Literature Study GuidesFranny And ZooeyFranny Section 4 The Little Green Book Summary

Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Franny, Section 4 (The Little Green Book) | Summary



Franny jumps. "This book, you mean?" She puts the book back and begins chattering about other items in the handbag. But Lane won't be distracted. Franny reluctantly says the book is called The Way of a Pilgrim and that she borrowed it from the library for a religions course. "I don't know who wrote it," she says offhandedly. "Some Russian peasant, apparently."

As Lane continues eating, Franny describes the book. She can't keep herself from sounding excited as she explains the plot. The book is set in Russia in the 1880s. A peasant with a withered arm sets out on a pilgrimage to learn what the Bible means when it instructs Christians to "pray incessantly. You know. Without stopping." Carrying only bread and salt, the peasant searches all over Russia. Finally, he meets a religious leader who teaches him the correctly mystical way to pray. The pilgrim then sets out to spread the word about this prayer method.

"I hate to mention it, but I'm going to reek of garlic," Lane interposes before reminding Franny that he still wants to read her his Flaubert paper and pointing out that she still hasn't eaten anything. Franny ignores this and self-consciously explains the way of praying the pilgrim learns. The words are simple: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." What's hard is repeating the Jesus Prayer without stopping. But if a person can do it, eventually he or she will see God.

Lane is magnificently unimpressed. "I don't think you leave any margin for the most elementary psychology," he tells Franny. "Anyway. Just in case I forgot to mention it. I love you."

At this, Franny stands up again. But before she can get back to the restroom, she faints.

Franny returns to consciousness five minutes later. She's in the restaurant manager's office, and Lane is worriedly looking at her. When Franny asks the time, Lane says they don't need to go to the football game. What's important is that Franny get some rest at her boardinghouse that afternoon. "If you get any decent rest, I can get upstairs somehow," he says. He thinks there's a back staircase.

No one could miss the implication that what Lane really cares about is being sure he and Franny can have sex. It's been "too goddam long between drinks. To put it crassly."

To get him away from her, Franny asks for a glass of water. Once Lane is out of the room, Franny lies motionless, staring at the ceiling. Then, silently, she begins to recite the Jesus Prayer.


Like all J. D. Salinger protagonists, Franny is deeply unhappy because she's disgusted by the culture in which she lives. As writer Janet Malcolm says, "None of the Glass children is able to live comfortably in the world."

Franny also has all the symptoms of severe depression. She hates everything and everyone, including herself. She's seething with free-floating rage. It's bad luck that the concept of depression is not one that's available to lay people in 1955. Lane clearly prides himself on his knowledge of psychology, but he doesn't see that something "psychological" is bothering Franny. However, he does pick up on the fact that she doesn't want to talk about the little green book and keeps asking her until she finally tells him what it's about.

Franny's reluctance to discuss the book is interesting. Not only does she not want to talk about it, but she actually tries to keep it hidden. She's afraid Lane will make fun of it, but something more is also going on. In a furtive way, Franny seems to be pretending the book means nothing to her. Considering that she's only visiting Lane for the weekend, she could have left the book back at her college. She's obviously read it more than once, and she's already praying the way the book recommends. But she brought it and carried it in her handbag, not her suitcase. She wants it close by, but she behaves as if she's smuggling it. Without overinterpreting, it seems possible that she's ashamed of her dependence on the book—which suggests that at some level, she knows that repeating the Jesus Prayer is not going to help her.

Franny's motive for clinging to the book is not clear even to her. She wants union with God, or at least she wants to stop hating herself and everyone around her. She sees the book as a link to Seymour. But she doesn't consider the fact that her older brother committed suicide, which would suggest that the book's message may be harmful or at least ineffective. And her longing to be like the pilgrim—rootless, connected to nobody, and divorced from the real world—reveals her unhappiness, not her longing for enlightenment.

On the other hand, she could be desperate to talk about the book. She's an actress, after all. Perhaps she carried the book off the train on purpose; perhaps she dumped out her handbag hoping Lane would see the book. In that case, she feigns reluctance to spark Lane's interest. Either interpretation might fit.

Either way, Lane's not really interested in why she brought the book, nor even in its contents. He's concentrating on his food, not on what she's telling him. He's also still wondering whether the two of them will have sex. He warns Franny that he's going to reek of garlic, making it sound as though pretty soon they'll be close enough that she'll care about his breath. He interrupts to remind Franny about his Flaubert paper as if to suggest she should read something important and stop wasting time with peasants. Twice the narrator mentions Lane cutting his food as opposed to, say, salting it. Since Salinger chooses his words very carefully, this repetition may be underscoring the fact that Lane is about to "cut down" everything Franny's been telling him.

When Franny compares the pilgrim's prayer to the Buddhist tradition of repeating a word or phrase, it's obvious that her knowledge runs deep. She doesn't just say "Buddhism," but says "Nembutsu sects of Buddhism." She gives the original Japanese for "Praises to the Buddha" before translating it into English. She refers to "The Cloud of Unknowing" without defining the phrase, as though everyone knows it's a 14th-century text about prayer written in Middle English. A few sentences later, she refers to the "absolutely nonphysical part of the heart—where the Hindus say that Atman resides." She doesn't feel the need to explain that Atman means "eternal self." Franny may not be a great speller, but for the first time it's clear she's been extremely well educated, at least about world religions. These are not details most college students would work into casual conversation.

Some readers and critics have faulted Salinger for burdening Franny and Zooey with too much religion, partly because it's well-known that he was deeply involved with Eastern religious philosophy when he wrote the book. But Franny's few lines here don't necessarily indicate that she's speaking for Salinger or that Salinger is trying to "convert" the reader. She speaks almost as if she's running through a checklist, not trying to convert anyone. Franny is desperately unhappy. She may be trying to bolster her hope that The Way of the Pilgrim will help her, as if to say, "Major world religions echo the themes in the book, so unending prayer must work."

Certainly the subject goes over Lane's head, which may be why he turns even more boorish. He goes as far as to call her description mumbo jumbo. Then he all but accuses contemplative religious experiences—and, by extension, Franny herself—of having "a very obvious psychological background—you know what I mean." In fact, Lane himself may not know what he means. What he does know is that the lunch has spun out of control. His "I love you" is a last-ditch attempt to get things back on track, and Franny's rejection of his offer could not be more decisive.

As Franny stares at the ceiling, waiting for Lane to get her a taxi, it's not clear what will become of her. But it's all too clear she's trying to renounce the real world.

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