Literature Study GuidesFranny And ZooeyZooey Section 4 Zooey In The Living Room Summary

Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Zooey, Section 4 (Zooey in the Living Room) | Summary

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Summary

The Glasses' living room is supposed to be painted soon, but as Buddy says, it's "about as unready to have its walls repainted as a room can be." Franny is asleep on the couch, surrounded by the clutter only a very large family can create. She looks pretty and fragile. Zooey sits down on the coffee table next to the couch and wakes her up.

As she slowly wakens, Franny recounts the dream she's just been having. In it, she was in a swimming pool, and people kept forcing her to dive to the bottom for a can of coffee. Two girls she knows from her dorm kept trying to hit her with an oar every time she surfaced.

Zooey chooses to open the conversation with the cheerful words "You look like hell." Then he goes into a spiel about an out-of-town TV writer he had drinks with the night before. He comments that he doesn't trust out-of-towners in New York. Then he describes two scripts he's been sent, both of which seem worthless to him. (While he's talking, Franny begins silently repeating the Jesus Prayer.) He thinks he may go to France to film a movie that summer, but adds, "I hate any kind of so-called creative type who gets on any kind of ship." He doesn't like the idea of leaving New York, but he feels he's a malignant influence on the people he knows. "I sit in judgment on every poor, ulcerous bastard I know."

Franny knows what Zooey means. She tells him she spent all of Saturday ruining Lane's day. "I started picking and picking and picking at all his opinions and values."

Irritated, Zooey answers that Franny is wrong to complain about people and things instead of herself. "It's us. I keep telling you that." He and Franny are freaks, he says, and it's Seymour and Buddy's fault: they turned their youngest siblings into "freaks with freakish standards." As if to underscore his remark, Zooey comments that the agent he met last night is "so stupid it breaks your heart."

Again Franny understands. She says she and Zooey are bothered "by the same kind of things, I think, and for the same reasons." She hates the picky, unconstructive way she talks to Lane and everyone else. But it seems she also hates Lane and everyone else. Why, she asks, can't the goal at college be acquiring wisdom, not storing up knowledge as if it were some kind of treasure?

Zooey now challenges his sister, asking why she's saying the Jesus Prayer. She's going about it all wrong, he says. Her voice trembling, Franny says he's not telling her anything new. She herself is worried about her motives for saying the prayer. She begins to cry, and Zooey asks if she wants him to call Buddy for her. Franny shakes her head and says, "I want to talk to Seymour."

Analysis

Each of the story's three main scenes opens with a long list of items in a room—or, in the bedroom, a list of quotes on the door. As Zooey heads reluctantly into the living room, readers will notice that everything there speaks of a family that spends a lot of time together. (In contrast, the contents of the medicine cabinet mostly have to do with solitary grooming rituals.) Salinger likely meant the room to sound cozily overfull, but it seems as cramped as the bathroom did. Modern readers may feel as though the living room is owned by hoarders who feel so attached to the past that they can't bring themselves to throw anything out. Mr. Glass has covered the walls with "It's a Wise Child" memorabilia. He's even plastered seven scrapbooks into the wall—one for each child, presumably. Again, this glimpse of Mr. Glass's decorating ideas suggests he's a bit "off." Readers might hope that clearing out and repainting the living room will give the entire Glass family a fresh start.

Like the excerpt from Zooey's script, Franny's dream is perfectly rendered. It's hard for writers to get dreams right, but Franny's sounds exactly like a real dream. Unfortunately, it doesn't readily reveal clues about its meaning. Franny is being forced to retrieve a can of coffee, and the crowd won't let her out of the pool without it. "Medaglio d'oro" means "gold medal." When Franny asks the crowd, "Why don't you do a little diving, too?" she may be asking them, "Why am I the only one searching for something valuable?" The two girls trying to bash her with the oar seem like straightforward symbols of a debased culture. Whatever the dream's meaning, Franny feels utterly alone in that water.

The conversation in the living room starts out mildly, partly because Zooey does most of the talking and talks mostly about himself. Then he complains that he's too judgmental, and Franny says she's the same way. From then onward, Zooey becomes more hostile. He seems to be scolding himself as much as Franny. At one point, he even says he "could happily lie down and die sometimes."

Franny says the two of them are bothered by the same things and for the same reasons. Then she echoes Zooey's sentiment, ending her speech with the words, "I just get so upset when I think about it I could die." Earlier, Zooey impatiently asked Mrs. Glass why Buddy doesn't just go ahead and kill himself, since he wants to be so much like Seymour. Both Franny and Zooey are alarmingly casual about suicide.

As the conversation breaks down, Zooey realizes he's not helping Franny. When he offers to call Buddy for her and Franny says she wants to talk to Seymour, Zooey is stymied. Missing Seymour is Franny and Zooey's biggest sorrow, and it seems no one has helped them through it. Their father was probably a lost cause if they looked to him for consolation. (The name "Les" is suggestive.) Buddy stayed away from home specifically because he didn't want to hear Zooey and Franny's questions about the suicide. And from the bits of conversation about him in the bathroom, it appears Mrs. Glass shuts down conversations about Seymour.

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