Essay: Summaries of various short stories

This essay summarises J.D. Salinger – A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1948), Ambush – Tim O’Brien, Donald Barthelme – The School (1974), Samphire – Patrick O’Brian and My Oedipus complex – Frank O’Connor.

J.D. Salinger – A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1948)

In a hotel in Florida, Muriel Glass waits in her hotel room for the hotel switchboard operater to put a long-distance phone call through to her mother. It takes a long time so while she is waiting she fixes her clothes, paints her nails et cetera. Eventually when the call does go through she reassures her worried mother that she’s fine. Her mother is concerned about the behaviour of Seymour, Muriel’s husband. She hints at the car accident and the rude things Seymour has said to Muriel and Muriel’s family. Seymour is a World War II combat veteran who has recently returned from the war. He was discharged from the Army hospital, where he was treated for post- traumatic stress. Muriel is not as concerned as her mother, but her mother thinks it was way to early to discharge him. Muriel is more interested in the fashion at the resorts, the evening events and the quality of people at the resort. Meanwhile she’s talking to her mother, Seymour has gone down to the beach.

On the beach there is the three-year-old Sybil Carpenter and her mother. Her mother leaves, after applying suntan lotion on her, to drink some martinis in the hotel lounge. Sybil goes wandering around the beach and finds Seymour, who knows her. He tells her he likes her blue bathing suit, but her suit is yellow. Sybil accuses him of letting another little girl, Sharon Lipschutz, sit on the bench with him while he played the piano. Seymour assures Sybil that she is his favorite. Sybil tells Seymour he should push Sharon off the piano bench next time. As they get ready to go into the ocean, Seymour tells Sybil they should look for bananafish. Sybil asks Seymour whether he likes Sharon Lipschutz, and Seymour tells her that he does, especially the fact that she is nice to small dogs and is always kind. Seymour wades into the ocean and, placing Sybil on a rubber raft, and tells Sybil the tale ‘ ‘the very tragic life’ ‘ of the bananafish: these are normal-looking fish that swim into banana holes and greedily eat all the bananas inside. As a result, the bananafish become so fat that they cannot leave their holes and die. Sybil claimes that she sees a bananafish with six bananas in its mouth. Seymour affectionately kisses the arch of one of her feet, and brings het back to shore, where she runs back to the hotel.
Seymour returns to the hotel. On his way to his room, he accuses a woman in the elevator of looking at his feet. She leaves the elevator. Seymour proceeds to his room, where Muriel is napping. Sitting on the other bed, he watches her. Then he retrieves a pistol from his luggage and shoots himself.

Ambush – Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien, who is the protagonist, used to be an American soldier during the war in Vietnam. Now a days he writes war stories. In the beginning of the story his daughter Kathleen asks him if he has ever killed someone. At that time he tells her that he didn’t because she’s only nine, but he hopes that in the future she will ask him again so he can tell her the truth. Then he recalls how he killed a young man in Vietnam. In the middle of the night the whole platoon separated into two-man teams moved into the ambush site outside My Khe. He and Kiowa, his partner, were on patrol. One man was on guard while the other slept, switching off every two hours. While Kiowa was sleeping and he was on guard. While fighting off mosquitoes, Tim saw a young Vietcong soldier coming out of the fog. He wore black clothing, rubber sandals and a grey ammunition belt. There was no sound. Out of instinct and terror, he pulled the pin on a grenade and threw it at the young man. He was just trying to make the guy go away. When the grenade bounced the ground the young man dropped his weapon and began to run. Then it occurred to Tim that the young man was about to die (not just go away). He wanted to warn him, but he didn’t. The grenade went off and the man fell on his back, his sandals blown off. Tim can’t forget his kill, and even today he sometimes sees the young man come down the trail, smile, and continue on the path, back into the fog.

Donald Barthelme – The School (1974)

A class of children witness an unusually high rate of death. This story focuses on the questions that are brought up around death, but it is presented as a comedy. All school projects fail: plants, gardens, small pets, bigger pets such as a puppy, all dies. What’s more, there seems to be a high mortality rate amongst family members of the children. Two children even die in an accident. Towards the end of this story the children ask, “Is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said, no, life is that which gives meaning to life.’ But somehow the children need reassurance and shout that the teacher should make love to his assistant, because the kids have probably noticed they like one another. The assistant looks out of the window and the teacher doesn’t know what to say, but then she comes forward and kisses him. The kids roar, yell and applaud. Then the door opens and a gerbil ‘ happy and very alive, walks in.

Samphire – Patrick O’Brian

One day a man, known as Lacey, brought his wife, Molly, to a cliff. There they witnessed a clump of samphire. Molly is terrified of heights, she always has been. Molly is actually unwilling to come along, but Lacey forced her. Lacey wants to get al the credits for persuading her to come up even the smallest cliff at first and now she was going up the highest of them all. The following day molly asked lacey if they could see the samphire again. On the way to the cliff they stopped at the tobacconist to buy a stick. Lacey made a silly joke but the tobacconist didn’t understand it. At the next tobacconist he made the same. It was a long way to the highest cliff so lacey fell silent for a moment. When they arrived at the place they had seen the sapphire before, Lacey crouched down to reach out his hand to grab a handful of samphire. At that exact moment Molly took her chances to push him down the cliff. However she failed. Lacey couldn’t believe that Molly has pushed him. So he makes up all kinds of excuses and eventually he says that is was an accident. Little did he know that it wasn’t. Henceforth their relationship was broken.

My Oedipus complex – Frank O’Connor

The story starts during the First World War and is situated in Ireland. Three characters are present; mum, dad and the protagonist Larry. Larry and his mum live together in Ireland. Larry starts of by describing his daily routines from waking up and talking with his feet to going to church to pray for his dad to safely return from war. However, once dad is back for good Larry discovers dad’s presence – and so mum’s shared attention – is not something he ever wanted to pray for. Only once Larry gets a brother and the baby arrived in the family, the dad and Larry are on the same level (they both do not get the attention they wish for) and get on.

Source: Essay UK -

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