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.
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 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.