“Franny and Zooey”
An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.
Franny and Zooey is actually two short stories that were originally published in The New Yorker magazine: Franny, in the January 25, 1955 issue, and Zooey, in the May 4, 1957 issue. Written by J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey was published as a 2-chapter book in 1961 and is both a perplexing yet satisfying read that explores the meaning of life in its spiritual context.
The story takes place in 1955 and begins with 20-year old Franny traveling by train to see her boyfriend, Lane Coutell in an unnamed northeastern college town over a weekend when a Yale game is playing (although Lane does not attend Yale). Franny – a college student and actress – is immediately overwhelmed with her self-centered and sarcastic boyfriend and the whole lack of meaningfulness in the weekend and her own life. She retreats to her family home in New York where she plants herself on the family couch and relies on two books and a prayer that she insists on repeating over and over again in hopes of enlightenment.
Enter Zooey – Franny’s 25-year old brother – who has been tasked by their mother to help his sister come to her senses. The two siblings are the youngest of the seven Glass children, the oldest of which – Seymour – committed suicide seven years before leaving a large void in the family. Both Franny and Zooey shared a strong bond with Seymour who was a teenager when they were born and thus served as a confidant and surrogate parent guiding them in the more spiritual matters of life.
J.D. Salinger was a master at presenting troubled, often sarcastic and disillusioned characters in his stories (witness the cynical and jaded Holden Caulfied from The Catcher in the Rye) which is no less the case in Franny and Zooey. The hypocrisy and the narcissism in the world disgusts both Franny and Zooey but Franny retreats into a breakdown while Zooey, a successful television actor, wears a suit of armor that deflects anything that has little or nothing to do with who he is as an artist. Mean, contradictory, and full of advice, Zooey is determined to reach Franny and show her how to live in a world where there are people who matter and beliefs worth embracing.
Just because I’m choosy about what I want – in this case enlightenment or peace, instead of money or prestige or fame or any of those things – doesn’t mean I’m not as egotistical and self-seeking as everybody else.