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Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Course Hero. "Franny and Zooey Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Nov. 2019. Web. 2 Dec. 2022. <>.

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Course Hero. "Franny and Zooey Study Guide." November 1, 2019. Accessed December 2, 2022.


Course Hero, "Franny and Zooey Study Guide," November 1, 2019, accessed December 2, 2022,

Franny and Zooey | Symbols



Cigarettes seem to have a life of their own in Franny and Zooey. As they're lit, smoked, tapped, and stubbed out, they facilitate conversation and sometimes reveal characters' unspoken thoughts.

Lane Coutell tells Franny that she smokes too much, but it could be said of all the characters in the book, including Lane himself. The paperback edition of Franny and Zooey used in this study guide, which is 202 pages long, contains at least 127 references to tobacco use. Zooey smokes cigarettes in the bathtub and cigars once he's gotten dressed. Franny and Lane smoke while they eat. Mrs. Glass is a chain-smoker.

The fact that all four characters in this book smoke is not particularly character-revealing, but the way they smoke is. Franny smokes when she feels agitated, which is often, and she also seems to use cigarettes as a protective force field. When Lane gets irritated because she's interrupted him mid-brag, Franny takes a cigarette from Lane's pack. Two pages later, Lane bursts out, "What the hell's the matter with you anyway?" Jarred, Franny "quickly tip[s] her cigarette ash"—a small gesture perhaps indicating how much she would like this conversation to end. Returning from her flight to the bathroom, Franny lights another cigarette, then fidgets with the ashtray to avoid meeting Lane's expression. When Lane asks about the book in her purse, Franny again lights a cigarette and drags on it, nerving herself to explain why she's reading The Way of a Pilgrim.

When Zooey is introduced, he's sitting in the bathtub, reading a letter from Buddy and smoking—and letting the ashes fall into the water. "He seemed unaware of the messiness of the arrangement." As he reads, he also seems unaware of his cigarette, which goes out without his noticing. He and the author give far more attention to the cigar he starts smoking when his bath is over. "Despite the extraordinary fineness of his features, and his age, and his general stature ... the cigar was not markedly unbecoming to him," says the narrator. After all, Zooey is used to cigars; he's not smoking as an affectation. He's been smoking cigars since he was 16.

Perhaps because he's an actor, Zooey sometimes uses his cigar as a prop. He puts it into his mouth and takes it out an extraordinary number of times, as well as relighting it often. As he listens to Franny in the living room, he twirls his cigar "like a dream-interpreter who isn't getting all the facts in the case." He often drags on it before making pronouncements. "God damn it," he says after one drag, "there are nice things in the world." Shortly after that, he takes a drag and announces, "Everybody in this family gets his goddam religion in a different package." Then "he drag[s] on his cigar, as if to offset being amused when he didn't care to be." He shakes Franny awake with the same hand that's holding his cigar—not the safest thing to do, but the gesture demonstrates how accustomed he's become to smoking. Perhaps, like Franny with her cigarettes, Zooey thinks of his cigars as a kind of armor—or a kind of club.

When Zooey pretends to be Buddy and telephones his sister, Franny complains, "If [Zooey] isn't talking, he's smoking his smelly cigars all over the house." Still posing as Buddy, Zooey answers, "The cigars are ballast, sweetheart ... If [Zooey] didn't have a cigar to hold onto, his feet would leave the ground." With this remark he betrays himself: Franny instantly realizes who she's really talking to. It's an interesting moment for several reasons. Now the reader knows Zooey smokes cigars to achieve a "gravity" he otherwise thinks he lacks. Since he's conscious of this motivation, he's also self-aware enough to know that his brash persona covers a certain insecurity.

The Fat Lady

When Zooey and Franny remember learning about the Fat Lady, their path to happiness begins to clear. The Fat Lady represents the reason for staying engaged with the real world.

When Zooey calls Franny pretending to be Buddy, the conversation moves from religious philosophy to the question of the artist's responsibility to the art he or she practices. Then Zooey brings up the Fat Lady and how Seymour told him to shine his shoes "for the Fat Lady." Although Seymour never explained who the Fat Lady was, Zooey could picture her clearly. He saw her as someone with cancer sitting on the porch and swatting flies, her radio playing nonstop. "I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I went on the air again."

