Franny and Zooey : novelsummary “Franny”
Text: Salinger, J. D., Franny and Zooey. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 1961; 1989.
Summary of “Franny”
It is a sunny but chilly morning, the Saturday of the Yale football game, and twenty young men are waiting at the train station for their girlfriends to come in for the weekend. A few are waiting on the cold platform, but the rest stand inside the heated waiting room. They speak “collegiately dogmatic” (3) statements about controversial issues, as if solving them. Lane Coutell is waiting outside. He reads once more Franny’s letter to him.
In the letter Franny says she loves him and cannot wait for the weekend. She enjoyed his letter, especially what he had to say about the poet, T. S. Eliot. For her, however, she looks down on all poets except Sappho, whom she quotes. She may do a paper on Sappho if she decides to go for honors. Fanny asks if Lane loves her and says she despises him when he is silent and “hopelessly super-male” (5). In a P. S. she says her father got his X-rays back, and the growth is not malignant.
Another student, Ray Sorenson from Lane’s Modern European Literature class, comes up to Lane and asks him if he understands the poet, Rilke. They have been assigned the “Duino Elegies.” Lane does not like Sorenson, and answers that yes, he understands Rilke.
The train arrives and Lane, eager to please Franny, decides to show her he is glad to see her. He waves at her, noticing her raccoon coat. Franny kisses him. He asks her what the book is that she carries, but she evades the question and begins talking nonstop about the other college girls on the train in a funny and satirical manner. They mostly looked like Smith girls, except for some Vassar girls and one Bennington or Sarah Lawrence girl who “looked like she’d spent the whole train ride in the john, sculpting or painting or something” (9). Lane begins to talk about the room he got her for the weekend, and Fanny begins to remember how inept he is about things like that. Feeling guilty for the negative thought, she gives his arm a “pressure of simulated affection” (10). She gushes that she has missed him and then realizes she does not mean it.
As they sit at Sickler’s restaurant downtown, a place frequented by “the intellectual fringe of students at the college” (10), they have martinis. Lane is proud to be seen with Franny, “an unimpeachably right-looking girl” (11), dressed correctly in cashmere sweater and flannel skirt. Lane begins to dominate the conversation about his brilliant term paper on Flaubert, which got an “A.” He was surprised at the grade because he attacked Flaubert, and his professor, Brughman, is a Flaubert scholar. He wants to read his paper to Fanny, and she says she would love to hear it, though it becomes obvious that she is not really interested in what he is saying. Lane goes on to explain that he used a Freudian approach to show that Flaubert’s interest in the “mot juste” (right or exact word) was neurotic. Franny asks Lane if she can have his olive.
He continues talking about his term paper, saying Brughman thinks he should publish his paper. Franny says he speaks like a “section man” (14). Lane is irritated by her sarcastic tone and asks what she means. She explains a section man is a student who takes over the class when a professor is not there and ruins the topic by being smart and negative: “they’re all so brilliant they can hardly open their mouths” (15).
Lane asks her what is wrong with her, and Franny admits she has been feeling “destructive” all week (15). The waiter asks if she wants another martini, and she agrees, as she lights a cigarette. Lane is irritated and threatened by her behavior and worries about the weekend. Franny keeps accusing herself: “I’m just way off today” (16). She feels guilty because Lane looks as if he were a stranger to her. She tries to hold Lane’s hand, but withdraws it. Lane pretends not to care and lights a cigarette.
Franny begins saying that maybe she will drop English; she should not have returned to college this year: “I’m just so sick of pedants and conceited little tearer-downers I could scream” (17). Lane says she is generalizing. He thought she liked her professor, Manlius, who is a well-known poet. Franny likes him, but she wants to meet someone she can respect. Manlius is not a real poet; he is just published.
She gets up and is pale and dizzy. He asks if she is all right. She goes to the ladies’ room. Lane is upset about the weekend, but when he sees an acquaintance staring at him, he puts on an “attractively bored” look (21) while he smokes and waits for Franny.
