(Short Story Criticism)

Franny and Zooey J. D. Salinger

The following entry presents criticism of Salinger's novella Franny and Zooey. See also J. D. Salinger Chronology, J. D. Salinger Literary Criticism. (Introdution), and Volumes 1, 3.

Considered one of Salinger's most popular works, Franny and Zooey was initially published in the New Yorker as two separate stories entitled "Franny" (1955) and "Zooey" (1957). The novella is perceived to exemplify the themes and narrative techniques that characterize Salinger's writing as a whole: his penchant for sensitive, troubled young people; his disapproval of the shallowness and artificiality of modern American culture; his interest in Eastern mysticism; and his affinity for the nuances of language and dialogue. Though critical reaction to the novella has been varied, most scholars continue to acknowledge the artistic value of Franny and Zooey, Salinger's influence on the style and substance of other writers, and above all, his distinctive place in modern American literature, particularly among young readers.

Plot and Major Characters

The reissuing of Franny and Zooey as a novella made obvious what had already been clear to most of Salinger's readers, that "Zooey" was the conclusion or solution to "Franny," the story of a young woman's emotional and spiritual breakdown. Franny, the youngest of the Glass siblings, is an attractive college student who meets her Ivy League boyfriend, Lane Coutell, for the weekend of the Yale football game. During lunch at a fashionable restaurant, Franny feels increasingly dismayed by Lane's pretentiousness and self-absorption. Stating that she is sick of pedants and egotistical people, Franny tries to explain her enthusiasm for The Way of the Pilgrim, the story of a Russian peasant who learned how to pray the "Jesus prayer" without ceasing, until it became one with his heartbeat. Unable to make him understand or to fight her overwhelming feelings of distaste, Franny excuses herself from the table and faints in the bar. When she regains consciousness, she finds Lane anxious to get her to the rooming-house, where he hopes to join her later for a clandestine rendezvous. Alone, as Lane calls for a cab, Franny stares at the ceiling, soundlessly repeating the Jesus prayer.

The latter part of the novella, originally published as the short story "Zooey," begins the morning following Franny's collapse. She is home in New York City, where her worried mother Bessie and her older brother Zooey, a celebrated television actor, attend to her. Later, a dialogue occurs between Zooey and Franny, in which Zooey alternately soothes and attacks Franny for her self-centeredness and inability to understand the true meaning of the Jesus prayer. Franny remains mired in her depression and asks to speak with Seymour, the oldest Glass sibling whose suicide left the family without its spiritual leader. Zooey enters Seymour's old room where he calls Franny on the telephone, pretending unsuccessfully to be their older brother Buddy. Zooey explains to her that she must disregard the phonies of the world and stick to her own high standards; she must believe, as Seymour had once told them when they starred regularly on a famous radio quiz show featuring child prodigies, that they are performing for the Fat Lady. Zooey suddenly realizes that the Fat Lady, Seymour's metaphor for the ugly and vulgar person in the audience, is Jesus Christ. Consoled, Franny falls peacefully asleep.

Major Themes

The widespread popularity of Salinger's work has generated much critical discussion regarding the various themes of Franny and Zooey. Many commentators have examined the work from a sociological perspective, contending that Franny and Zooey's struggle against a conformist and materialistic society is the predominant theme of the novella. Critics have explored also the religious aspects of Franny and Zooey, focusing on Franny's agonized search for God, which is highlighted in her attempts to understand and become one with the Jesus prayer. They discuss the themes of revelation and redemption, particularly in Zooey's vision of the Fat Lady as Christ, an insight that enables both Franny and Zooey to achieve spiritual peace. Several critics have examined Salinger's quest for innocence and purity, maintaining that he does not explore the issue of adult sexuality. More recently, commentators have focused on the theme of the lost idyll, the efforts of Salinger's characters to end their isolation and to recapture the joy and wisdom of childhood.

Critical Reception

Critical commentary on Franny and Zooey varies widely. Admirers of Salinger's work praise the vividness and verisimilitude of his characters and their colloquial speech, whereas Salinger's detractors describe Franny and Zooey as false and sentimental, as well as meaningful only to those who are fans of Salinger's earlier work. Critics have discussed the excesses of Salinger's writing; "Zooey," in particular, has been regarded as flawed because of Salinger's unwillingness to reduce Zooey's garrulousness or excise his rantings about Buddhism. On the whole, "Franny" was better received. Critics praised "Franny" for its economical prose and realistic dialogue, its sensitive portrayal of Franny, and its attack on hypocrisy and superficiality of the college environment. Despite the mixed critical reception to Salinger's novella, Franny and Zooey was an immediate bestseller, particularly with young people who shared Franny and Zooey's yearning for spiritual fulfillment and uneasiness with the materialism and superficiality of their culture. Franny and Zooey, like Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, continues to draw both critical and popular attention and remains a favorite with high school and college audiences.

Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner (essay date 1958)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Franny" and "Zooey," in The Fiction of J. D. Salinger, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958, pp. 46-52.

[In the following excerpt, Gwynn and Blotner provide a mixed assessment of the stories "Franny" and "Zooey."]

It is quite another story with "Franny," the best chapter in the Glass history largely because it is the shortest (10,000 words) and the most concentrated. Franny is a guest of Lane Coutell at an Ivy League football weekend in 1954, and preoccupied not with revelry but with religion. She tries to love Lane, but he is too concerned with himself, and she finds her own college teachers and friends and herself too self-centered to generate love. "I'm just sick of ego, ego, ego," she mourns. "My own and everybody else's. I'm sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It's disgusting—it is, it is."

Franny's only support in this crisis is a little devotional book, The Way of a Pilgrim, which focuses on a simple prayer to compose spiritual unrest: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Franny finally admits to Lane that "if you keep saying that prayer over and over again—you only have to do it with your lips at first—then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active." After she has fainted and been revived, the story ends with her lips soundlessly moving, presumably a signal that she is at least striving toward some remote satori.

Surprisingly enough, this tale works out quite well, what with the concentration on one Glass all the way through—an attractive 21-year-old girl sincerely upset by the egocentrism of the world that has engulfed her, awkwardly struggling and partially succeeding in finding some spiritual sustenance even if it ruins her "normal" role in a conventional boy-girl situation. (One must reject even while one understands the specious reading of the story, apparently widespread in certain colleges, that made "Franny" a study of an emotional and physical reaction to an illicit pregnancy.) The atmosphere and dialogue seem authentic and representative, and the human agent in Franny's conflict—the sophisticated campus intellectual with his "I mean, hell" and concern with his wonderful paper on Flaubert—is a satisfying object of both satire and sympathy. One may feel that this is a story belonging in Salinger's 1948-1951 period. Indeed, the youthful contretemps between Franny and Lane has some reversed relevance to the "slight rebellion off Madison" between Holden Caulfield and Sally Hayes, and the chicken sandwich scorned by Lane and untouched by Franny calls up the symbolic chicken sandwich of "Just before the War with the Eskimos" which Franklin offers and which Ginnie finally accepts in a gesture of charitable love.

"Zooey," published two-and-a-half years after "Franny," with "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," in between, is the sequel on the Monday following Franny's partial breakdown and return to the Glass home in New York. One may guess—without caring to check the fact—that "Zooey" must be the longest (29,000 words) and dullest "short story" ever to appear in The New Yorker in its thirty years of surprises. Any reader who gets through it and happens to turn back a hundred pages to the opening will agree heartily with the narrator (Buddy again) that the piece "isn't really a short story at all but a sort of prose home movie," and with "those who have seen the footage" who "have strongly advised me against nurturing any elaborate distribution plans for it." If Salinger is currently putting together a novel about the Glasses, one hopes that "Zooey" will undergo the same shaping consideration that the author gave to his first Caulfield family stories when he came to write The Catcher in the Rye.

For "Zooey" has eight undesignated parts to it—two or three of which might have served by themselves to advance the case history of Franny and/or the...

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John Updike (review date 1961)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Anxious Days for the Glass Family," in The New York Times Book Review, September 17, 1961, pp. 1, 52.

[In the following negative review, Updike contends that Salinger's characterization of the Glass family is inconsistent and idealistic]

Quite suddenly, as things go in the middle period of J. D. Salinger, his later, longer stories are descending from the clouds of old New Yorkers and assuming incarnations between hard covers. "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," became available last year in Stories from the New Yorker 1950-1960, and now "Franny" and "Zooey" have a book to themselves. These two stories—the first medium-short, the second...

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Anne Marple (essay date 1961)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Salinger's Oasis of Innocence," in Studies in J. D. Salinger: Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of The Catcher in the Rye and Other Fiction, edited by Marvin Laser and Norman Fruman, The Odyssey Press, 1963, pp. 241-44.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in the New Republic in September 1961, Marple explores the theme of sexual innocence in Salinger's work.]

Salinger's first full length novel, The Catcher in the Rye, emerged after scattered fragments concerning his characters appeared during a seven year span. For some time now, it has been evident that Salinger's second novel may be developing in the same way. Salinger...

