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Literature Study GuidesFranny And ZooeyZooey Section 2 Mrs Glass Visits The Bathroom Summary

Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Zooey, Section 2 (Mrs. Glass Visits the Bathroom) | Summary



Having finished the letter, Zooey turns his attention to a typed script lying on the floor next to the tub. He's just started studying his part when his mother asks to come in. Zooey reluctantly pulls the shower curtain closed, and Mrs. Glass comes in. She claims she needs to come in to give Zooey something—a tube of toothpaste. As she gazes at the contents of the medicine cabinet, she asks if Zooey's spoken to Franny yet that day. Asking this question is clearly the real reason she's come in.

Mrs. Glass is momentarily distracted by seeing Zooey's script on the floor. She comments on the "unusual" title, which opens her to protracted mockery and rudeness from Zooey. This she mostly ignores as she continues to fret about Franny. The narrator says that if Zooey could have seen his mother's face at that moment, he might have been nicer to her. Her "enormous blue eyes" are filled with sorrow, though Buddy adds that Mrs. Glass can look tragic about the most trivial things.

Mrs. Glass suddenly stands up and announces that she'll be back in a minute.


The excerpt from the script Zooey reads is a comic masterpiece. J. D. Salinger is one of the funniest writers in modern American fiction, and he weaves humor into even his saddest plots. Here, he parodies romantic dialogue wonderfully. It is slick and predictably unpredictable, and it goes for the easy laugh. Yet it's entirely convincing. It's easy to imagine what this play is like—too easy—but it's also possible to see Zooey as Rick. Zooey is ambivalent about the work he's doing, and this excerpt shows why.

Zooey's first scene with his mother is also very funny. Small, deft details reveal a lot about her without too much explication. Mrs. Glass's age is "fiercely indeterminate." She "sidles" into the room under the pretext of giving Zooey something that turns out to be a tube of toothpaste. Though Zooey is 25, she times his baths and notices it when he puts in a new razor blade. She wears a bathrobe/kimono with so much in the pockets that she clinks when she walks. (Notice that most of the items she's carrying are meant to repair things.)

There's deep sadness along with the humor. Buddy says his mother looks like an Irish woman on the way to claim the body of one of her sons who's been shot through "some clerical error." This might be a funny comparison except for the fact that one of her sons actually shot himself. Again, Salinger mixes humor with sadness. (Recall that Buddy sobs for the entire five-hour flight to pick up Seymour's body. Then, suddenly overhearing a proper-sounding woman talk about "a pint of pus," he finds the remark so funny that he's still grinning when he meets Seymour's widow.)

It quickly becomes clear that Mrs. Glass is unruffled by her youngest son's staggering rudeness and may even enjoy it. "Rather absently," she tells Zooey to button his lip when he asks what in Christ's name she's doing on the other side of the shower curtain. She's lucky to have a thick skin: Zooey is amazingly rude to her. He jumps on her most innocent remarks, forcing her to defend herself over and over. Coming into the bathroom is an act of courage on her part, considering that she must have known how Zooey will treat her.

It may be a sign of Mrs. Glass's anxiety that she lets so many of Zooey's insults roll off her. Though she has a good idea what triggered Franny's collapse, she's flummoxed by it. Breaking down over a religious book is inconceivable to her. She often gives the impression that she has no idea how she produced seven children like these—and the reader may wonder the same thing. At any rate, the contrast between Mrs. Glass and her brood is both funny and touching. (Buddy gradually adds details that turn his mother into a less comic figure and make it clear that he admires her.)

The narrator doesn't describe Mrs. Glass's smoking mannerisms in detail, as he does with Franny and Zooey. But it's noticeable that if she carries two or three packs of cigarettes with her, she's likely to smoke at least two packs—40 cigarettes—a day. That would total more than 14,000 cigarettes a year at a time when the average American adult smoked only about 3,500 cigarettes annually. Nicotine is known to improve cognitive function and regulate the smoker's mood at least temporarily. Mrs. Glass may smoke as much as she does because she's trying to make herself feel better.

Zooey's use of nicknames makes him sound younger than 25. It's especially jarring to hear him call Mrs. Glass "Fatty," but the message at the end of the story softens the insult somewhat. Seymour Glass advises both Franny and Zooey to think of their audience—and, by extension, all people—as "the Fat Lady." All humans carry secret sorrow and shame, and all deserve respect. When Zooey calls his mother "Fatty," it's a signal of the message to come at the story's end.

At the same time, calling anyone Fatty, for whatever reason, is hurtful. Zooey is not treating his mother as a symbol of shared human frailty; he's just insulting her. In other words, he's ignoring Seymour's advice. He is a conflicted young man, and he displaces some of his conflict onto his mother. Presumably he's used this term often enough that Mrs. Glass has become somewhat hardened to the nickname's sting. Otherwise, she might react when he uses it.

It's a lot of time for two characters to stay in the bathroom, with all that steam and cigarette smoke. But a conventional structure isn't a priority for Salinger. Eberhard Alsen, a Salinger scholar, points out that Salinger links characters and events by "doubling": two main characters with two dead brothers, two bathroom scenes, "two twosomes" (Seymour and Buddy, Zooey and Franny), plus twin brothers; doubled letters in the names Franny, Zooey, Buddy, and Bessie; two scripts offered to Zooey; two pairs of conversations between Zooey and his mother and Zooey and Franny; and finally Zooey's pretending to be Buddy during the phone call to Franny. This is a very slight structure, but since almost the whole story is told in dialogue, a formal "narrative arc" isn't necessary.

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