Franny and Zooey: Chapter Summary (Zooey)
The narrator introduces the following as less of a short story and more of a “prose home movie”. He introduces the characters. The first character he calls the leading lady, who he would describe as the “languid, sophisticated type” (Franny). The other he describes as a “svelte twilight brunette” (Bessie). The “leading man” (Zooey) makes the strongest argument for the narrator to not tell the story, saying it hinges too heavily on mysticism. Instead, the narrator calls it a love story.
All four characters are relatives in the Glass family. The Glass family once consisted of five boys and two girls. The oldest, Seymour, committed suicide while on vacation with his family in Florida. The second oldest is the narrator Buddy. He is referred to in the third person from here on out. Then comes Boo Boo and then the twins Walt and Waker. Walt was killed in the Army. Walker is a Catholic priest, out of the country at a conference at the time of the story. Then comes Zooey and the youngest is Franny.
Zooey is 25 in 1955. He sits in the bath reading a four-year-old letter over and over again. Zooey is described as a small man, who “is barely saved from too- handsomeness…by virtue of one ear’s protruding slightly more than the other.” Zooey is a highly paid and sought-after television actor. All the children have had brushes with show business, notably on a radio show called It’s a Wise Child where the children answered questions from the audience. They gained a reputation as precocious children on the show.
The torn, old letter Zooey reads and rereads is from Buddy. In the letter, Buddy complains that his mother is urging him to remove the phone in New York and install one in his new home in the country. He likes the phone because he shared it with Seymour.
Buddy sends a message from their mother Bessie. She believes Zooey should get his PhD in math so he can have something to fall back on if the acting does not work out. Buddy mentions that he has hiked from school to school, yet to score his BA.
He says there are two reasons why he has not yet graduated. Firstly, he was a snob who did not want a degree when people he does not respect have them. Secondly, he still cannot live up to Seymour, who had his PhD at about an age where other kids are just graduating high school. While sometimes he reflects that he could be loaded with degrees and teaching by now, he ultimately concludes that the decks are stack against professional writers, and “no doubt we all deserve the dark, wordy, academic deaths we all sooner or later die.”
Buddy does not agree with his mother about Zooey requiring a degree for security. He says Zooey would make a well-adjusted actor if Seymour and Buddy had not loaded him with deep reading and religious teachings. Actors seem to do better when they “travel light” intellectually. He adds that even his mother knows Zooey was born an actor. The only question is will he go for a superficial Hollywood career, or for the more intellectual, artful one. He warns him to be careful because the nuisances of literature do not transfer to Hollywood, especially with Zooey's high demands for beauty.
Buddy writes the letter three years to the day that Seymour killed himself. Buddy recalls going down to Florida to bring back the body. He cries on the plane for five hours. Before the plane landed, he caught the tail end of a story. “They took a pint of pus out of the lovely young body of hers,” the passenger behind him says. He found the story humorous and regrets meeting the widow with a sick grin on his face.
He mentions that he gives a weekly lecture to faculty and undergraduates on Zen and Mahayana Buddhism. Between this, school and work, he has no time to do any elective thinking. He glides closer to the point of the letter, to explain why he and Seymour gave Zooey and Franny so much religious teaching.
He shares an experience that happened that day at the grocery store meat counter. He sees a cute little girl, about four, staring at him. He says she is the prettiest little girl he had ever seen all day and asks if she has any boyfriends. She says two. Buddy asks their names. She answers Bobby and Dorothy.
He also shares a haiku poem found in the hotel room where Seymour shot himself: “The little girl on the plane / who turned her doll's head around / to look at me.” The little girl and the poem are heavy on his mind and influenced him to write the letter today.
Extreme age differences added complications to the Glass kids’ upbringing. Seymour and Buddy were reluctant to push their favorite literary works on the Franny and Zooey until their minds reached a state of “no-knowledge” or a state of pure consciousness known as satori in Zen Buddhism.
In other words, they hold back on the “lighting effects” of literature, art, science, etc until they are able “to conceive of a state of being where the mind knows the source of all light.” So, the two older brothers drilled their younger siblings on the religious prophets.
He says he worried about Franny and Zooey after Seymour's death. But he could not return for a year afterward. The girl at the meat counter reminded him that Seymour once told him the purpose of religious study is to unlearn differences such as those between girl and boy, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold. That encounter in the grocery store prompted him to rush home to write this letter. He concludes by telling Zooey to act if he must, but to do it with all his might.
Zooey carefully places the old letter in its envelope and picks up a manuscript to read. His mother knocks on the door, interrupting the melodramatic reading. She asks if she can come in, saying she has something for him. He answers that he is in the tub. Irritated, he pulls the curtain. Bessie says she cannot see how he can stay in the bath tub for so long. She is wearing her trademark kimono, with tools and cigarettes stuffed in the pockets.
Bessie opens the liberally-stocked medicine cabinet to put away a new tube of toothpaste. She asks Zooey if he has talked to his sister. He says he did for two hours the night before. He is growing more and more irritated. She complains about Buddy having no phone, worrying about emergencies. Zooey is extremely rude to his mother. She spots the script on the floor, moving it to a more suitable place. She reads the title: The Heart is an Autumn Hunter. She comments that this is an “unusual” title. Zooey responds harshly. Bessie says Zooey never thinks anything is beautiful or unusual. Zooey mocks Bessie's taste.