In the bathroom, Franny is perspiring and weak. She draws up her knees and puts her hands over her eyes and cries hysterically. She takes out the book she has been carrying and presses it to her heart, then returns to the table. Lane thinks she looks stunning, but she admits she has never felt “so fantastically rocky in my entire life” (23).
They decide to order. She is not hungry but orders a chicken sandwich and milk while Lane orders snails and frog’s legs. He is angry at her order, and says it portends a bad weekend. They are in a hurry because they have to meet Wally Campbell and go to the stadium together, he says. Franny claims not to know Wally, but Lane is impatient and says she has met him twenty times. Franny says he is not memorable because he looks and acts like everyone else. As she criticizes Wally, Franny feels “a wave of self-hatred” (24).
Lane says he is worried about her and asks her how her play is going. She feels nausea, and admits she quit the play though she got the part she wanted. She quit the English department as well. Lane is shocked and says the theatre was her passion.
She explains acting embarrassed her. There was too much ego. She hated some of the lines she had to say. Other bad actors spoiled the fun of it. Lane says she speaks as if she is the only one with any critical ability; after all, her leading man in “Playboy of the Western World” got rave reviews. Franny answers, “If you’re going to play the Playboy right, you have to be a genius” (29). Franny feels faint and says she thinks she is going crazy. Lane accuses her of being afraid of competing. Franny insists it is just the opposite. She is afraid she will compete, and be too good. She is conditioned to be mediocre like everyone else. Her teeth begin chattering.
Lane asks her about the book in her lap. She jumps defensively. It is a religious book called, The Way of a Pilgrim, written in the nineteenth century by a Russian. The Pilgrim is a seeker and wants to know what the Bible means by telling people to pray without ceasing. He walks all over Russia looking for a teacher until he meets a monk who shows him the Philokalia, a manual on how to pray in a mystical way. She goes on to tell Lane about the Pilgrim’s encounters with other people whom he teaches the mystical Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” (36). One should say it without stopping until the prayer goes on automatically in the heart. The result is that it purifies the person until one eventually experiences the presence of God.
Franny says the method makes sense because it is done in other religions and traditions, as with the Buddhists and Hindus, who repeat the name of God over and over. Lane calls this “mumbo-jumbo” (39) and says something harmful could happen. She has not looked at these religious experiences psychologically. He tries to distract her by smiling at her and saying he loves her. Franny gets up and is sick. She faints in the restaurant.
When she awakens she is on the couch in the manager’s office, and Lane asks her what is the matter with her. She did not eat any of her lunch. She worries that they will be late. Lane tells her to forget it; she is going back to her room to rest. He kisses her. She can spend the day resting, and then he can visit her in the evening by the back stairs. It’s been a month since they made love, and he is looking forward to it. Lane goes to get a taxi, and Fanny lies on the couch, moving her lips, making soundless words, repeating the Jesus prayer to herself.
Commentary on “Fanny”
“Franny” and “Zooey” were originally two short stories published separately in the New Yorker. Salinger put them together as a longer narrative because they tell a single story about Franny’s breakdown and her discussion about it with her brother, Zooey. Not much action happens in either story. Salinger is more interested in ideas, philosophy, and internal character. He is also interested in drama and had tried writing plays. “Franny” is a complete dramatic scene with contrasting characters, Lane and Franny, each representing a different point of view on life.
The scene takes place in an eastern college town during a football weekend. Franny is Lane’s date for the weekend, and they are going steady. Franny had written a letter pretending to be excited about the date, and Lane is obviously looking forward to having sex with Franny. Even after Franny faints, Lane rearranges things to suit himself. He will go to the game without her, and after she rests, he will sneak up the back stairs to her room at night. He mentions it has been a month since they made love. This point and Franny’s sickness could suggest that Franny is pregnant, and that somehow she is desperate because of that. “Zooey” corrects that impression by putting the blame on a breakdown Franny is having. She is in the middle of a spiritual crisis, something completely out of Lane’s ability to fathom. Her crisis and his inadequate response make good drama, as each pursues his or her own line of thought at the table.
