Franny and Zooey
by J.D. Salinger
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We start to pick up on the importance of food about halfway through "Franny," when Lane and Franny order lunch at Sickler's. Lane orders a sophisticated French meal: salad, snails, and frogs' legs. Franny, to her date's dismay, orders a fairly ordinary chicken sandwich and glass of milk. ("This is going to be a real little doll of a weekend," Lane interjects, "a chicken sandwich, for God's sake" [F.3.9].) This is yet another demonstration of the differences between these two. Lane is concerned with appearances – being seen in the right place with the right kind of girl and eating the right kind of food – and Franny couldn't care less.
Once their dinner finally arrives, Lane focuses on his food and eats every bite. Meanwhile, Franny talks about her religious books and doesn't touch her lunch. Salinger emphasizes the contrast in passages like this one:
"All he carries with him is this knapsack filled with bread and salt. Then he meets this person called a starets – some sort of terribly advanced religious person – and the starets tells him about a book called the Thilokalia.' "Which apparently was written by a group of terribly advanced monks who sort of advocated this really incredible method of praying."
"Hold still," Lane said to a pair of frogs' legs.
"Anyway, so the pilgrim learns how to pray the way these very mystical persons say you should – I mean he keeps at it till he's perfected it and everything. Then he goes on walking all over Russia, meeting all kinds of absolutely marvelous people and telling them how to pray by this incredible method. I mean that's really the whole book."
"I hate to mention it, but I'm going to reek of garlic," Lane said. (Franny.4.9-12)
Franny's refusal to touch her own food has a touch of spiritual asceticism to it; in her quest to shun materialism, she has gone so far as to not eat at all. This asceticism carries into "Zooey," where Franny holes up in the living room couch and refuses her mother's chicken soup.
Speaking of chicken soup, it's mentioned about a dozen times in "Zooey." Franny's brother sure has some interesting things to say about his mother's cooking, namely:
"You don't even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup – which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So just tell me, just tell me, buddy. […] How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose?" (Zooey.8.61)
Using food as a symbol, Zooey explains to his sister that the spiritual life she seeks is closer to home than she imagined. Just as later, with the "Fat Lady," Zooey teaches that love and respect is owed to everyone and not just to religious gurus. Franny has been looking for God in books and asceticism, but in fact spirituality is all around – even in a cup of chicken soup. Remember Zooey's claim that his spot on the living room rug was holy, because that's where he kept his rabbits? More of the same idea. According to Zooey, holiness and spirituality can be found in the smallest of everyday actions or items. Even the dachshund outside the window, reuniting with its master, takes on a spiritual tinge in Zooey's eyes.