Study Guide

Franny and Zooey Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

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.


Franny and Zooey, for all their cynicism, both know how to appreciate beauty and artistry in the world around them. Franny's admiration for great literature – her reaction to the Ancient Greek poet Sappho, for instance – reveals a genuine humility on her part, one we might miss in the midst of all her judgment and complaining. We start to see that what really bothers her about the "section men," the graduate students who can wax purple about literature in front of undergraduates, isn't just their arrogance, but their lack of appreciation for beautiful work. She complains that they "knock" and "ruin" the great writers for their students (Franny.2.23). This is in part Franny's complaint – that the real beauty of literary genius can be missed or destroyed.

Then there's her issue with so-called "poets":

"I know this much, is all," Franny said. "If you're a poet, you do something beautiful. I mean you're supposed to leave something beautiful after you get off the page and everything. The ones you're talking about don't leave a single, solitary thing beautiful." (Franny.2.51)

For Franny, art is about beauty, not about showing off or being a brainiac. To create beauty, then, an artist or writer has to step away from his own ego, and focus on the work instead of himself. In Franny's opinion, guys like Lane are just too narcissistic to do this, and as a result their work isn't genuinely beautifully – in this particular case, she argues, it isn't even real poetry.

The idea of artistic beauty comes up again in Buddy's letter to his brother Zooey. He worries that Zooey's expectations of the theatre are unreasonably high – that he expects too much artistic beauty from a medium that can not provide it. He writes:

"Have you ever seen a really beautiful production of, say, The Cherry Orchard? Don't say you have. Nobody has. You may have seen "inspired" productions, "competent" productions, but never anything beautiful. Never one where Chekhov's talent is matched, nuance for nuance, idiosyncrasy for idiosyncrasy, by every soul onstage. You worry hell out of me, Zooey. […] I know how much you demand from a thing, you little bastard. And I've had the hellish experience of sitting next to you at the theatre. I can so clearly see you demanding something from the performing arts that just isn't residual there. For heaven's sake, be careful." (Zooey.3.5)

Since Franny maintains the same high expectations (for the theatre, for poetry, for college classes), we can apply Buddy's warning to her character as well as to Zooey's. Both the young Glass siblings suffer from their high demands of art and literature – it is one tendency that contributes to their general dislike of people and judgmental attitude towards others.

Yet it's also a tendency that keeps them from sliding too far into pessimism. Zooey's ability to recognize beauty anchors him, as when he looks outside the window while speaking with Franny and sees a dachshund reuniting with its master after a brief separation:

The joy of reunion, for both, was immense. The dachshund gave a little yelp, then cringed forward, shimmying with ecstasy, till his mistress, shouting something at him, stepped hurriedly over the wire guard surrounding the tree and picked him up. She said a number of words of praise to him, in the private argot of the game, then put him down and picked up his leash, and damn it," [Zooey] said, "there are nice things in the world – and I mean nice things. We're all such morons to get so sidetracked." (Zooey.6.83)

Zooey's reaction to this scene is a fundamental part of the advice he will later give Franny over the phone; we'll talk about that in "What's Up With the Ending?" For now, if you're interested in exploring this idea further, spend some time with these passages and let us know what you think:

  • "What? Who doesn't? Exactly what don't I think isn't beautiful?" A minor groundswell sounded behind the shower curtain, as though a rather delinquent porpoise were suddenly at play. "Listen, I don't care what you say about my race, creed, or religion, Fatty, but don't tell me I'm not sensitive to beauty." (Zooey.4.47)

  • Franny took in her breath slightly but continued to hold the phone to her ear. A dial tone, of course, followed the formal break in the connection. She appeared to find it extraordinarily beautiful to listen to, rather as if it were the best possible substitute for the primordial silence itself. (Zooey.8.80).

  • "[Buddy] said that a man should be able to lie at the bottom of a hill with his throat cut, slowly bleeding to death, and if a pretty girl or an old woman should pass by with a beautiful jug balanced perfectly on the top of her head, he should be able to raise himself up on one arm and see the jug safely over the top of the hill." (Zooey.6.87)

  • "He had a theory, Walt, that the religious life, and all the agony that goes with it, is just something God sicks on people who have the gall to accuse Him of having created an ugly world." (Zooey.6.87)


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 b****y, 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."
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."

The Painters

Throughout "Zooey," Bessie worries about getting Franny out of the living room so the painters can get in there to do the walls. The entire apartment is being repainted – in other words, change is in the air in the Glass house. Remember that Franny undergoes a significant transformation at the end of the novel; it's fitting, then, that the physical setting is transformed along with her.

Early in the story, we worry that Franny won't be able to resolve her crisis, that she, like the walls of her apartment, just isn't prepared. ("The Glasses' living room was about as unready to have its walls repainted as a room can be" (Zooey.6.1).) But by the end of the text, we find that both Franny and the walls have been "repainted," in one way or another:

Although there was nothing markedly peculiar about her gait as she moved through the hall […] she was nonetheless very peculiarly transformed as she moved. She appeared, vividly, to grow younger with each step. Possibly long halls, […] plus the smell of fresh paint, plus newspapers underfoot – possibly the sum of all these things was equal, for her, to a new doll carriage. In any case, by the time she reached her parents' bedroom door her handsome tailored tie-silk dressing gown – the emblem, perhaps, of all that is dormitorially chic and fatale – looked as if it had been changed into a small child's woolen bathrobe. (Zooey.8.6)

The "Fat Lady" Story

The "Fat Lady" is a story Seymour told both Franny and Zooey when they were younger. Zooey brings it up over the phone to Franny at the very end of the novel. When Zooey was a child celebrity on "It's a Wise Child," he refused to shine his shoes since he thought the people running the show didn't deserve any respect. Seymour told him to shine his shoes for the Fat Lady, and for some reason, says Zooey, it made sense. Franny chimes in that Seymour told her the same thing – to be funny for the Fat Lady – and that it made sense to her, too.

Fortunately, Zooey interprets this cryptic story for us. Take a look:

"I'll tell you a terrible secret – Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. […] Don't you know that goddam secret yet? And don't you know – listen to me, now – don't you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy." (Zooey.8.77)

This is very similar to Zooey's "chicken soup for the soul" lesson: spirituality is everywhere, even in the people Franny might find pretentious. Zooey's earlier claim that Franny shouldn't make things personal is reinforced here. According to Zooey, she shouldn't hate professor Tuppet, because Christ lives in Professor Tupper just as he lives in everyone. It's fitting that this lesson came from Seymour – it's almost like Franny's oldest and wisest brother is speaking to her through Zooey.