This quote is from one of my favorite short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” from the book Nine Stories. Many of Salinger’s short stories are centered on the fictional Glass family, an eclectic group living in New York City. This story is about Seymour Glass, one of the brothers, who has recently returned from war in 1948. In this story, Seymour and his wife, Muriel, are at a hotel in Florida on vacation. Seymour is suffering from some mental issues related to his time overseas. The first part of the story involves Muriel’s telephone conversation with her mother. She is dismissing her mother’s fear that Seymour is unstable. Salinger must successfully establish Muriel’s self-centered nature immediately. He begins the story by stating the fact that the long-distance phone lines were completely tied up at the hotel, and Muriel had to wait around for her call to become available.
“She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing.”
The line appears in the second paragraph, which contains only one other sentence. The sentence is not written in the common grammatical way. The partial syntax inversion forces the reader to put the stress on the end of the sentence. The ringing phone signifies her popularity. The fact that Muriel won’t budge for it indicates how narcissistic she is. In one sentence you can picture this girl, ignoring the ringing telephone, in her egocentric little world. Salinger wants the reader to understand that, even though Muriel had been waiting for the call to go through for half the day, she could still not be bothered to rush to pick up the phone. With this one line, Salinger is able to create an image of the woman. It’s a quirky sentence written by a quirky writer, and it has always been my favorite.