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Franny and Zooey

Franny and Zooey

by J.D. Salinger

Perspiration

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

You've got serious amounts of sweat in both "Franny" and "Zooey," so there's probably something going on here (other than a overactive gland gene in the Glass family). It sort of creeps up on us in "Franny" through a series of hints in the text:

  • There was a faint glisten of perspiration high on Franny's forehead. It might only have meant that the room was too warm, or that her stomach was upset, or that the Martinis were too potent; in any case, Lane didn't seem to notice it. (Franny.2.48)

  • She stood for a moment – rather as though it were a rendezvous point of some kind – in the middle of the tiled floor. Her brow was beaded with perspiration now, her mouth was slackly open, and she was still paler than she had been in the dining room. (Franny.3.1)

  • Franny made her voice stop. It sounded to her cavilling and bitchy, and she felt a wave of self-hatred that, quite literally, made her forehead begin to perspire again. (Franny.3.14)

  • And finally, because it's gotten so obvious that even Captain Oblivious Lane Coutell notices, we have:

  • The waiter, who was not a young man, seemed to look for an instant at her pallor and damp brow, then bowed and left.

    "You want to use this a second?" Lane said abruptly. He was holding out a folded, white handkerchief. His voice sounded sympathetic, kind, in spite of some perverse attempt to make it sound matter-of-fact.

    "Why? Do I need it?"

    "You're sweating. Not sweating, but I mean your forehead's perspiring quite a bit."
    (Franny.3.40-44)
The exact same thing happens in "Zooey," except this time, it's Zooey who is sweating quite unreasonably. Consider the following examples of his perspiring brow:
  • Zooey abruptly raised himself up to a sitting position. "I just took a bath, and I'm sweating like a pig," he commented. (Zooey.6.49)

  • He frowned in the direction of the school roof; then, with his fingertips, pressed some perspiration away from his forehead. (Zooey.6.57)

  • Zooey abruptly placed his hands over his now quite damp face, left them there for an instant, then removed them. (Zooey.6.127)

  • He suddenly sat up, shot forward, with an almost calisthenic-like swiftness, to look at Franny. His shirt was, in the familiar phrase, wringing wet. (Zooey.6.127)

  • He wiped his brow briefly with the palm of his hand, put the hand into his hip pocket to dry it. (Zooey.6.129)

  • "What is that? Perspiration?" she asked. Without waiting for a reply, she took Zooey by the arm and led him – almost swept him, as if he were as light as a broom – into the daylight coming out of her freshly painted bedroom. "It is perspiration." Her tone couldn't have held more wonder and censure if Zooey's pores had been exuding crude oil. "What in the world have you been doing? You just had a bath. What have you been doing?" (Zooey.7.1)
As you can see, Salinger isn't keeping this sweat business very subtle. And Mrs. Glass's question at the end here – "What have you been doing?" – is really what we should be asking of both Franny and Zooey's sweat-drenched conversations. When Franny perspires at the restaurant with Lane, it happens while she rants and rails against college, professors, students, ego, and conformity. To understate it, she's getting herself really worked up here.

Zooey does exactly the same thing. Go back and read again his conversation with Franny in the living room – this is the scene where we get all these mentions of his perspiration. Just like his sister did with Lane, Zooey works himself up – into a state of physical duress – while "holding forth," as he puts it, about college, religion, and the Jesus Prayer.

In "Characters" we talk about the idea of a spiritual journey, for Franny and also, perhaps, for Zooey. Throughout the course of this novel, both undergo spiritual trials and learn from their efforts. This whole perspiration thing is great evidence for that theory – it supports the idea that Franny and Zooey are taxing themselves.

Even though they might appear to just be talking, they're actually struggling, emotionally, spiritually, physically, with some pretty weighty issues. The fact that Salinger uses the same symbol – sweat – for both Franny and Zooey, just reinforces that both siblings are struggling through, or have at one time dealt with, similar crises. It supports the idea we discuss in "Characters" – that Zooey's struggle in "Zooey" is actually parallel to Franny's struggle in "Franny."

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