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Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Zooey, Section 3 (Zooey at the Mirror) | Summary



Five minutes later Zooey is shaving in front of the bathroom mirror. As always, he's staring into his own eyes as he shaves, having tried not to be narcissistic since about the age of seven. Mrs. Glass reenters. Now she wonders if she should try to get in touch with Zooey's older brother Waker, who is a monk. Zooey is no help. Mrs. Glass muses that if Franny were worried about something "strictly Catholic," she might be able to help. Zooey replies that Franny's difficulties are "strictly non-sectarian."

Mrs. Glass now says she knows that the book Franny's been carrying around is at the root of her problems. Lane Coutell has told her something strange is going on with that book. Zooey says, at length, that Lane is a phony. Mrs. Glass replies that when Zooey doesn't like someone, he "just sit[s] around like death itself and let[s] the person talk themself into a hole." Zooey briefly looks at her wonderingly, amazed at her perspicuity. Mrs. Glass adds that neither Zooey nor Buddy know how to talk to people they don't love.

Mrs. Glass resumes talking about Franny's book, which Lane has told her Franny got from the college library. Zooey turns with "somewhat menacing alertness" and tells her she's stupid. The little book, The Pilgrim Continues His Way, is the sequel to The Way of a Pilgrim, and Franny got both books off Seymour's desk. Mrs. Glass reminds him that she doesn't look at Seymour's things if she can help it. Instead of accepting Zooey's apology, she tells him he's not kind. When Buddy's feeling mean, at least he—

At that point, Zooey slams his razor into the wastebasket with a resounding crash. He says he's so sick of hearing about Seymour and Buddy he could cut his throat. Seymour and Buddy are the reason Zooey and Franny are freaks. They drilled so much religiosity and philosophy into their youngest siblings that neither Zooey nor Franny can even begin a meal without saying Buddhism's Four Great Vows first.

Mrs. Glass brings up the question of whether a psychiatrist might help Franny. Zooey promises that if she calls one, Franny will either end up in a mental institution or become a martyr. Anyway, he's tried to think of a psychoanalyst who'd be good for Franny, but he doesn't know of any.

Zooey makes sure his mother is paying attention by asking, "You listening to this? You fat old Druid?" Then he recounts the plots of the two books Franny is carrying, filling Mrs. Glass in on the Russian peasant who becomes a pilgrim in order to learn how to pray without ceasing. The aim of both books, he says, is to make people aware of the Jesus Prayer. As Franny did with Lane, Zooey explains that several Eastern religions also hold that repeating God's name will bring a response. "Not an answer—a response."

Once again Mrs. Glass asks Zooey if he plans to talk to Franny. Again he says he doesn't know. His mother comments that she doesn't understand what good it does her children to know so much when it doesn't make them happy. Then she slowly leaves the room.


In "Franny," the origins of the green book is murky. Franny tells Lane it's a library book recommended by a religion professor, and Lane has here repeated this to Mrs. Glass. If Zooey is right when he corrects his mother, then Franny choose to lie to Lane. Perhaps she found it too painful to talk about Seymour; perhaps, knowing what Lane is like, she wanted to shield her late brother from Lane's certain ridicule. In either case, the confusion over where Franny found the book reflects the fact that she's not quite sure why she's so obsessed with it.

In her first visit to the bathroom, Mrs. Glass mostly vents her worry. In her second visit, she tries to come up with a way to help Franny. There are a lot of absent males in the Glass family: Seymour and Walt, of course, and then the unreachable Buddy and Waker, and finally Mr. Glass. Perhaps one reason the pockets of Mrs. Glass's kimono are so full of tools is that she has to do the basic repairs that in the 1950s, a husband would generally take care of. "If I can't get Buddy on the phone," she says, "and even you won't help, I'm going to have to do something." Her use of the word "even" suggests that she can generally count on Zooey's help. Notice that she never considers having a serious conversation about Franny with her husband, who—from the way she talks about him—seems to be a bit senile. In some ways, she seems to treat 25-year-old Zooey as the man of the house. This may be why Zooey so adamantly rejects his mother's suggested ways to help Franny: he feels he's the only one who can do it.

When she seeks his advice in the second bathroom visit, Mrs. Glass realizes that Zooey is just as unhappy as Franny. He blames Seymour and Buddy, "the great emancipators," for his and Franny's problems. (This isn't quite fair of him, since all seven Glass siblings may share a gene for emotional fragility.) This brings up a question: When, exactly, did Seymour and Buddy do all this teaching? As Buddy says in his letter, he and Seymour are much older than Zooey and Franny. Seymour was out of college; why didn't he have a job? Did he and Buddy visit the Glasses' apartment regularly, or did they still live at home in their room with its undersized furniture? There's something sad about two young men staying so close to their family of origin that they make a point of passing their religious education down to their youngest siblings. Even the brothers' closeness is unusual, as Zooey notes obliquely. "[Buddy] does everything Seymour ever did—or tries to. Why the hell doesn't he kill himself and be done with it?"

In any case, Zooey blames Seymour and Buddy even for trivial things like teaching him and Franny to say the Four Great Vows before every meal. Considering that plenty of children who grow up saying grace before a meal abandon the custom when they go to college, Buddy seems to be needlessly upset here. No one is forcing him to repeat the vows. It's not Seymour and Buddy's fault that Zooey once choked on a clam after omitting a prayer before lunch. Zooey is a successful actor and a competent adult, but like his elder brothers, he has trouble distancing himself from his family. Every one of the Glass children loves Seymour uncritically, partly because they're still mourning his death and partly because he was a true spiritual genius.

Even Mrs. Glass's most devoted fans may wonder why, if her children hated these lessons, she didn't ask Seymour and Buddy to stop them. If their premature education truly harmed Zooey and Franny, maybe their mother should have protected them better. Many reviews of Franny and Zooey scold J. D. Salinger for loving the Glass family too much. They are indeed a wonderful group, but Salinger makes it clear that their life together is more than quirky; it's flat-out odd. To use Zooey's term, they're all freaks.

In this section, Zooey goes even further than "Fatty" by calling his mother "a fat old Druid." Adding "old" to the moniker is, so to speak, a straightforward insult. "Druid" is less simple. Druidism is an ancient Celtic and Gaulish religion that first appears in the historical record around the third century BCE. Around 50–60 BCE, during the Roman occupation of Gaul, Julius Caesar described Druids in some detail. According to Caesar, Druids occupied a privileged rank in society, and Druid women were considered men's equals. Because he's so well-informed about many religions, Zooey may know a certain amount about Druidism, but readers can't be sure of that. In any case, Zooey's choice of the word "Druid" could mean several things. He could be implying that his mother is ancient, that she's a priestess, or that she's a pagan—or all three. The subtext is that she's incapable of understanding The Way of a Pilgrim. Perhaps Mrs. Glass doesn't understand the specific reference to Druidism, but she recognizes the insult and "bristles" at it.

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