Literature Study GuidesFranny And ZooeyZooey Section 6 Zooey On The Phone Summary

Franny and Zooey | Study Guide

J. D. Salinger

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Franny and Zooey | Zooey, Section 6 (Zooey on the Phone) | Summary



In the hall Zooey almost collides with Mrs. Glass, whom he tells to look in on Franny. Then he goes into the bedroom Seymour and Buddy once shared. It's the first time in almost seven years he's been in that room. First he reads the back of his brothers' door, which is covered in quotes from great works. Then he sits down at Seymour's desk and reads a description Seymour once wrote about his 21st birthday, which he spent with his family. Finally he buries his face in his hands and sits motionless for half an hour.

When he gets up, moving as if he's a marionette, Zooey goes over to Buddy's desk and muffles the phone mouthpiece with a handkerchief. Then he calls his parents' number on his older brothers' private phone, pretending to be Buddy and asking to speak to Franny.

Franny nervously walks down the hall to her parents' bedroom and apprehensively picks up the phone. Zooey does a good enough imitation of Buddy that Franny is taken in. She pours out a stream of complaints about Zooey. Zooey is bitter, she says. He's antisocial. He claims he once drank ginger ale with Jesus. His cigars smell awful.

Zooey-as-Buddy explains that for Zooey, cigars are ballast. At this point Franny suddenly realizes who's really on the line. She tells Zooey that if he has something to say to her, he should say it and then leave her alone.

This time, Franny and Zooey really communicate. Zooey apologizes for "speaking up like a seer the way I have been." He preaches another sermon, but more kindly than he did in the living room. He reminds her that since she came home after her nervous collapse, she's only entitled to the "low-grade spiritual counsel" the family can provide her. He also says she's missing out on all the sacred experiences going on around the house. Since she won't even drink their mother's "consecrated chicken soup," how can saying the Jesus Prayer properly help her?

Next Zooey reveals that he has seen Franny acting in a summer stock play and that she was more than just good. "You held that goddam mess up." Yet Franny was missing an important point when she criticized the phonies in the company. It's not important what the people around her are like. What's important is that she is a true actor, and the only truly religious action she can take is to act. It's none of her business if the audience is unintelligent. "An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."

Zooey recalls a time he was seven and was heading off for an appearance on the radio quiz show. Seymour told him to shine his shoes, which infuriated Zooey. No one was going to see his shoes, so why should he bother? Seymour answered only, "Shine them for the Fat Lady." Over time, Zooey formed a mental picture of the Fat Lady, who sat on a hot porch swatting flies and listening to the radio all day. As Zooey pictured her, she had cancer.

Here Franny speaks up excitedly. She remembers Seymour telling her to be funny for the Fat Lady, whom Franny also pictured as a poor woman who had cancer and listened to the radio all day.

Zooey says it doesn't matter where an actor acts: everyone in the theater is Seymour's Fat Lady. "There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady." And the Fat Lady is a stand-in for Christ himself.

Abruptly Zooey says he can't talk anymore. Franny listens to the dial tone for a few seconds, then hangs up and climbs into the bed she's been sitting on. Before she falls asleep, "she just [lies] quiet, smiling at the ceiling."


Though he's now sweaty and worn out, Zooey has recovered some of his bearing, and he calls his mother "Fatty." The nickname telegraphs the Fat Lady discussion that will soon take place. It also reminds readers that at this point, Zooey is still resisting the advice he will shortly pass on to Franny. Mrs. Glass is literally a "fat lady." She keeps getting in Zooey's way, as if to remind him to take note of her. But instead of showing her the respect she's due, Zooey twice tells her to step aside.

In Seymour and Buddy's old bedroom, readers again get a sight of the mild anarchy that seems to prevail in the apartment. It's not that the room is messy; that would be normal. It's that they were allowed to nail, "uncompromisingly," a sheet of beaverboard—old-fashioned drywall—to their door so they could write all over it. On the other hand, they've written minutely, "without blots or erasures"—a challenging task for two adolescent males. Like medieval scribes, Seymour and Buddy have treated the holy texts with great reverence and taken near-supernatural care while penning them.

