In the 1960s Franny and Zooey
was even more popular than J. D. Salinger's other masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye. While
the former is not read by quite as many people today, it still has
relevance, especially with young audiences. The materialism and
superficiality that troubled Salinger's protagonists have probably
grown in the half-century since he wrote.
Originally published as two separate stories in the New Yorker magazine, Franny and Zooey were then released as a two-part book. Zooey picks up where Franny leaves off.
Franny and Zooey Glass are the two youngest in a family that originally had seven precocious children who in turn starred for 16 years on the radio program It's a Wise Child. In the story that bears her name, college student Franny suffers a nervous collapse. Questioning the values she sees all around her, she has been trying to follow the counsel of a religious book, The Way of the Pilgrim, to learn to pray the "Jesus prayer" incessantly until it becomes as automatic as one's heartbeat. The Zooey story takes place in the Glass family's Manhattan apartment, to which the nearly comatose Franny has returned. Bessie, their mother, implores Zooey to say something that will help his sister.
Zooey understands Franny's plight all too well: too-high standards, the result of their education by their oldest brothers, Buddy and the now-departed Seymour. Franny isn't moved by Zooey's argument that her quest for spiritual enlightenment is another form of egotism, and she isn't fooled when he phones her pretending to be Buddy. But Zooey, continuing to talk as himself, remembers some wise words of Seymour's. Franny feels comforted, "as if all of what little or much wisdom there is in the world were suddenly hers." In the process Zooey finds spiritual peace as well.
Salinger captured the angst of the young in this story as in The Catcher in the Rye, probably accounting for his enduring appeal. Franny and Zooey is also beloved as a tender and moving story of the love within a family. Though they speak insultingly and even brutally, the Glasses understand one another as no one else could and do not suffer alone. Even the dead Seymour plays a major part in Franny's healing.
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