Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Ill-Formatted Version of my Reader's Guide Presentation


The New Yorker, May 4, 1957 pages 32-42, 44, 47-48, 50, 52,54,57-59, 62, 64, 67-68, 70, 73-74, 76-78, 80-82, 87-90, 92-96, 99-102, 105-106, 108-112, 115-122, 125-139 (original appearance)

Franny and Zooey

“Zooey” continues the story of Franny’s “spiritual awakening” on Monday, two days after Franny’s trip to Princeton. The novella also gives the reader additional information about the unusual upbringing of the Glass children, whose radio appearances as child geniuses, has created a unique bond among them. Salinger indicates even more in “Zooey” than in other Glass family stories that the Glass siblings have a unique understanding of one another based on this shared experience.

The narrative opens with Zooey, smoking and soaking in a hot bathtub, reading a four-year old letter from his brother, Buddy. The letter encourages Zooey to continue pursuing his acting career. Zooey’s mother, Bessie, enters the bathroom, and the two have a long discussion, wherein Bessie expresses her worries about Franny, whose existential anxiety seen in “Franny” has progressed to a state of emotional collapse. During the conversation, Zooey vacillates between a sort of tit-for-tat banter with his mother and a downright rude dismissal of her and repeatedly asks that she leave. Bessie accepts Zooey’s behavior, and quips that he’s becoming more and more like his brother Buddy.

After Bessie leaves, Zooey gets dressed and moves into the living room, where he finds Franny on the sofa with her cat Bloomberg, and begins speaking with her. After upsetting Franny by questioning her motives for reciting the “Jesus Prayer,” Zooey goes into Seymour and Buddy’s former bedroom and reads the back of their door, which is covered in philosophical and literary quotations. After contemplation, Zooey telephones Franny, pretending to be their brother Buddy. Franny eventually acknowledges the ruse, but she and Zooey continue to talk. Knowing that Franny reveres their oldest brother, Seymour – the spiritual leader of the family, who committed suicide years earlier – Zooey shares with her some words of wisdom that Seymour once gave him. At the end of the call, as the fundamental “secret” of Seymour’s advice is revealed, Franny seems, in a moment reminiscent of a mystical satori, to find profound existential illumination in what Zooey has told her.

Book Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
September 14, 1961
Book Review: Franny and Zooey
By Charles Poore

The New York Times Book Review
September 17, 1961
Anxious Days For The Glass Family
By John Updike

The Village Voice
March 8, 1962
by Eliot Fremont-Smith

The New York Review of Books
June 21, 2001
Justice to J.D. Salinger
By Janet Malcolm

Critical Appraisal

J.D. Salinger (Revised Edition)
Warren French

French notes that “Franny” is incomplete without “Zooey,” but points out that the former did more for Salinger’s reputation on college campuses than did Catcher . He says, “The story did more to establish Salinger’s reputation … because the “section man” mentality abounds, and many students, and even professors – egotistically identifying with Franny – reveled to see it at last get its comeuppance.” (142) Still, when considered together, he finds “Franny” to become “simply a prologue” to “Zooey.” Of “Zooey” itself, French writes that “Zooey,” “appears to have been written to make people see that what matters is not the negative burlesque of the inflated ego, but the positive conquest of it.” (142-143)

J.D. Salinger Revisited
Warren French

French is quite hard on Salinger, and his characters, stating, “[t]o whatever subgenre “Zooey” might be assigned, it is terribly hard to take when the market for cinema-verité soul searching has been overexploited. Can anyone pick up this morality play today and plow through it with enthusiasm generated by the title character’s harangues?” (96) He also chides Salinger for not being brave enough to demonstrate the same kind of integrity with respect to his fiction that Woody Allen carefully maintains with his films. French also writes, “[t]wenty five years ago… I wrote that the longer I contemplate “Franny and Zooey,” the more certain I feel that the public has been right in its enthusiastic reception of the book’s general “message” about the advisability of improving one’s self rather than criticizing others and that the reviewers have been right in their reservations about the craftsmanship of the presentation.” (97) He rehashes many of Alsen’s theories about the novella and his only truly interesting contribution actually concerns the relation of William Wyler’s films to “Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters,” which he briefly discusses in relation to Updike’s review.

“The Aesthetic Epiphanies of J.D. Salinger: Bright-hued Circles, Spheres and Patches, “Elemental” Joy and Pain”
Martin Bidney
Northern Illinois University

