" Both of these statements are quite arguably true, yet both also smack of the immature self-assuredness that belies the innocence of the speaker, and it is this aspect of the girl -- her very pretensions to adulthood that, in effect, render her a more honest adult than most real adults -- that the narrator of the story seems to find the most interesting and appealing. As the girl is only beginning to glimpse the lack of innocence that accompanies growing up, and appears to be enjoying it, the narrator is able to travel the reverse course and rediscover an innocence thought lost.
This rediscovery happens in a far more direct way at the end of the story, when the narration has switched primarily to a third person, until Sergeant X -- who is obviously embittered, somewhat shattered, and generally disconnected from his life -- receives a letter form Esme. The note rekindles a sense of connection with the protagonist, breaking through the isolation that is building throughout the latter half of the story and reestablishing some hope in humanity for this main character. His sudden falling asleep after reading the letter is indicative of the amount of relief and ease that this connection caused for him; he can connect to children in a way that he cannot with self-absorbed and dishonest adults.
Franny and Zooey
Both war and childhood innocence take a somewhat more removed position in the novella Franny and Zooey, which picks up the trials and tribulations of the Glass family seven years after Seymour's suicide as recounted in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Franny and Zooey are the two youngest Glass children, and they revere their oldest brother even this long after his passing, with fairly different and largely inconclusive results. The two title characters are seen clearly out of their childhood, but really just on the threshold of true adulthood; it is more a story of transition and even of a growing isolation and disillusionment, in some ways, rather than the uplifting return to innocence that "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor" provides or even the macabre yet highly touching and hugely informative exposition of suffering and a lack of understanding exemplified in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."
Franny, feeling largely isolated and alone, has taken to reciting a "prayer"...
She is suffering a crisis of personal doubt and depression, essentially having a breakdown that mirrored Salinger's after the war, at least to some degree -- the relationships that were supposed to keep her up didn't seem to be working, her sense of her own identity seemed to be slipping, and the way the world worked in general simply didn't match up to her expectations any more. Advice from her brother Zooey serves only to increase her frustration, reducing her to sobs and fully convinced that no one left in her life really understands her or really wants to -- the entire world has been put off kilter by the war (even though the war is never explicitly mentioned).
Ultimately, Zooey calls his sister from a separate line and pretends to be their other brother, Buddy. It is only through this piece of falsehood that Zooey is able to honestly tell Franny what she needs to hear -- that she should simply be herself, everyone else be damned, as long as she encountered and treated them with respect. This is fairly simplistic, but that is the essence of sincerity; real human emotion is not complicated until it is made so by the artificial and superficial concerns of the adult mind. In this story, Salinger points to the beginning of the end for childlike innocence and honesty on the part of these two characters, who aren't capable of this honesty and sincerity in a face-to-face conversation anymore. Though the story ends on a positive note, with Franny feeling satisfied and falling asleep, there is really only a slim hope that either Franny or Zooey will be able to retain whatever innocence and purity they have left for much longer.
J.D. Salinger, like most veterans, learned a lot about himself and about the world during his time in military service. The things he saw and the experiences he had led to the development of a complex view of human interactions and purposes, and led to life-long personality characteristics in Salinger himself. His stories also reflect his views on humanity, especially on the innocence of children and the possibility of sincere interpersonal relationships, but the ultimate isolation that exists for those that truly suffer. The hope that exists for a rekindling of sincerity is perhaps the most salient aspect of his stories, however, and the one that serves us best in our own lives.
Eger, Christopher. "The Military Service of J.D. Salinger." Accessed April 2010. http://ww2history.suite101.com/article.cfm/the-military-service-of-jd-salinger
Salinger, J.D. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." In Nine Stories. New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 1991.
Salinger, J.D. "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor." In Nine Stories. New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 1991.
Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001.
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