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Joan Didion (review date 1961)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Finally (Fashionably) Spurious," in National Review: A Journal of Fact and Opinion, Vol. XI, No. 20, November 18, 1961, pp. 341-42.

[In the following negative review of Franny and Zooey, Didion discusses the didactic quality of Salinger's prose.]

When I first came to New York during the fall of 1956, I went to a party on Bank Street which I remember with particular clarity for a number of reasons, not the least of them my surprise that no one present wished William Knowland were running for President. (I had only been in New York a few days, and the notion that Democrats might be people one met at parties had not yet violated what must have been, in...

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Hilda Kirkwood (review date 1961)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Franny and Zooey, in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XLI, No. 490, November, 1961, pp. 189-90.

[In the following essay, Kirkwood offers a laudatory review of Franny and Zooey.]

In common with the rest of the literate world one finds oneself in considerable awe of J. D. Salinger's power to transmit so eloquently the mood of the modern intellectual dilemma and to transmute it into such intensely moving stories as Franny and Zooey.

The artfully deliberate accumulation of detail, the cinematic selection of props in the scene, the apparently endless tangents of talk diverging in all directions are drawn together so tautly...

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Leslie A. Fiedler (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Up from Adolescence," in Partisan Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, Winter, 1962, pp. 127-31.

[In the following essay, Fiedler discusses the defining characteristics of Salinger's novella.]

I am not sure why I have liked so much less this time through a story which moved me so deeply when I first read it in The New Yorker four or five years ago. I mean, of course, "Zooey," to which "Franny" is finally an appendage, like the long explanatory footnote on pages 52 and 53, the author's apologetic statement on the jacket, the pretentiously modest dedication: all the gimmicks, in short, which conceal neither from him nor from us the fact that he has not yet made of...

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Carl Bode (review date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Franny and Zooey, in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter, 1962, pp. 65-71.

[In the following review, Bode analyzes the "medieval" quality of Salinger's novella.]

The most remarkable thing about Salinger's pair of stories is how old they are. Their kind is medieval at the very least. "Franny" is a Dialogue between Body and Soul, in terms not much changed since the Middle Ages. The only notable difference is an important one, however. Body and Soul seem here so disassociated that little give and take results. Though the Soul displays a tinge of respect for the expression of its antagonist, to the Body the...

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John P. McIntyre (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Preface for 'Franny and Zooey'," in The Critic, Vol. XX, No. 4, February-March, 1962, pp. 25-8.

[In the following essay, McIntyre explores the role of religion in Franny and Zooey, concluding that Salinger's concern is not with society, but with spiritual matters.]

The publication of Franny and Zooey in hard-back has whipped up a critical farrago. Instead of manifesting an understanding, either by way of sympathy or intelligence, current critical opinion tends to regard these latter-day pieces as static emblems of a static art: they don't go any place. Although Little, Brown & Co. is asking four dollars for the two short stories, one...

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Frank Kermode (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "One Hand Clapping," in New Statesman, Vol. LXIII, No. 1630, June 8, 1962, pp. 831-32.

[In this essay, Kermode provides a negative assessment of Franny and Zooey, asserting that it is essentially duplicitious and therefore disappointing.]

It seems impossible to review Salinger without reviewing his audience at the same time. There are other accomplished rhetoricians in the field, but no Serious' modern novelist has quite this rapport with a large public. The two stories "Franny" and "Zooey" are seven and five years old; they appeared accessibly in the New Yorker, and have been widely discussed. But when they appear as Franny and...

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Sally Daniels (review date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Franny and Zooey, in The Minnesota Review, Vol. II, No. 4, Summer, 1962, pp. 553-57.

[In the following excerpt, Daniels perceives Zooey as one of Salinger's most complex and complete characters.]

Reading first a novel like Malamud's [A New Life], and turning then to Salinger's Franny and Zooey is almost bound to make a reader feel acute regrets at both sorts, I think. The writers of scope and breadth and open-end optimism (if that is what it's called) have left such gaps, such hollow centers; have contrived to emote about such public yet simultaneously nonobjective emotions; and have managed finally through...

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George A. Panichas (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "J. D. Salinger and the Russian Pilgrim," in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. VIII, Nos. 1 & 2, Summer-Winter, 1962-1963, pp. 111-26.

[In the following excerpt, Panichas determines the role played in Salinger's novella by the Russian text, The Way of a Pilgrim, maintaining that it provides a fuller understanding of the struggle and eventual enlightenment experienced by both Franny and Zooey.]

Critical estimates of J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey invariably contain brief references to the profound influence made on Franny by a little book of Russian Orthodox spirituality, The Way of a Pilgrim. It is obvious that...