Franny hasn't paid much attention to Zooey's metaphysical discourses. But when he shares his vision of the Fat Lady, he kindles sudden excitement in his sister. Seymour told her "to be funny for the Fat Lady." Franny pictured her as a thick-legged woman with varicose veins and cancer, sitting in a shabby wicker chair. It's only when Zooey brings in these human details—when he personifies his message—that Franny finally wakes up to what he's saying. And what he's saying demonstrates that everyone is connected—not just Franny and Zooey, but everyone. Because, as Zooey says in one of the novella's most important statements: "There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady."

It's rare for a fictional character to explain one of a book's symbols overtly, in dialogue. It may be even rarer for an author to introduce a key symbol on the penultimate page of the book. Both elements work here because everything Zooey has been trying to explain culminates in the next (and last) thing he tells Franny before hanging up. "Don't you know who Seymour's Fat Lady is? ... It's Christ Himself." This remark can only come at the end of the book: any possible answer would sound weak by comparison.

With their background, Franny and Zooey would certainly know the quote from Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew (25:40): "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Jesus is explaining that Christians reveal themselves as Christians by loving one another, and in particular by loving the unlovable. When Seymour tells Zooey to shine his shoes for the Fat Lady, he is telling him to be aware that every person is worthwhile and to respect each person's dignity—"even the people you might otherwise despise."

Zooey is not reminding Franny to act like a good Christian. He's pointing out that even the people she thinks are pretentious or phony—the professors and actors she finds so egotistical and phony—have value, and that every human being is sacred.

Bloomberg the Cat

Bloomberg plays a minor but important role in this book. He functions almost like an intermediary—though an unwilling one—between Zooey and Franny.

In Yiddish, the name "Bloomberg" means "flower hill." The Glasses' cat, however, does not remind people of a flowery hill. He's old, overweight, and flea-ridden, and Mrs. Glass thinks he's disgusting. She tells Zooey that Franny has Bloomberg in bed with her on the living room sofa. "I'd almost be satisfied," she says, "if I could get that awful Bloomberg off that couch with her. It isn't even sanitary." Getting the cat away from Franny wouldn't really satisfy Mrs. Glass, though, or even almost satisfy her—not as long as Franny remains so distressed. Mrs. Glass is displacing her anxiety about her daughter and putting it onto Bloomberg instead.

Zooey enters the living room in a combative mood, determined to talk sense into Franny. But he softens when he realizes Bloomberg is still asleep under Franny's blanket and pokes the cat gently to make him come out into the open. Zooey is doing some displacement of his own here. He actually feels more tender toward and protective of his sister than he lets on. Franny and Bloomberg appear to be a team at the moment; by treating the cat kindly, Zooey signals that he's less hostile toward Franny than he seems.

Franny, who is an animal lover, greets Bloomberg. "Good morning, old fat smelly cat," she says, kissing him repeatedly. Bloomberg is not interested in being kissed; he makes an "inept and rather violent attempt" to get away. Nevertheless, Franny marvels, "Isn't he being affectionate? I've never seen him so affectionate." Trying to push him into her lap, Franny adds, "I found 14 fleas on him last night."

The most devoted cat lover wouldn't likely want to cuddle up to a flea-ridden cat, so it's safe to assume Franny is overreacting. She's nervous about whatever Zooey plans to say to her, and she's trying to distract him by drawing his attention to Bloomberg. She may also be trying to come across as much more cheerful than she feels.

A few minutes later, when Zooey's conversation starts making her nervous, Franny devotes her attention to the cat, patting it and pretending to hunt through his coat for fleas. But when Zooey's lecture finally infuriates her and she yells back at him, Bloomberg runs off. She doesn't need the cat for security now that she's willing to fight back.

Bloomberg isn't much of a presence in "Zooey." But like many household pets, he gives his human family a way to express themselves when they're having trouble saying what they mean.

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