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
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?
Why does Zooey recoil when his mother tries to admire his back?
Zooey tells his mother that this business with Franny is "strictly non-sectarian." Is he correct?
What makes him think so?
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.