J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey”: A Review and Analysis

Made of two short stories, J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” is a unique and challenging classic

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Rosalie Johnson

J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey”

by Rosalie Johnson, Reporter

Throughout elementary school, I rarely went a week without beginning or completing a new novel: I devoured all seven “Harry Potterbooks within a year, read and reread and reread and reread “The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp, adored “Remarkable”, obsessed over Carli Lloyd’s “All Heart” and only allowed myself to read “Esperanza Risingonce because I could not envision feeling the same magic once more. 

I often found myself escaping into the pages of thick books and mesmerizing stories – escaping from what I am not sure, but I did know that if I was suddenly granted the gift of transporting myself into Hogwarts’ walls to learn Transfiguration instead of second-grade math I would abuse that power like there was no tomorrow.

Like many who were avid readers in their primary school years, entering middle and high school drastically altered not only the time I had for reading but the energy and passion I once possessed for it as well. Reading, something that had been so significant in my life and valuable to my academic and personal development, was now missing, and I now felt somewhat disconnected from my own mind and somehow my own body.

I came to the realization that I needed to return to reading – perhaps not at the same level or intensity that I once approached it with, but at least with excitement and a love for it once more – to restore that sense of self.

I turned to Pinterest.

What seemed like hundreds of thousands of recommendations for what seemed like billions of books overtook my feed and my “reading list” exponentially lengthened. Countless books from a variety of genres found themselves on my phone screen, and increasingly often, a few of the same books were repeatedly recommended.

One novel made several recurrent appearances in nearly all of the recommendation videos, ranging from “Books Every Teen Must Read Before Their 18th Birthday” to “Books I Would Sell My Soul To Read For The First Time Again”: J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey”. It seemed mildly intriguing, and its deceivingly short length led to my assumption that it would be a perfect reintroduction to reading.

Franny and Zooey is 201 pages long. I refrain from saying “’Franny and Zooey’ is only 201 pages long” because, despite its seeming simplicity, Salinger’s novel is thoroughly teeming with story. Split into two parts, it is made of mostly fiery dialogue as well as a lengthy letter; I constantly found myself wholly absorbed into the storyline, only coming up for air when I lost track of the narrative and required a reread to understand and begin again.

The first part follows Franny Glass, a self-absorbed college student in mental distress who is meeting her boyfriend for a date. This is followed by part two, a story of Zooey Glass, Franny’s egotistical brother, and his relationship with himself, his mother, and his sister in the wake of her mental strain.

Franny Glass is a tormented college girl, disturbed by a specific spiritual concept that she perceives as a disruption to her relationship with God. Overall, she feels as if she is missing an expansion in wisdom and is experiencing a lack of spiritual understanding and growth. 

She is first introduced riding a train to the city to meet up with her boyfriend Lane for a lunch date before heading to a college football game. As they are seated for lunch, Lane embarks on a long, impassioned and mainly one-sided conversation not necessarily with, but mostly to, Franny and then proceeds to identify a book in Franny’s bag. 

This launches Franny into an enthusiastic yet somehow terrified discussion of the book itself, proving this book as the source of her mental strain. The storyline approaches its apotheosis as Franny finally collapses under this emotional weight, only for her to wake and rely on the source of her desperation to aid in her recovery.

I grasped on to every last word that poured from Lane and Franny’s mouths in their feverish conversation in a small cafe within the city. The frustrations for Lane’s seeming apathy for Franny’s struggle – or at least his obliviousness towards it – further drew me into the conversation; with Salinger’s narration of the body language and thought processes of both characters as well as their conversations, their detachment from and lack of a solid connection between one another became more and more evident, which undoubtedly played a factor in Franny’s intense and seemingly incurable stress. 

Salinger masterfully creates the overwhelming dialogue between Lane and Franny that forces a sense of uncertainty within the readers. The seemingly nonstop flow of fervent conversation stimulates anxiety and a sense that something significant, perhaps even disastrous, will inevitably occur as the story reaches its climax where Franny collapses. 

Though this climax is predictable, it is not predictable in the sense that it is an overworn cliche or trope; rather, Salinger cleverly curates the intense conversation and couples it with Franny’s uneasiness to gradually build an expectation of Franny experiencing some form of frantic breakdown.

Part two of Salinger’s drama – titled simply “Zooey– takes place away from the bustling city and inside the Glass family apartment, where Zooey is introduced as a somewhat egotistical yet knowledgeable aspiring actor who holds his own stark opinion on everything and where Franny is recuperating from her mental breakdown that occurred a couple days prior. “Zooey is reflective of Franny in that the story is made of mostly intense dialogue, much of which is to one another and not necessarily with.

Throughout the story told through Zooey’s perspective, he is in constant verbal battle with his mother or sister. His mother attempts to express her concerns for Franny’s state of mind as Zooey challenges these concerns with a differing perspective on why his sister is experiencing this torment and trauma. 

While reading, I was no less absorbed in Zooey’s conversations than I was in Franny’s – in fact, I was more so – but I was increasingly more frustrated: Zooey presented himself with arrogance and exasperation towards his mother as well as his sister. Despite his intention being to open his mother’s mind to other possible causes of Franny’s torment and to help alleviate Franny’s anxiety and depression, his almost-abrasive attitude and conversations proved to be exhausting and stressful for not only Franny but the readers as well.

It is easy to envision the scene taking place in the Glass apartment. Salinger throws the reader into the living room and between Franny and Zooey, their shouts pounding in eardrums, their painful memories and words constricting the heart; I kept reading in spite of the continuous aching pain I felt from wanting Zooey to be heard yet act with kindness and from wanting Franny to heal yet be open to others’ aid. I wanted to force Zooey to see his own torment furthering Franny’s and vice versa – though both had valid backstories and points, neither were approaching it productively or kindly or in good health.

Similar to its counterpart “Franny”, “Zooey” is intense and exhilarating; but in this act I felt more connected with and passionate about Salinger’s artwork. Perhaps I found it easier to connect with this piece as I understand the importance and fragility of a sibling bond and how it can shatter and be repaired within an instant, or perhaps it was because this piece held some semblance of comfort as it demonstrated a loving yet dysfunctional family as well as Franny’s gradual healing from her spiritual torment – for whatever reason, while I adored “Franny”, “Zooey” proved more vibrant and wholly connecting.

Zooey ends with Zooey calling the house landline pretending to be his older brother Buddy – who Franny loves – in an effort to reach his sister and help her back down from her space of emotional religious distress. It seems that finally, Zooey’s well-intended advice and assistance reaches Franny and allows her to find merciful peace by the book’s end.

“Franny and Zooey” is exhausting yet forcefully intriguing, wildly fast-paced yet irresistible, saddening yet comforting – entirely unique. Though the characters are often frustrating and tiring (especially as their immense privilege they experienced in their youth is revealed), a sense of gentle relief falls over the readers as the book slows towards its finish line and the characters are able to finally reach a point of unity and reconciliation. It feels as if both Franny and Zooey can take a full and deep breath for the first time after shallowly gasping for air throughout their stories, and are easing themselves back into the reality they have been adamantly avoiding.

Though Salinger demonstrates Franny and Zooey’s realizations and gradual easing of their pain, he also – intentionally or unintentionally – reassures readers struggling with their own over-self-awareness that they are not alone in their affliction or suffering and that there is, indeed, always hope for healing.