What is the purpose of religious practices in J. D. Salinger's book Franny and Zooey?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey was published in 1961 as a book but actually combined two works that had been published separately, "Franny", a short story, and Zooey, a novella. Both tales cover events in the lives of an older brother, Zooey Glass, and his younger sister, Franny.

In the story "Franny," the eponymous protagonist is enduring a bad date with a fellow university student named Lane. During their meal, they are discussing a paper Lane recently wrote about Flaubert, and Franny, over the course of their conversation, rebels against the phoniness of their world, reacting on a level of almost physical revulsion. She is carrying with her a small book, The Way of the Pilgrim, an English translation of a nineteenth-century Russian tale of a pilgrim whose search for a spiritual path culminates with his discovery of the Jesus prayer and the Orthodox mystical practice of Hesychasm, a practice of inward and quiet use of repeated prayer as a path towards a sort of direct and unmediated apperception of and union with God. Lane notices the book, but when Franny begins to explain it, is dismissive of it. Franny faints and then is seen to recover, quietly repeating the Jesus prayer.

In the novella Zooey, Franny has returned home after her breakdown. Although her family wants to help her, they do not take her spiritual quest seriously. Her mother Bessie thinks that what Franny needs is chicken soup. Her brother Zooey tries to help her by pretending to be Buddy, another brother, and when Fanny sees through that ruse, discusses with her his recollections of Seymour, an older brother who committed suicide, but was wise and philosophical. Eventually, Franny finds peace and her own form of enlightenment in an pantheistic notion that all humans share somewhat in Christ.

The main view of religious ritual and practices in the novel is one that sees them as being of limited use. While they may help some people live a deeper and more spiritual life, they can also be meaningless gestures. What matters most is the inner conviction beneath the external forms of ritual.

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