because it sounds like some vague literary term, or a pernicious disease

I Know This Much Is All, If You’re a Poet You Do Something Beautiful

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Here it comes, the J.D. Salinger post.

I was in the tenth grade when each student in my Honours English class was handed an identical copy of The Catcher in The Rye. It was white, with a little rainbow type thing in the corner and the title and author in bold black typeface.

My copy had been scrawled all over and I asked my teacher if I could swap for one without the notes in the margins. When I put my hand up and asked my teacher if I could have a new copy, he asked me if I was sure, he considered the margin notes of others to be “like gold” and thought it was unusual that I would reject a copy that had the answers and allegories and symbols all highlighted and spelled out for me in some other teenager’s painstakingly neat handwriting. My answer to him, as I handed the copy back, was that I didn’t want to be influenced by what anyone else thought before I formed my own opinions. He acquiesced and for the remainder of the semester, would flip through the copies of various other materials before he handed them to me, to ensure that my copy was scrawl free. I appreciated this in him, even if he graded me harshly which upon reflection I think may have been an attempt to encourage my grudging scholastic excellence.

To this day I am more successful if spite is a motivation factor for me.

But this post here is not about The Catcher in The Rye, I think I might be able to feel the collective relief that I am NOT writing about that particular novel, although I cannot guarantee that at some point there may not be a picture of me posted somewhere in this blog wearing roller skates and pretending to be Phoebe Caulfield. Instead I wanted to write about Franny and Zooey.

So Franny and Zooey was originally published as a short story and a novella, it’s two parts separate until 1961 when someone came up with the brilliant idea of sticking them together and making them a novel in two parts. It follows a long weekend in the lives of the two youngest Glass children. I loved this story from the first time I read it, sometimes there are just characters that get under your skin, and you immediately see the beauty in them, and I was in love with the Glass family.

The first part is Franny, it starts with Franny’s beau Lane waiting for her on the train platform, he is reading a letter that she mailed to him again, although he has read this letter many times,  he acts as though he barely remembers it. He clearly feels very strongly about Franny, he has romantic notions about her raccoon shearling coat, thinks about kissing the collar of it, and how only he would recognize that coat on that particular train platform. However instead of telling any of this to Franny, who no doubt would love to hear such things, because at the end of the day we all want to be that special to someone, he starts prattling on about football games and frog’s legs.

Franny seems off, she tells Lane about a book that she’s been reading, called The Way of The Pilgrim, which is a Russian story about a pilgrim that gives up everything to wander the earth to learn to pray without ceasing, Franny is very much influenced by this book and has herself started to live more ascetically, leaving her college program and trying to be less pretentious and by all appearances seems to have stopped eating in her own attempt to pray without ceasing. After she collapses her part closes with her lips moving without sound, seemingly repeating the prayer found in The Way of The Pilgrim. (Incidentally I have a copy of this very book, and I intend to write about at some point.)

The second part of the story starts with Franny’s older brother Zooey, smoking in the tub and reading a letter from their older brother Buddy. He is interrupted by their mother Bessie, who comes in to tell him that Franny has collapsed in the restaurant with her boyfriend and is home, lying on the couch, refusing to eat and crying, all while holding on to the family cat and refusing to go back to school.

Zooey eventually tells his mother about the book, which she happened to find her brother’s bedroom and how both their older brothers Buddy and Seymour (who kills himself in another Salinger story, A Nice Day For Bananafish) and Zooey himself went through a phase of religious preoccupation. Zooey and Franny eventually speak and he encourages her to find the spiritual in everyday things, instead of trying to live like the Pilgrim, he uses their mother’s chicken soup as an example.

Franny has another breakdown as she and Zooey talk, and he calls her from another room in the house, pretending to be their brother Buddy, Franny eventually figures out that it is really Zooey and the two reconcile and he tells her something that allows her to rest, resolved in her spiritual crisis.

While on the surface, Franny and Zooey seems to be a book about dissatisfaction and a search for religious purity, under the surface it is to me, a much subtler book about the nature of love. Salinger himself cryptically called the second part “Zooey” a love story. The real root of the story is that everybody, regardless of class or education, or how petty and pretentious they are, deserve love. Franny and Zooey is a story about family love, and how that can be deeper and more true than any other sort of love there might be, while family may be the source of many problems, they are often, also the solution.


Written by Lindsey

July 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

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