Study Guide

Franny and Zooey Themes

  • Family

    The title characters in Franny and Zooey are a brother and sister who, as the result of their shared upbringing and education, are dealing with the same problems in rather similar ways. Family is somewhat isolating in the sense that both Franny and Zooey Glass can only relate to their siblings, not to anyone outside the Glass family. While family is the source of many problems (Zooey blames his older brothers for his anti-social nature), it is also the solution (Franny can only get help through her spiritual crisis by coming home to speak with her brothers).

    Questions About Family

    1. While narrating "Zooey," Buddy informs us that all the background info he provides on the Glass family and their time on the Wise Child radio show is "to some degree relevant" (Zooey.2.3) How is it relevant?
    2. How has Seymour's suicide effected the various members of the Glass family? How is his presence still felt in the household?
    3. Zooey tells Bessie that their house is haunted by ghosts: Seymour, who is dead, and Buddy, who is half-dead. How is Buddy half dead, and in what way does he 'haunt' the Glass house?
    4. Zooey reads a letter from Buddy that is four years old. Why incorporate such a dated letter into the text here?
    5. How do these events that happened four years ago tell us what we need to know about the Glass family?

    Chew on This

    Seymour's death has affected Bessie more than any of her children.

    Seymour's death has affected Zooey more than Buddy or Franny.

  • Spirituality

    Salinger studied Zen Buddhism extensively, and his interest in Eastern religion, philosophy, and spirituality is reflected in Franny and Zooey. What's so interesting is that Salinger takes concepts that are relatively foreign to his fictional time and place and explores them in this context anyway – Zen meets Christianity meets a college coed. The characters in Franny and Zooey admittedly suffer from their spirituality; their heightened awareness to spiritual concerns prevents them from living a "normal" American life (of materialism and commercialism, Salinger seems to comment). Yet this suffering is necessary to lead to the wisdom or even enlightenment found at the end of the novel.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. Franny tells Lane that she likes the use of the word "mercy" in the Jesus Prayer because mercy means so many things, not just mercy. What does she mean? What other meanings might the word "mercy" carry with it?
    2. Why does Zooey recoil when his mother tries to admire his back?
    3. Zooey tells his mother that this business with Franny is "strictly non-sectarian." Is he correct?
    4. What makes him think so?
    5. Zooey questions Franny's motives for the Jesus Prayer, claiming she's just trying to amass spiritual wealth the same way all the college students she despises try to amass knowledge. Franny then admits she's worried about this possibility. Is this her real motive for the Jesus Prayer, and if not, what is?

    Chew on This

    All the Glass children are trying to fight against materialism, and they all suffer for their efforts.

    Franny's crisis is practical, not spiritual.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Franny and Zooey is the story of, among other things, a brother and sister largely dissatisfied with the world around them. Franny's dissatisfaction is focused around her world – college – while Zooey's is centered around his domain – acting. While their frustrations take different targets, both the siblings' cynicism and judgment of the world around them stems from their education. Well-read in philosophy and religion, the Glass children find the world around them to be petty, materialistic, and small. They cannot be satisfied with the world in which they live because they hold themselves and others to impossibly higher standards of intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What's a bigger problem for Franny: her anger at people like her professor, or her guilt for being so judgmental?
    2. Franny tells her brother, "We're not bothered by exactly the same things, but by the same kind of things, I think, and for the same reasons" (Zooey.6.70). What issues do Franny and her brother share? Do the same things bother both of them? How do their feelings of judgment and anger differ?
    3. Zooey points out to Franny that she chose to come home to have her breakdown, and that people with real breakdowns don't get to choose where they have them. Yet he claims that he doesn't think Franny is "faking it," so to speak. What does he mean, then, with all his insinuations about Franny's breakdown?

    Chew on This

    Franny and Zooey are unlikable characters.

    Franny and Zooey are endearing, lovable characters.

  • Education

    Title character Franny Glass has more than a few complaints about the college system. A student herself, Franny finds her professors to be egotistical, grad students to be condescending narcissists, and most of her peers conformist bores (including her boyfriend). The problem with college, she feels, is that it's about trying to amass knowledge for the sake of knowledge – which in her mind is no more noble than trying to amass wealth or fame. Knowledge ought to lead to wisdom – yet there's no discussion or even mention of wisdom on a college campus. This renders the entire system shallow and fruitless.

    Questions About Education

    1. Is it fair for Zooey to blame so many of his problems (and Franny's problems) on the education Seymour and Buddy gave them when they were kids? How many of these issues really are the result of such an education?
    2. Zooey complains about the cons, but what were the pros, for Franny and Zooey, of the education given by their older brothers?
    3. What does Franny hate so much about the system of higher education? Are her complaints reasonable?
    4. When talking to his mother, Zooey says: "Phooey […] on all white-shoe college boys who edit their campus literary magazines. Give me an honest con man any day" (Zooey.5.31). What does he mean by "honest"? How is it that a con man can be honest while a college boy is not?
    5. Franny's biggest complaint about college is that they amass all this knowledge without using it to attain wisdom. What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? How is wisdom gained? Is wisdom the same thing, or different from, the "no-knowledge" to which Buddy refers in his letter to Zooey?

