, Research Paper
While everyone knows about Catcher, not many have read this other classic by
J.D. Salinger. Franny and Zooey is a story about Franny Glass, a young college girl and
her brother Zooey, an actor in his middle 20’s. Like The Catcher in the Rye, a theme in
this book is questioning people and the World Franny finds a new religious idea, which
starts her wondering about life and what she should do with hers. ? As everyone knows,
that is very complicated stuff to question, and it spawns a mini-breakdown. ? J.D. Salinger
attacks the universal theme of putting aside preconceptions and egos and getting back
into the childlike innocence by showing the two stories of Franny and Zooey as well as
the concept of ?the fat lady.?
Away at school, Franny begins to have doubts about the meaning of life. Franny
rebels from this education by taking on the Jesus Prayer. She becomes absorbed in
herself and ends up judging even Jesus from The Bible. It is this misinterpretation of her
newly learned religion that leads to the tenth rate nervous breakdown, and the rejection
of society as a whole. Franny has a tenth rate nervous breakdown because she was
involving herself too deeply in the religion, and would not come out of it to see the
world. Franny is so obsessed with this new religion, her trip to the bathroom in Sickler?s
diner is described, “as though it were a rendezvous point of some kind…”(5) because
she could read the little green book. It was overpowering her, and it quickly became
dangerous. On her way to the bathroom for a second time, “She weaved a trifle, then
fainted, collapsing to the floor.”(6) This religion is so powerful that it is causing Franny?s
health to disintegrate. But was the prayer the cause of her breakdown, or vice versa?
The second story, Zooey, begins with a hilarious scene of Zooey trying to take a
bath with his mother constantly interrupting him. They are both worried sick over Franny,
who is asleep in the living room, but they have markedly different approaches to handling
the situation. Zooey is forever the comic, hiding his concern behind a string of witticisms
and insults. But he has been down the same path as Franny before, and tries to use his
experiences to help her. He blames Franny’s breakdown, and some of his own problems,
on their two oldest brothers. His more simple-minded mother, however, doesn’t
understand what her children are going through, but her love for them is clear. Zooey
goes through the process of learning to set aside the discrepancies similar to Franny. It
took Zooey four years to figure out what the letter from Buddy meant, and four years to
figure out that he should stop putting so much importance on the differences in people.
The letter had been “. . . .unfolded and refolded on too many private occasions during the
four years. . . .was actually torn in several places, mostly along the creases. . . .”(7) In this
letter to Zooey, Buddy also tells Zooey of a time in the grocery store talking to a little
girl: I told her she was about the prettiest little girl I?d seen all day. . . .she nodded. . . .I
asked her how many boy friends she had. She held up two fingers. “Two!” I said. “That’s
a lot of boy friends. What are their names sweetheart?” Said she, in a piercing voice,
“Bobby and Dorothy.”(8) This episode is an example of the primary message in the text.
The little girl at the counter does not know the differences between boys and girls. This is
symbolic for all the differences in the world: religious beliefs, race, and sexual reference
name a few. Children possess an innocence that is unique only to them. They are careless
of whom they associate, and are indifferent of what a persons beliefs are. This childlike
innocence is what is essential in finding the true advantages of a religion, as well as the
prevention of turning the religion into a deadly weapon. In the end, Zooey tries to bring
Franny around with a deep discussion of his philosophy of religion, the meaning of life,
and the Fat Lady.
The fat lady is a fine example of the universality of suffering in all religions and
walks of life. Zooey is trying to show Franny that everyone suffers, regardless of their
religious beliefs. Saying the prayer is her choice — it may be one possible way of finding
answers. However, Zooey feels that she happens to be going about the prayer the wrong
way and in the wrong place. (Scolds her for bothering Bessie and Les) As such, he
introduces the fat lady story, while playing the role of Buddy (sensible enlightened
Buddy), to show her that the prayer may not be the end all answer she has made it into
(the story about when she found out Jesus considered fish and birds lower beings and
contradicted her Eastern education.) Saying that the fat lady is Jesus seems to point out
that the prayer isn’t exactly what Franny wants to be doing — she needs to embrace things
like the professor with ruffled hair rather than be upset by them. Interestingly, Zooey
came to this conclusion and thought of the fat lady story while in Buddy and Seymour’s
old room. As Salinger says, if you need a reason to do something, do it for the fat lady.
Such lack in awareness is the hidden message of J.D. Salinger?s Franny and Zooey.
Written in the current era, the work introduces us to Franny Glass, a young woman who
was forced to deal with the central issue involving the ego and its relationship to religion.
Franny nearly drove herself to insanity with a misinterpretation of the religious message
her older brothers Seymour and Buddy taught her. By misinterpreting “The Jesus Prayer,”
Franny fails to see the difference between her own ego and those of other people in her
In Franny and Zooey the sense that letting go of your ego is a large step in the
right direction when trying to return to the nature of a child. Restoring the childlike
qualities are precisely what Franny needed to do and she was absorbing herself in the
little green book, entangling herself in her ego, which was quickly becoming inescapable.
As religion is so powerful, the understanding of it and what it is trying to teach is crucial
to all who attempt to accept it. Franny did not understand the power of the Jesus Prayer.
It almost ruined her life beyond repair. The message remains the same. It is a timeless
and universal message that is being laid out for us. Setting aside preconceptions will
allow one to further free oneself from their ego, and view other positions objectively; in
turn allowing for a greater understanding of the world and its religions, basically telling
us to return to our childlike innocence and remove the filters that prevent us from
forgetting about the differences.