Noting that scholars such as Alsen have looked for influences in Hinduism, Taoism, Zen, and Christianity, which may distract from what is distinctive about Salinger’s own vision, Bidney sets out to find aesthetic patterns, which indicate, what he calls Salinger’s “epiphanic pattern.” Bidney suggests that these moments of epiphany are largely nonsectarian, (citing the text) noting that Zooey says this at one point. His guiding assumption is that “epiphanies produced by any given writer will manifest a pattern unique to that writer.” Bidney further defines what he means by epiphany to include a moment in a literary work that affects the reader and is “intense,” “expansive in meaning,” and “mysterious.” Using the work of French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, he identifies literary epiphanies as consisting of three basic literary components, “elements” (in the ancient sense, ie. earth, water, fire, etc.), “patterns of motion,” and “shapes.” Though he fails to fully explain Bachelard’s theories, he provides a convincing argument about the structure of epiphanies in Salinger’s work. He says that Salinger uses the elements of earth, water, and air, but that fire is usually absent. He also notes that Salinger’s preferred motion motif varies, but very often includes the “frustrating disappearance of an object that the observer tries in vain to follow with his or her eyes; or else the sudden, happy reappearance of an object that the observer thought was lost,” this he likens to Freud’s notion of fort-da. Bidney also notes that these epiphanies are generally painterly or poetic and that Salinger’s preferred shape is the circle. Most importantly, Bidney derives psychological implications from these epiphanies, including “the absence of actual fire” (which he suggests marks a lack of adult passions), “the predominance of children” (which he links with nostalgia), and the association of the seer’s death with a disappearing woman (perhaps alluding to deep desire for the Mother figure). Zooey’s view of the little girl with her dog walking around the maple tree and his recollection of Buddy’s suggestion about a dying man helping a woman over a hill are among the most important epiphanic moments that Bidney examines.

“Memoirs of a Bathroom Stall: The Women’s Lavatory as Crying Room, Confessional, & Sanctuary”
Melissa Ames
Wayne State University

The article deals more directly with “Franny”, but I couldn’t resist including it because it is one of the few articles to address the issue of gender performativity in Salinger. Basing her theories on Judith Butler’s essay about the public restroom as crying room, Ames says that “the women’s restroom is actually an ideal site for the developing of a feminist politics and the housing of oppositional art.” (64) She further suggests that, “Salinger’s text simply records one of the normative uses of public restrooms – a place to rid oneself of excess emotion, a place to pull oneself together, a public place (only somewhat outsides of the public eye) to make sure that one is capable of playing out the feminine role (without unneeded emotional outbursts) outside of the ladies room in the masculine sphere.” (66)

“Updike and Salinger: A Literary Incident”
Donald J. Griener
Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction

Griener is concerned with the Updike review, which he suggests was spurred by Updike’s emergence and Salinger’s retreat. He notes that Salinger was aware of the review and was saddened by it, not least of all because his editor and friend William Shawn was also Updike’s editor. Griener places this literary “incident” within its proper historical context, noting the emergence of Cold War era politics, and the decline of the Modernist movement (with many of its most famous writers either dead or no longer publishing anything of significance). It is within this historical context that Griener discusses the “meat” of Updike’s review, which he maintains shrewdly combined “concern, praise, and regret.”



1. Why does Buddy keep a telephone in Seymour’s name (beyond the obvious explanation he gives)? (Page 57)
a. Obviously much of what is going here is referred to by Buddy himself as a refusal to acknowledge Seymour’s death. Seeing his name in print (even if in just the phonebook) is a reaffirmation that he is never truly lost. But this takes on additional symbolic meaning to me in two ways. First, Buddy states in “Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters” that Seymour was a poet. Since we don’t see evidence of Seymour fulfilling this role in life, the printed name, seems to me at least, to be Buddy’s way of fulfilling this role in Seymour’s absence, but since his own talents in this area are less substantial the printed recognition of Seymour in the telephone directory acts as a stand-in for a non-published Seymour. Secondly, it seems to me that it is not a locker, or a membership or even a safe-deposit box, but a telephone. On some level this has to be a reminder of the fact that the family can let go of Seymour physically but never wants to lose the ability to communicate with him.

2. Why do Waker and Buddy seem to believe that (only) Zooey has forgiven Seymour for his suicide? (Page 68)
a. I have no idea about this. If I were to take a stab at it, from a very rational, non-literary point of view, I’d suggest it is because he is the youngest and seemingly least entwined with Seymour. Besides good actors seldom make good poets (the reverse is also often true).

3. What are we to make of Salinger’s description of Bessie as (among other things) “a refreshing eyesore”? (Page 74)
a. I see this as a commentary on New York style which is often associated with the transitory and the superficial. Because there is so much of it, anything different, even that which is not aesthetically pleasing, becomes refreshing.

4. What do you make of the dynamics between Zooey and Bessie? Why is he so rude to her at times?
a. Clearly, Bessie stopped being a mother figure to her children long ago. Though she still has the mothering role of worrying about them and their lives. Their early success and independence have supplanted her ability to occupy the role with any real authority.

5. Why doesn’t Buddy kill himself?
a. Buddy is the Salinger that Salinger can’t kill. In killing Seymour (born on the same day as Salinger himself) Salinger has killed an idealized version of himself. But he is unable to kill, perhaps unable to contain Buddy, the logorrheic, wannabe whose hatred of academics stems from his own failures (or at least lesser ability). As Salinger strives for Zen-like perfection he realizes the need to cast off the idealized vision, but never makes it to the next step of killing off or at least changing Buddy.

6. Why doesn’t Zooey want to marry? What do you make of the reason he gives Bessie about preferring the window seat of trains? (Page 105)
a. Psychologically, I am sure there is some Freudian Oedipal thing going on here as this scene concentrates so much on the Bessie and Zooey relationship. Beyond that, I’d say it says a good deal about the role of women at the time.