Literary Tools, Language, and Thematic Ideas

In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, by JD Salinger, The Unclouded Day, by E. Annie Proulx, and White Angel, by Michael Cunningham, the authors use literary devices and language to connect specific themes of Modernism with the advancement of the stories’ plots and characters. They exploit concrete literary devices such as diction, foreshadowing, foils, allegory, flashbacks, and symbolism. These devices emphasized distinct Modernist themes throughout the stories including, the search for an individual place in a vast universe, the loss of childhood innocence, the search for one’s inner self, traditional values vs. modern values, rejection of an outdated social era, and the search for ways to deal with the absurdities of life.
JD Salinger conveys Modernist themes, like the search for an individual place in a vast universe and the loss of childhood innocence, in A Perfect Day for Bananafish, through the use of diction and foreshadowing. For example, in the story a line in the text reads, “ ‘Did you see more glass?’ said Sybil” (Salinger, 15).

The author’s use of the provocative and risky S sound is purposely intended to flow together, mysteriously hinting at the characters motifs. By choosing words with the S sound, like “Seymour”, “Sybil”, “see”, “glass”, etc., it conveys a luring tone drawing the reader in to the advancement of the plot and leaves one wondering how Seymour Glass cannot grasp a life without innocence. The use of foreshadowing also helped to illuminate the themes when, for example, Seymour is explaining to Sybil the outcome of his imaginary “bananafish”.
“ ‘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…Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again…Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die” (Salinger, 23).
Seymour’s explanations are clues that suggest how Seymour himself has behaved in the past and the search he is on for his individual place in the world, foreshadowing his future. Seymour is normal before the war, but once he enters it, like the bananafish do the hole, he gorges himself on horror and loss which leaves him unable to get out of that state of mind and emotionally unable to connect back to society. Ultimately, Salinger connected two literary tools to themes of Modernism in order to keep the plot progressing and in the end Seymour receives the same fate as the bananafish: death.
E. Annie Proulx depicted Modernist themes, such as the search for one’s inner self and traditional values vs. modern values, in The Unclouded Day, through the use of foils and an allegory. For example, Earl is the secondary character that acts as a foil for the main character, Santee when he rationalizes his “kill” in hunting by saying, “ ‘I saw right where they went down…but that dog of yours… ‘This is the parting of our ways’ [Santee] said. ‘I can take a good deal, but I won’t have my dog called down’ ” (Proulx, 99-100). This foil helps to illuminate Santee’s search for his inner self when he realizes he is beating himself up to be with exactly the kind of person he disagrees about. Earl is ungrateful, impatient, and tries to learn tricks of the trade that simply can’t be taught- something Proulx purposefully introduced to advance the contrasting characters to the story’s conclusion. The use of an allegory also emphasized the theme of traditional vs. modern values when Santee “longed for the cold weather and unclouded days that lay somewhere ahead…” (Proulx, 89). Santee knew he had to go through an obstacle to get to happiness and the life he is comfortable with. In the end, he finally stands up for what he believes in and for his dog (which represents traditional values). He gets what he wanted and Earl (the cloud covering his happiness) is removed from the equation.
Michael Cunningham illustrated Modernist themes, such as the search for ways to deal with the absurdities of life and the rejection of an outdated social era, in White Angel, by enforcing the use of flashbacks and symbolism. For example, the story is told in a first person point of view from Frisco/Bobby Morrow, looking back into his past. “We lived then in Cleveland, in the middle of everything…This of course is history” (Cunningham, 25). The author’s choice of words/phrases like, “I made no move without his council” (Cunningham, 25) and “I will go out and stand where he would have been standing” (Cunningham, 32)- speaking of Frisco’s late brother Carlton, helps to emphasize that times have changed and they’re no longer in the 60’s. This is important because the use of these time-play words suggest to the reader that something must have happened to make Frisco reject that social era and tell the story as a flashback. Within the manipulation of time in this story also lies another literary device: symbolism. For example, one year after Carlton’s death, Frisco’s dad gets up in the middle of the night for water and Frisco says, “ ‘Maybe you better come back to bed. O.K.?’ ‘Maybe I had,’ [Frisco’s dad] says. ‘I just came out here for a drink of water, but I seem to have gotten turned around in the darkness. Yes, maybe I better had’ ” (Cunningham, 33). This shows that his dad had gotten turned around in the darkness not only literally, but metaphorically in life. This is important because Carlton had taken drugs in the 60’s to expand his mind, yet his parents minds did the opposite after his death; making apparent their search for ways to deal with the absurdities of life. As a result, the themes in this story are brought about by the literary tools that helped advance Frisco’s personal conclusion; “At least [Carlton’s girlfriend] had protected herself by trying to warn him” (Cunningham, 33).

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A Perfect Day for Bananafish, by JD Salinger, The Unclouded Day, by E. Annie Proulx, and White Angel, by Michael Cunningham, all contained literary devices and specific language that the authors used to connect specific themes of Modernism with the advancement of the stories’ plots and characters. All three stories involve unique literature and thematic ideas that only could have been brought to one’s attention with the connections the author’s made in order to progress the characters and plots to their conclusions which all ended with a “boom”.

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