The quotes on the back of the door reveal how vastly the two brothers have read. Each text could support its own analysis, but the first one Zooey reads is what matters. It's a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, a massive collection of sacred Sanskrit verses written between 400 BCE and 200 BCE. The book's central message is about how to live in a spiritual way without renouncing the world, and the passage on the door concerns the proper attitude toward work. In other words, it's perfect for Franny and Zooey's problem. Zooey gleans enough inspiration from the texts he's read that he doesn't need to finish the rest.

When Zooey reads Seymour's entry describing his 21st birthday evening with his family, it contains not a trace of overt spirituality. It's all about a happy oddball family having a wonderful time together—a glimpse at the wonders of the real world, which is divine in its own way. As with the writing on the door, Zooey doesn't need to finish the entry. He now knows what he should say to Franny. But before he does anything else, he buries his face in an attitude of prayer and stays that way for almost half an hour. He could be praying, meditating, trying to soak up the essence of Seymour, or all three. Next Zooey moves to the phone on Buddy's desk "as though marionette strings had been attached to him and given an overzealous yank." Salinger doesn't say whether Zooey is walking this way on purpose or unconsciously, but whichever it is, Seymour seems to be "pulling the strings."

Obviously, Seymour can't call Franny. Equally obviously, Zooey can't, because she wouldn't talk to him. Buddy has enough imitable mannerisms, and Zooey is a good enough actor, that Zooey is able to impersonate him convincingly. Only when Zooey's verbal dexterity breaks through does Franny realize who's really talking to her. (It's a funny touch when Zooey-as-Buddy says, "Zooey who?" and Franny answers, "Zooey Glass.") Having cried herself out, she's now more willing to listen to whatever he has to say. She also seems more willing to share what she's actually thinking rather than describing why she disdains certain people. Having imbued himself with Seymour-ism, Zooey is able to speak humbly, without lecturing.

Franny hasn't actually said she'd like to renounce the world in favor of a religious life, but Zooey speaks as though she has. He's both right and wrong when he says she came home rather than "searching the four corners of the world for a master." Yes, Franny's coming home and collapsing means that at some level she knows her family can help her. But in this instant Zooey forgets he's been channeling a saint's essence himself. To the Glass children, Seymour is a true fount of holiness, and it could be said that Franny came home to pray at his shrine.

"You're missing out on every single goddam religious action that's going on around this house," Zooey says. He's making the point that everyday life holds sacred moments Franny chooses to disregard. Mrs. Glass's chicken soup is "consecrated" because her making and offering it is an act of love. Franny may not be in the mood for chicken soup, but in declining it, she's rejecting her mother as well as the soup—not something any religious leader would condone.

Zooey treats Franny's acting as a sacred duty and one she was born to fulfill. Part of his argument is that Franny lacks the psychological makeup to renounce the world and live a spiritual life. Detachment, or desirelessness, is "the only thing that counts in the religious life," he tells her. But when it comes to the theater, Franny is not detached; she wants very much to be an actor, and it's her karma to act. Though acting is a "worldly" profession, and one that's full of phonies, Franny must not turn her back on it. Throughout the story, Zooey consistently stresses the importance of engaging with the world rather than ignoring it. Like drinking "consecrated" chicken soup, doing the work one was meant to do is a requirement for a holy life.

Zooey's advice to Franny applies equally well to his own acting career. He too has complained about being surrounded by shallow, mediocre people, but he knows he must honor the work he does. He gives Franny advice that echoes Buddy's earlier counsel: "Act with all your might." "The only thing an actor should do, says Zooey, is to "shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's." This makes sense to Franny.

When Franny tells Zooey that Seymour also told her about the Fat Lady, Zooey comes to the sudden realization that everyone is the Fat Lady, and the Fat Lady is Christ. He speaks the words, but Franny shares the epiphany. Though Zooey calls this "a terrible secret," it brings Franny, at last, joy.

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