’s behavior shift into a fickle and peculiar manner that caused him to disconnect and isolate himself from society and trap himself into internal darkness.
In the story of “Perfect Day for Bananafish”, Seymour connects with young Sybil and tells her a symbolical story of a Bananafish who get, “so fat that they can’t get out of the hole and can’t fit through the door” (Salinger 16). The tale of the Bananafish is significant for it parallels the trapped life that Seymour lives in correlation to his traumatic involvement within war. For all the bananas that the fish consumed, represented the horrific images that Seymour had seen thus foreshadowing the fate of Seymour’s life to become trapped like the Bananafish but in his own mental instability, unable to find happiness and committing his final act of alienation, death.
Seymour’s lack of being able to cope with his past leaves him in an unhealthy mental state that pushes him further into self-peril. After being constantly burdened by the negative effects of war and condemned as society’s pariah, Seymour, “fired a bullet through his right temple” (Salinger 18). Seymour’s inability to connect to society further fueled his impulse to commit his final act of alienation and kill himself. Seymour’s negative encounters with the war carried on through his life and blockaded him from finding any source of happiness, thus catalyzing his inner turmoil that led to his death. Seymour along with many other of Salinger’s characters’ connection with the destructive results of war led to a life of inner conflict and an inability to cope with the circumstances and find happiness.
In “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, the death of Eloise’s true love in combat drove her into a life of alienation where she was unable to fully recover from the tragic death and faced failure in finding bliss in her life. Although Eloise did not physically participate in the war herself, the tragic loss of her love, Walt, indirectly caused her pain and led her to a path of loneliness and the inability to be happy. Unlike Seymour Glass in “Perfect Day For Bananafish”, Eloise is, “not driven to death by what she encountered in life” (Salinger 28), but instead isolates herself from society supporting Salinger’s theme that the effects of war creates a difficult journey to happiness. The incapability to mend the tragic past and accept Walt’s death further degrades Eloise into a life of alienation and seclusion in her own painful grudges against the war. When Eloise explained Walt’s death to Mary Jane, she claimed that the tank, “was full of gasoline and junk and it exploded in their faces…[She] began to cry” (Salinger 33).
Eloise’s emotional reaction to Walt’s experience in the war creates a profound and haunting memory in Eloise’s mind that causes her to plummet into misery and alienate herself from her surroundings. The loss of her love’s life in battle leaves Eloise in a fragile mental state where she is trapped in her own reminiscing and nostalgic memories of Walt, leaving her unable to find happiness in her life. Although Eloise does not commit suicide to further retract herself from society, in order to escape the pain that the effects of war has on her life, she “poured what was left in the bottle of Scotch into her glass…drank it off, shivered, and sat down” (Salinger 35).
Instead of using suicide as a mechanism to be further isolated from society, Eloise abused alcohol in order to alienate herself from the outside world due to the tragic events that occurred to her because of the war. Her failure to cope with the negative effects of war further pushed Eloise into the depths of isolation and further conveys Salinger’s theme that the negative effects of war make it difficult for an individual to find contentment within their life. Eloise’s damaging experience with the war left scars on her mental health, causing her to fall deeper into the depths of isolation and further away from finding happiness.
In “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”, Franklin’s rejection from the recruitment in the war led him to a damaged life of bitterness, isolation, and failure to be pleased with his own life. Due to Franklin’s heart problem, he spent the war in an airplane factory in Ohio and was unable to participate in the armed services. Franklin exclaimed that he enjoyed his time in the factory, “[he] loved it, [he] just adored airplanes”(Salinger 49). Unlike Seymour and Eloise who were haunted by horrific moments in the war, Franklin suffered from the negative effects that rejection of the war had on his life. Unable to fit into society’s norm of a “man” and stuck in an airplane factory that he enjoyed working in, Franklin felt alienated from society and his grudge against the war made it difficult to find happiness in his own life.
Once Franklin was questioned about his rejection in recruitment, he infuriatingly responded, “I don’t know why. How the hell should I know why? This time all the old guy’re gonna go”(Salinger 49). By Franklin’s abrupt and condescending answer, it is clear that he has built up resentment towards the war that traps him into a life of discontent. Franklin’s remark against the “old guys” illustrates his feeling of isolation society by the requirements of combat that he failed to meet.
When discussing the war, Franklin made a snarky degrading comment towards the war exclaiming that, “[they] were gonna fight the Eskimos next”(Salinger 48). Due to the negative impact the effects of war had on Franklin, he held animosity toward the war and gave it an undesirable connotation. By stripping the war of its masculinity, Franklin further falls deeper into a life of alienation from society’s norm and carries the burden of his rejection into the ability to be happy in his life. Salinger expresses his theme that the negative effects of war make it difficult for one to find happiness through the acts of alienation and acrimony Franklin has towards society.
Throughout the course of Nine Stories, Salinger exhibits his readers with three troubled characters: Seymour Glass, Eloise, and Franklin. All three of these tainted characters suffered from the destructive impacts of war that directed them into a life of alienation. The characters of the three stories found themselves crashing further into disgruntlement with their own lives due to the experiences in war. Salinger’s theme was clearly conveyed through these three specific stories, continuously reminding the readers that the negative impacts of war took an emotional and psychological toll on the lives of individuals who failed to find a source of happiness in their isolated world of pain and resentment. The idea of war during the post-war era of Nine Stories, was seen as a tragic and poisonous event that infected the lives of many.