Literature Study GuidesFranny And ZooeyZooey Section 5 The Religious Section Summary

Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Zooey, Section 5 (The "Religious" Section) | Summary



When Zooey stops talking and looks out the window, he sees an anguished little dog trying to find his owner. He's lost the being he loves more than anything, and he can't find her on his own. When the dog catches the little girl's scent, they're both ecstatic at being reunited. Zooey is moved and cheered by the sight. "There are nice things in the world," he tells Franny, "and I mean nice things. We're all such morons to get sidetracked." He recalls an anecdote Buddy told him years earlier, about an old man lying bleeding to death at the bottom of a hill. If a woman happens to pass by with a beautiful jug balanced on her head, the old man should be able to raise up on one arm "and see the jug safely over the top of the hill." Sourly, Zooey adds, "I'd like to see him do it, the bastard."

Zooey, who is beginning to sweat profusely, sternly informs Franny that he wants to tell her something, and he doesn't want her crying while he's talking. He says he has no problem with the fact that she keeps saying the Jesus Prayer, but he doesn't like the way she's going about it. All this hysteria is unfair to Mr. and Mrs. Glass. He hates even more the "blanket attack" she's making on her college. "You get a real little homicidal glint in your eye when you talk about [Professor] Tupper." Worst of all, Franny has never understood what Jesus really stood for. How can she keep repeating the Jesus Prayer when her thinking is so misguided? She keeps trying to turn Jesus from a radical into a sweet, likeable "St. Francis of Assisi type." The real Jesus realized there is no separation from God. He knew "that we're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside," and that we're too stupid to look for it.

Zooey suddenly breaks off, realizing for the first time how hard his sister is crying. He apologizes and leaves the living room.


Buddy's parable about the man dying at the bottom of the hill is a direct reference to the scene with the little girl and her puppy. In a sense, that scene has just been reenacted in front of Zooey. He is the man at the bottom of the hill "slowly bleeding to death." The "beautiful jug balanced perfectly on the top of her head" is the little girl's red tam. On top of its message, the scene is charming. Even though Seymour isn't coming back, love and beauty still exist in the world. Unlike the old man in the parable, however, Zooey is unable to watch the red tam move out of sight: the cigar in his hand keeps him from opening the window soon enough to see the girl and puppy walking away. As with most of the smoking references throughout the book, this detail is significant. Zooey's attachment to worldly pleasures prevents him from observing what's holy.

It seems typical of family life—and typical of J. D. Salinger's humorous realism—that part of this important remark is interrupted by Franny's blowing her nose. Her action is a reminder that although humans are constantly distracted from the holiness in the universe, there is no way to escape the real world and the need to blow one's nose. Part of coming to terms with the challenges of life lies in realizing that ordinary, nonbeautiful events are also part of existence.

Still, the incident has suddenly clarified things for Zooey. He now speaks with more conviction and directness, as well as a degree of parental certainty. This time he knows he's right. Everything he tells Franny is inarguable, and some of it repeats what Lane said in the restaurant. Perhaps Franny starts crying out of rage, not desolation. Certainly she resists everything Zooey is saying, and not with reasoned rebuttals. "Are you finished?" she asks when he's barely begun. "I suppose you can," she "shrills" when he says she can't understand Jesus. Next she interrupts by sobbing out, "Just stop it, Zooey! Just stop it!" And then: "Will you shut up, please?"

Zooey's paean to Jesus is very interesting. It's not pious at all. Jesus is a real person to Zooey, and a teacher. Jesus, says Zooey, is the only person in the Bible who "really knew which end was up ... Oh, my God, what a mind!" Another sermonizer might suggest that Franny is disappointing Jesus, but Zooey does not view Christ as a divinity. He's learned from a huge variety of holy men and could have used any one of them as an example; he references Jesus because Franny is obsessing over a Christian book. Zooey's issue is that she wants to follow Christ and yet refuses to accept what he's like: "When you don't see Jesus for exactly what he was, you miss the whole point of the Jesus Prayer." The real Jesus is not a kindly old man with a winning personality. The man God chose to deliver his message was "the least sentimental, the most unimitative master he could possibly have picked." Franny tries to humanize Christ, to soften his image and make it comforting, rather than recognize him as the brilliant revolutionary he was.

Franny's posture on the couch—"wretched, prostrate, face-down"—suggests she's been paying attention. She has no resistance to offer and has assumed the position of a supplicant appealing for mercy. Zooey thinks he's failed her when in fact he's gotten through to her, but it's never pleasant to watch a loved one in abject misery. Also, he's been enjoying his own words and has become energized by his own message while all the time Franny was sobbing. Recall that in the bathroom, he merely muttered an apology to his mother without looking at her. This time, he says the words clearly, and adds a "very" when he repeats them. He looks at Franny "fixedly" for 15 to 20 seconds, which is actually a long time to stare at someone. He knows he's right, but now he also realizes Franny's unhappiness is not the "tenth-rate nervous breakdown" he called it.

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