Bessie changes the subject to her worry about Franny. She is frustrated with her husband's inability to help her. She says Les expects to hear all of the children on the radio again, including the two dead sons. He is stuck in the past, she says. Franny cries all the time and mumbles to herself. She continues to complain that no one in the family can help her when things are going wrong. She worries aloud that Franny does not eat right and reads too many religious books for an impressionable young girl. The two are silent for awhile. Zooey gives her a warning that he will be getting out soon. Bessie contemplates for a moment and then suddenly leaves, saying she will be back.
Bessie returns as Zooey shaves. She asks him if he thinks she should get a hold of Waker (the Catholic Priest brother) to talk to Franny. Zooey does not think it is a brilliant idea, saying Franny's problem is “nonsectarian.” He insults her intelligence again and she defends herself, revealing the green book as the source of Franny's problems. She mentions Lane has been calling, incredibly worried about Franny.
At first not remembering who Lane was, Zooey rips on Lane, calling him a fake and a “charm boy”. As soon as he parted ways with Franny, he probably wondered if he could get back to the game in time, according to Zooey. Bessie says Zooey always assumes the worst in people and ulterior motives. She also accuses him of making people he does not like, or love, nervous.
Bessie says that Lane informed her that the source of Franny's troubles lies in the book she carries around that she got out of the school library. Zooey calls Bessie stupid, saying the book came out of Seymour's and Buddy's room. Bessie answers that she does not like to go into that room.
Zooey apologizes and Bessie takes the chance to stab at him. She calls him unkind and starts comparing him to Buddy. Zooey explodes in anger yelling that he is sick of hearing Buddy's and Seymour's names. He blames the two brothers for turning Franny and him into “freaks”. He says he cannot even eat without saying a Buddhist prayer.
Bessie nags him to get a haircut and get married. Before she leaves the bathroom, Zooey warns her against calling a psychoanalyst for Franny, reminding her of what one did to Seymour. Zooey explains Franny's books. Zooey says he must get ready to meet LeSage, his employer. Bessie leaves him alone, after reminiscing of days when the kids were young and happy, and wonders what good knowledge is if it does not make them happy.
Zooey, smoking a cigar, wakes Franny. The living room is decorated with artifacts from the kids' It's a Wise Child days. She says she was having a nightmare, in which she was in a pool, being forced to dive down to retrieve a coffee can over and over again. A professor she detests also makes an appearance.
The two talk about Zooey's career and his dissatisfaction in the scripts he is receiving. He catches her reciting the Jesus Prayer. He says he has an offer to film in France, but he does not want to leave New York. He rants about his tendency to hurt people's morale. This rant rings true for Franny, who recalls poking at Lane and giving her honest opinion on his paper he was so excited for her to read. Zooey says she should poke at herself rather than others. He says the two are freaks and will not be satisfied until everyone is like them. Franny sees parallels in Zooey's distaste for phoniness and ego in television with her own rants to Lane at dinner. She curses her inability to censor herself, despite knowing she is unpleasant to be around.
Franny berates college, saying it is just a place to gather knowledge for knowledge's sake and provides no real answers that lead to wisdom. She says knowledge is just another “treasure” to collect. Zooey shifts to Franny's saying of the Jesus Prayer. He says collecting spiritual treasure is no different than material or even intellectual treasure. Franny is insulted at Zooey's assumption that the idea had not already occurred to her. She admits to being just as self-serving as everyone else in her pursuit for spiritual enlightenment. Zooey offers to try to get a hold of Buddy. Franny says she wants to talk to Seymour. Zooey looks out the window and says there are “nice things” in the world, but people get too distracted with their egos to notice.
Zooey makes a speech. He upholds that he does not wish to take the prayer away from her. He says that he once contemplated saying the prayer. But, her episode is hard on the family. Her negative opinion of the people of academia, although maybe correct at times, seems too personal and spiteful. He rips into her, saying she does not understand Jesus and is confusing him with other religions. He says Jesus is the most intelligent person in the Bible because he understands that there is no separation between man and God. Zooey realizes that Franny is sobbing. He apologizes and leaves the room.
Zooey meets his mother in the hallway and tells her to step aside. She wants to know why he is sweating and Franny is crying. He heads straight for Buddy's and Seymour's room. He has not been in there for seven years. He reads a few literary and religious quotations written on a board hung on the wall.
The room houses countless books piled in book cases and stacks on the floor. He sits a Seymour's desk and takes out a stack of shirt-cardboards serving as Seymour's diary. Zooey reads about Seymour's 21st birthday. He then sits for about a half hour and picks up the phone, placing a handkerchief over the mouthpiece.
Meanwhile, Franny is declining another bowl of chicken broth from her mother. The phone rings. Bessie answers the phone and returns telling Franny that Buddy is on the phone, and it sounds like he has a cold. Franny answers. Zooey, pretending to be Buddy, asks how she is. She tells him that she is ready to murder Zooey, who is bitter, destructive and talks in circles. Franny eventually figures out who is on the phone.
Zooey tells her to continue with the Jesus Prayer is she wants. He points out that when Franny needed help, she came home. Therefore, she is not looking for a spiritual guru; she is looking to her family for help. She should recognize the holiness in Bessie offering of chicken soup. There are no ulterior motives with family. He tells her that he and Buddy saw her in the play last summer. He praises her performance and encourages her to peruse acting.
He tells her that she should not waste time thinking about the audience. It is none of her business. He recalls a time on the radio where Seymour told him to shine his shoes. Zooey refused because the studio audiences are stupid. Seymour said to shine them for the “Fat Lady”. The Fat Lady represents every person, no matter how stupid or egotistical. And everyone deserves their respect. The Fat Lady is also Jesus Christ.
The two wrap up their conversation. Franny lies on her parents’ bed, readying for sleep. She lies down, staring at the ceiling, with a smile.