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Mary McCarthy (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "J. D. Salinger's Closed Circuit," in Harper's Magazine, Vol. 225, No. 1349, October, 1962, pp. 46-8.

[In the following essay, McCarthy examines the phony and artificial nature of the characters of Franny and Zooey.]

Who is to inherit the mantle of Papa Hemingway? Who if not J. D. Salinger? Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye has a brother in Hollywood who thinks A Farewell to Arms is terrific. Holden does not see how his brother, who is his favorite writer, can like a phony book like that. But the very image of the hero as pitiless phony-detector comes from Hemingway. In Across the River and Into the Trees, the colonel gets a...

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Robert Detweiler (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "J. D. Salinger and the Quest for Sainthood," in Four Spiritual Crises in Mid-Century American Fiction, University of Florida Press, 1963, pp. 36-43.

[In the following excerpt, Detweiler analyzes the spiritual crisis at the heart of Franny and Zooey.]

A study dealing with the individual religious experience cannot ignore that most discussed of crises in recent American fiction, namely, Franny Glass's slightly suspect nervous breakdown in Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Salinger even more than [Philip] Roth appears fascinated by the individual crisis and particularly by the crisis that has religious origin or result. Holden Caulfield's trouble in...

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Warren French (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Search for the Seer" in 7. D. Salinger, Twayne Publishers, 1963, pp. 139-60.

[In the following excerpt, French provides a mixed assessment of Salinger's novella, maintaining that it is "not distinguished art, but a self-improvement tract. "]

In January, 1955,I was employed to hold English classes by the University of Kentucky, where "contemporary literature" usually meant the writings of the Nashville "Fugitives" and their offspring, although some iconoclastic students read that upstart Faulkner. I was surprised, therefore, upon returning for the spring semester to find that a story by J. D. Salinger in the previous week's New Yorker had disturbed even...

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Daniel Seitzman (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Salinger's 'Franny': Homoerotic Imagery," in American Imago, Vol. 22, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer, 1965, pp. 57-76.

[In the following essay, Seitzman provides a psychoanalytic reading of "Franny. "]

Among current American writers of fiction, no other writer has exerted so deep an influence as J. D. Salinger on college students of the past decade. His novel Catcher in the Rye is possibly the most widely read book among the college set. His writings have also received serious study by critics. His recent Franny and Zooey is particularly rich in psychoanalytic import.

"Franny" is the story of a brief intellectual encounter...

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James Lundquist (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Cloister of Reality: The Glass Family," in J. D. Salinger, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1979, pp. 115-50.

[In the following excerpt, Lundquist traces the emotional development of the main characters of Franny and Zooey.]

The book [Franny and Zooey] actually consists of two long stories put together into what almost, but not quite, becomes a novel. An abrupt shift in narrative technique from omniscient point of view in the first story (originally published in The New Yorker, 29 January 1955) to having Buddy serve as the narrator in the second (also published in The New Yorker, 4 May 1957) gives the book an awkward structure. But...

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Eberhard Alsen (essay date 1983)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Franny," in Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel, The Whitston Publishing Company, 1983, pp. 21-32.

[In the following essay, Alsen notes the similarities between Salinger's "Franny" and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," and asserts that "Franny" signals a new direction for Salinger in terms of thematic and narrative techniques.]

"Franny" was published in January of 1955, nine months before "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters." But it was probably written several years earlier, at a time when the plan of the Glass series had not yet taken shape, for it does not mention Seymour, nor does it mention that Franny's last name is Glass. Also, the story...

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John Wenke (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Glass Family," in J. D. Salinger: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1991, pp. 63-89.

[In the following excerpt, Wenke explores the theme of personal identity in Franny and Zooey.]

With its sense of heightened expectation in relation to a facile reality, the opening scene of "Franny" evokes the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ivy League undergraduate men wait at a train station for the arrival of their dates. Once the train pulls in, the football weekend—the opponent is Yale—can begin with its rounds of expensive lunches, cocktail parties, postgame receptions, and fancy dinners. It will be a carefully choreographed public exhibition. The...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Starosciak, Kenneth. J. D. Salinger: A Thirty Year Bibliography, 1938-1968. St. Paul, Minn.: The Croixside Press, 1971, 63 p.

Lists Salinger's early uncollected stories and their places of publication.


Hamilton, Ian. In Search of J. D. Salinger. London: Heinemann, 1988, 222 p.

Biography that includes an account of Franny and Zooey's critical and commercial reception.


Antico, John. "The Parody of J. D. Salinger: Esme and the Fat Lady Exposed."...

(The entire section is 695 words.)