    Chew on This

    Franny gains the wisdom at home that she cannot find in college.

  • Love

    Love is a subtle theme in Franny and Zooey; there is no discussion of it explicitly aside from the narrator's cryptic claim that his story "Zooey" is in fact a love story rather than a mystical story. The theme does come cross implicitly in Zooey and Franny's discussion of spirituality. The text's implicit conclusion seems to be that every person, no matter how materialistic or petty or shallow they are, deserves love. This is one interpretation of the way in which "Zooey" is a love story. It is by no means the only one.

    Questions About Love

    1. How well does Lane really know Franny?
    2. In his introduction to "Zooey," Buddy writes that what follows is a love story, not a mystical story. What does he mean? How is this a love story?
    3. What does the "Fat Lady" mean to Zooey? To Franny? What does she have to do with Christ's love?
    4. Zooey tells Franny that making things personal, that hating people, is what gave him his ulcer. But has he learned from this lesson at all? Is he still making things personal himself?

    Chew on This

    Franny and Zooey argues that family love is the strongest kind of love there is.

    Though Buddy introduces his story as a love story, rather than a mystical story, it is in fact just the opposite. His introduction is intentionally misleading.

  • Society and Class

    The Glass family members featured in Franny and Zooey are, for the most part, antisocial. Even the text's authorial tone takes on the typical Glass family cynicism. The novel argues that college culture is snobby, materialistic, and pedantic. The main characters feel as though most people are not worth knowing. Still, the novel's ending seems to redeem its judgmental tone; Franny and Zooey Glass conclude that everyone deserves love and respect even if they appear egotistical and shallow.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. It's clear that Lane is with Franny because she's the right kind of girl (pretty, well-dressed, etc.). But why is Franny dating Lane? What does she see in him?
    2. What does Zooey think of psychotherapy? Why is he so convinced that it's a bad idea for Franny? Why was it such a bad idea for Seymour?
    3. What reasons does Franny cite for dropping out of her play, and does it seem like she's being honest with herself (and Lane) on this issue?
    4. Why does Zooey dislike so many of the people he meets?

    Chew on This

    It is Franny and Zooey's own faults that they cannot acclimate to a normal social environment.

    It is Buddy and Seymour's fault that Franny and Zooey can not acclimate to a normal social environment.

  • Visions of America

    Franny and Zooey takes a look at typical American culture in the 1950s through the eyes of those who strongly oppose it. From their vantage point of self-imposed social isolation, siblings Franny and Zooey Glass criticize the egotism, materialism, and shallowness of American culture. Popularized ideas such as Freud's theories of psychotherapy are criticized. The typical American college coed is practically villainized. Commercialism is mocked, and even American education is ridiculed. The novel also takes a look at celebrity – more specifically, child celebrities – and calls into question its possibly detrimental effects.

    Questions About Visions of America

    1. One of the things Franny dislikes about the people she meets in college in their pretension or phony cleverness. Buddy says in his letter to Zooey that Seymour called cleverness Buddy's permanent affliction, his wooden leg. Is this cleverness of Buddy's apparent in his narrative technique? Is it, in fact, a wooden leg for him? Does it make him more like the typical American college people whom Franny despises?
    2. What sort of portrait do the Glass family children paint of child celebrities? How did their participation on "It's a Wise Child" affect them and shape who they are as adults?
    3. In light of Franny's discussion of wisdom and knowledge, what do you make of the name of the commercial radio show "It's a WISE child"?

    Chew on This

    Franny and Zooey negatively portrays American culture.

    Franny and Zooey at first seems to condemn American culture, but in its conclusion portrays it positively.

  • Exploration

    Franny and Zooey is the story of spiritual and personal exploration during the ever-volatile twenty-something years. Undergrad Franny Glass struggles with academic pretension, religion, her boyfriend, her concerned parents, and her tough-love brother. 25-year-old Zooey Glass addresses his own issues in work and family relationships. Through conversation and argument, the two siblings explore their shared concerns and take careful stock of their character. Both are fundamentally changed in the course of the novel as a result of this exploration.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. What does Franny learn in "Franny"? In "Zooey"? And how does she learn in each of these stories?
    2. What physical changes does Franny undergo in these two stories, and what sort of emotional or spiritual changes might these changes reflect?
    3. While explaining the religious books to his mother, Zooey tells her that a person is supposed to first practice the prayer under the supervision of a guru. Who, if anyone, acts as Franny's guru in this story? Zooey? Buddy? Seymour?
    4. What does Franny mean when she says that she wants to talk to Seymour? Why does she want to talk to him instead of Buddy? She obviously knows that he's dead, so why ask to talk to him?

    Chew on This

    Franny and Zooey is the story of Franny's spiritual enlightenment.

    Though Franny's journey is in the forefront of this novel, Zooey, too, makes a spiritual journey.