Seymour is an unrepentant outsider among his wife, his wife’s family, the guests at the Florida resort, and society in general. Intelligent but psychologically damaged from the war, he has lost his footing in accepted adult society and renounces this society in favor of poetry, music, and children. He is pale whereas the other guests are tan, and antisocial whereas the others enjoy mingling at cocktail parties and dinners. While Muriel socializes, Seymour plays the piano by himself or spends time with children at the beach. Always, he is apart from the crowd, moving through a world that is saturated more with yearned-for innocence than with adult realities. For much of the story, Seymour seems placid and quiet, a stark contrast to the unbalanced, erratic Seymour that Muriel and her mother discuss on the phone. His outsider status seems, if not “normal,” then at least harmless. However, when Seymour angrily accuses the woman in the elevator of looking at his feet, another side of him becomes clear. Ultimately, Seymour is unable to reconcile his outsider status with society and kills himself.
Although Seymour’s interactions with children, particularly Sybil, are rooted in his desire for a return to innocence, modern readers may find it difficult to ignore the uncomfortable sexual undertones. On the surface, Seymour’s actions are harmless, even childlike. For example, he plays with Sybil and talks to her in a silly, childlike way, and he allows Sharon Lipschutz to sit with him on the piano bench, as though they are both children retreating from the adults in the room. However, Seymour also disrobes in front of Sybil, which he will not do in front of Muriel. He is a lone, adult man playing with a child not his own while her mother is not around, touching her physically as he lifts her onto a raft and kisses her foot. He also spins the tale of the bananafish, which seem blatantly phallic. Nothing comes of this talk, and Seymour’s struggle to achieve a kind of new innocence ultimately renders his words harmless. But as the scene on the beach is followed by his violent outburst in the elevator and then his suicide, his actions and words take on a darker, more adult character, unfair and inaccurate as that characterization may be.