The story is, among other things, a satire on college life in the 1950s. In fact, Franny and Zooey and Salinger’s earlier novel, The Catcher in the Rye, were favorites on every college campus during the 1950s and 1960s, for their rebellious attitude towards a stuffy Establishment. Lane and Franny are part of the sophisticated and privileged ivy league world, with its money and opportunity, but a world without soul or imagination. Franny is an unusual and gifted young woman, sickened by the conventional people, ideas, and classes she endures day after day. She longs to meet someone real she can respect.
Franny feels guilt because she increasingly sees her boyfriend, Lane, as one of the shallow people. He is smart, but Franny is not impressed by his pseudo-intellectualism. He, like the “section men” thinks he can be original by coming up with a negative Freudian interpretation of the great French novelist, Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). Lane is not learning anything meaningful in college. He is learning how to play intellectual games and getting rewarded as a smart boy with an “A.” What is the point, Franny thinks, of getting on the bandwagon by being a nay-sayer, a “tearer-downer” just to show off?
Yet Franny herself feels self-hatred for tearing down and ridiculing others. She has a keen and wicked sense of satire, summing up the college girl types on the train and characterizing the section men, the smart boys like Lane, whose only thought is to show how clever they are by ruining all the great authors. Lane tells Franny she has two of the greatest professors, Manlius and Esposito, who are well-known poets. Franny says they cannot write real poetry, because real poetry is something beautiful.
Her breakdown of faith in the system reflects postwar concerns about the meaning of life and art. Life was being lived as a conventional surface event with no depth to it, the way the students in the story go through their football weekend. Franny sees it as a repetitious social ritual. The students are so alike they can be categorized by clothing and manners.
Her classes are no better. The intellectual scene of the time, with its name-dropping and heavy irony, is not satisfying to her heart, nor does it represent true art or knowledge, in her view. In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s main character, Holden Caulfield, has a similar spiritual breakdown, rejecting everything at school as “phony.” The world of conventionality appears to be a robotic life with conditioned responses and opinions. Franny is looking for something more, something to feed the spirit. Cleverness cannot feed the spirit, even her own cleverness. She claims she is sick of ego; “ego” meaning that narrow and selfish point of view from which most people operate. She recognizes it in others and in herself, and she uses the Jesus prayer to escape from that selfishness. She wants a world of beauty and love but does not know how to get there.
Lane is surprised that Fanny is quitting school and especially the play she is in. It comes out in “Zooey” that Franny is a gifted actress like her brother Zooey. Why then does she reject the theater? Once again, she sees mediocrity everywhere as the norm. She is more sensitive and discriminating than the people around her, believing, for instance, that the part of the Playboy in Playboy of the Western World by Irish playwright, J. M. Synge (1871-1909) is so complex that only a genius should play it. This kind of demanding sensitivity obviously presents problems for Franny. She is upset at her own intolerance for others but cannot respect those who pretend to have talent or authority when they do not. She is struggling to stay true to herself, a goal that isolates her, when she also wants love and connection. People like Lane and his friend Wally Campbell, her professors, and the actors in the play, all lack authenticity. They do not live any truth but mouth what they have been taught.
Franny runs to books for help, and, as will be apparent in the next story, “Zooey,” she also runs to her family to find alternatives to the empty life of modern America. The conversation with Lane shows that Franny is familiar with religious classics on mysticism. Mysticism is concerned, not with religious doctrine or teaching, but with the direct experience of God or divine grace, or a state of enlightenment. Often there is a technique involved, such as meditation or the repetition of the names of God. Franny brings up mystical ideas from Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Mystical experience, though found in almost every religion, goes beyond the boundaries of belief to a direct perception of the supernatural.
The book she is attached to, The Way of a Pilgrim, teaches a technique for Christian mysticism, repetition of the Jesus prayer until one feels united with God. Franny holds on to this prayer to get her through her crisis. When she finally tries to share with Lane what she is going through, he belittles it, or reduces it to a psychological problem, because he has no framework for dealing with such matters. Franny is looking for a deeper love and meaning in her life. Lane offers her weekend sex and a certain companionship but little understanding of her deeper needs. “Franny” illustrates the spiritual quest of a young person in a modern material world, one of Salinger’s recurring themes.