Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

J. D. Salinger is generally regarded, critically or reverentially, as the preeminent literary force from the Beat era to capture the spirit of and speak to young Americans. Salinger’s technique of presenting twentieth century American family relationships has been compared with the work of such authors as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Salinger was known primarily as a short-story writer when the novel Franny and Zooey was first published in two parts in The New Yorker. Salinger wrote “Franny” as a wedding gift for his wife, upon whom the title character is based. “Franny” also marked the beginning of what became Salinger’s obsession with the Glass family.

Franny and Zooey are the youngest of seven brilliant children of a successful vaudevillian couple from the 1920’s, Les Glass, who is Jewish, and his wife, Bessie Gallagher, who is Irish. The oldest and most brilliant of the children, Seymour, kills himself while on his second honeymoon, presumably because of an inability to reconcile childhood innocence with adulthood. The heir to Seymour’s role as guru is Buddy, an author and writing instructor at a small college, who lives in modified, self-imposed hermitage. The character of Buddy is often identified as the alter ego of Salinger, who is known to be a heavily autobiographical writer and who was accused of being self-indulgent and preachy, especially in the later works introduced by Franny and Zooey.

With this novel, Salinger takes a marked turn from focusing on action, structure, and humor to a preoccupation with monologue, character development, and seriousness. The shift is underscored by a change from the omniscient third-person narrative voice in “Franny” to the first-person voice of Buddy, who tells the “Zooey” portion of the novel. It is here that discourse and extensive detail take the place of plot and structure. More than one-third of the novel takes place in bathrooms, and both...

(The entire section is 817 words.)