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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

Franny Glass, a twenty-year-old college student, meets her weekend date, Lane Coutell, at the train station. She came to town for the big Yale football game at an unidentified Eastern Ivy League college where Lane is an undergraduate. She greets him enthusiastically, despite his spurious, narcissistic detachment. They immediately go...

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Franny Glass, a twenty-year-old college student, meets her weekend date, Lane Coutell, at the train station. She came to town for the big Yale football game at an unidentified Eastern Ivy League college where Lane is an undergraduate. She greets him enthusiastically, despite his spurious, narcissistic detachment. They immediately go to a trendy restaurant for lunch, where Lane digs into snails and frog legs and Franny leaves her chicken sandwich untouched. They smoke incessantly, while Lane speaks at length and with scarcely veiled pomposity of a recent paper he wrote on Gustave Flaubert. Franny grows paler as she tries to listen attentively. She finally explodes in a hushed rant against pedants, section men, pseudointellectuals, and shallow humanity in general. She tells him that she quit the theater group at school, which was her one great love, because she is so fed up with ego. Feeling undone, she flees to the ladies’ room where, secluded in a vacant stall, she sobs freely for five minutes. She stops abruptly and clutches to her chest a small green book, as if it is her security blanket. She returns to the table determined to apologize and to salvage the weekend, but Lane notices her little book, The Way of the Pilgrim, and engages her in a discussion about it. Trying to appear casual, Franny tells him about the pilgrim’s quest for enlightenment through praying without ceasing. Lane responds with condescending skepticism, which makes Franny angry again. As she again makes her way to the ladies’ room, she faints.

Buddy Glass, the oldest living child of the Glass family and a rather eccentric writer and professor, relates the events of Franny’s return home after her nervous collapse. He was not there, but he tells the story as a sort of “prose home movie” as gleaned from the primary players. Zooey Glass, Franny’s twenty-five-year-old brother, sits in the tub in the Glass house in midtown Manhattan. He reads a four-year-old letter from his brother Buddy, which concerns Zooey’s acting career, and whether or not he can tolerate the inherent phoniness of the trade. After Zooey finishes reading, he picks up a television script and studies it. He is soon interrupted by his mother, Bessie, who wants to give him something. Zooey grudgingly lets his mother in and finishes dressing for an afternoon appointment while carrying on a long, at times excruciatingly tense, conversation with her about Franny’s breakdown. After much squabbling over that and other relatively inconsequential practical matters, Bessie leaves the bathroom with nothing decided except that a neighbor’s psychologist will not be called in.

Franny comes home after the fainting incident and takes over the living room sofa, where she cries, refuses to eat, and continues to murmur the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Zooey, at his mother’s request, goes to see Franny and makes a long, unsuccessful attempt to rouse Franny from what seems to be a nervous breakdown. In rants he speaks of religion and Jesus, the search for enlightenment, the Glass family’s brilliance, and the need for Franny to pull herself together and appreciate the nice things in the world. He advises her to strive for perfection on her own terms instead of criticizing the world or retreating into religion as a haven from it. He describes himself and her as spiritual freaks, which he blames on the religious teachings they received from their oldest brothers at a very early age. They are too aware to live in ignorant bliss, as do the masses, but live among them they must.

His tactless tirade sends Franny into an even deeper fit of sobbing. With a halfhearted apology, Zooey leaves the room and enters the bedroom that his brother Seymour shared with Buddy. It is the first time Zooey has entered the room since Seymour’s suicide seven years earlier. On the back of the bedroom door are quotations from many of the world’s most enlightened religious thinkers. After pondering those words for some time and reading a portion of Seymour’s old diary, he rings Franny on Seymour’s old private phone, pretending to be Buddy. A slip causes Franny to catch on that it is Zooey, but by that time he has told her that as an actress she must act on her own terms and disregard those of the ever-present, ignorant audience. Zooey uses the same metaphor of performing for the fat lady that Seymour used when they were children to inspire them to do their best. Carrying this metaphor further, Zooey tells Franny that everyone is that fat lady and that the fat lady is Jesus Christ. This revelation of interconnectedness allows Franny to find peace, and she falls into the deep sleep of renewal.

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