Franny and Zooey: Themes
Buddy, the narrator of Zooey, introduces the story by saying the following is not necessarily a story of spirituality. Above all, it is a love story, he says. Franny and Zooey appear to hold harsh judgments of others and seem particularly angry.
Zooey calls Franny out on her spiteful verdicts of other people, and she shows how it is in direct contradiction to the meaning behind the Jesus Prayer she is saying incessantly. He shares the wisdom of Seymour, telling Franny that everyone is entitled to respect and love, even if you do not like them.
While the narrator of Zooey insists the book is a love story rather than one about spirituality, there is no doubt spirituality plays a crucial role in Franny and Zooey. Franny is in the midst of a spiritual breakdown. Zooey blames this and their overall confused growth on the rigorous, religious, educational regime administered by their older brothers.
Franny attempts to remedy her crisis by praying incessantly. Zooey clarifies her mission by adding a new component to her system. He introduces the concept of love as the foundation of all spirituality than spans multiple religions.
When Lane tells Franny they will be hanging out with Wally, she does not remember who he is. Lane reminds her that she has met Wally several times before. Franny does not see why Lane should expect her to remember everyone especially when they all run together and act, talk, and dress like everyone else. She adds even people that rebel, or “go bohemian,” end up conforming like everyone else, only in a different way.
Franny and Zooey are referred to as “freaks” several times in the novel. Lane is the book’s prime representation of conformity, thinking he is being different but clearly looking for acceptance.
One time on the set of It’s a Wise Child, Seymour tells Zooey to shine his shoes for the studio audience. Zooey refuses, claiming he does not wish to do so for an audience that is stupid.
Seymour tells Zooey to shine his shoes for the “fat lady.” The idea of the fat lady refers to the every man and woman, or the uneducated and unattractive studio audience. Zooey shares the story with Franny to make the point of the Jesus Prayer is to love and respect everyone, no matter how egotistical or stupid.
Violence is one of the two ways that one’s authority is asserted throughout this novel. Within the Vigils Archie enjoys physical and psychological violence, though it is Carter who tends to be more physical. Outside of the Vigils Emile Janza is the bully who likes to solve his fights with violence. Archie tells Emile to beat up Jerry and Emile does so with the aid of a posse, despite the fact that Archie wanted it to be a one-on-one fight. At the end of the novel, Archie got the one-on-one fight he was looking for when he hosted a raffle boxing match to sell the rest of the chocolates. Despite the fact that Archie wanted the rules to be followed, Emile Janza snapped and began pummeling Jerry without being given orders to do so; proof that there is no order in violence just chaos.
Franny paints herself in a corner of egotism where one cannot strive for anything without it being influenced by an inflated ego. She admits to egotism herself by enjoying the applause and positive reviews associated with her theater performances.
Buddy tells Zooey that the two older brothers sought to teach Zooey under the philosophy of the Buddhist “no-knowledge” path, which requires one to let go of ego to attain enlightenment. Zooey urges Franny to use her talent of acting, but to do so in a way that exercises the positive part of the ego, which is focused on providing entertainment for others.
The Glass children are all gifted intellectually and spend a lot of time in academia. However, Franny in particular is bothered by the personalities driving the academic experience. She criticizes her professors and section men (grad students that fill in for the teacher) for being pompous egotists, while her classmates are all alike.
Franny criticizes the entire system in general, 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 that is no different and material than the collection of wealth or things.
Franny and Zooey are both dissatisfied with their current domains. Franny is unhappy with college life, where the professors are pompous; the students are all stereotypes, and the knowledge does not necessarily lead to wisdom. Zooey is unhappy with the acting world -- where the material is cliqued and the people unsavory.
Perhaps this dissatisfaction stems from the fact that they are unique people with unusual life characteristics, including child celebrity and high intelligence. They have been raised to be “freaks,” as Zooey says, and feel frustration with the conformist world that does not see things the same unique way.
Salinger holds distrust for psychoanalysis that shows up several times in Zooey. In the bathroom, Zooey tells his desperate mother not to call a psychoanalyst to help Franny. He warns a psychoanalyst will adjust Franny to what is perceived as “normal”, leaving her either in “a nut ward or…wandering off into some…desert with a burning cross in her hands.”
Later, Salinger mocks psychoanalysis by showing Zooey, smoking a cigar, jokingly pretending to interpret Franny’s dream while she lies on a couch. He then rails against television and says the writers are too influenced by Freud.