Metaphors of the Material World
Franny and Zooey: Metaphor Analysis
Salinger uses certain objects as metaphors of the empty postwar American life he saw, devoid of spiritual meaning. When Lane meets Franny at the train station, for instance, he spots Franny by the fur coat she is wearing. The fur coat has sexual connotations for him. He remembers kissing her in a car when she was wearing the coat and then passionately kissing the coat itself. Lane is a typical young man with a sexual urge, but it is perhaps the urge, more than Franny herself, that thrills him. He feels “suppressed excitement” because he is the “only one on the platform who really knew Franny’s coat” (7). He is proud to be seen with her; she is pretty and belongs to him, enhancing his image. For Lane, the weekend means having sex with Franny, and even after she faints, he keeps trying to salvage their liaison in bed. Franny’s whole intention is the opposite, since she is trying to focus on the Jesus prayer.
Salinger also uses the technique of catalogues of objects to render the feel of commercial and material America. Franny empties her purse at the restaurant, and we see the life of a pretty young college girl, with her make-up, billfold, laundry bill, aspirin, and oddly enough, a gold-plated swizzle stick for mixing alcoholic drinks, given to her by an old boyfriend. She keeps it for luck. A gold-plated swizzle stick tells the story of college parties, drinking, Franny’s popularity, and running around with a spoiled and wealthy crowd. The item is rather decadent, yet she keeps it in her purse along with her precious book that she tries to keep hidden, The Way of A Pilgrim. These unharmonious items in her purse indicate a clash of lifestyles and values.
When Zooey’s mother comes into the bathroom while he is in the bathtub, she opens the medicine cabinet, and the narrator spends a whole page on a catalogue of the items of “golden pharmaceuticals” including brand names such as “Anacin, Bufferin, Argyrol, Musterole, Ex-Lax, Milk of Magnesia, Sal Hepatica” and other ointments, suppositories, nose drops, depilatory cream, razors, and so forth (75). Besides indicating an ugly commercial society that markets too many specialized drugs and products, it says something about the emotional and physical health of people who cannot digest food without help, who are constipated, who have a lot of headaches, who are trying to look acceptable by removing hair, and who seem to need a lot of chemical support to get through the day.
In the same vein, there is pervasive smoking of tobacco in the stories. Though smoking was part of the 1950s culture, Salinger focuses on how many cigarettes and how they are smoked. They tell a lot about how the character is thinking or feeling. For instance, Zooey takes a drag from his cigar “as if it were a kind of respirator in an otherwise oxygenless world” (149). Mrs. Glass is a chain smoker, with cigarettes stuffed in her robe pocket, as she smokes her way through each room and through the day. The Glass family is extremely sensitive and high-strung, and in emotional crises, they are endlessly lighting up. The cigarettes and Zooey’s ulcer underscore the tensions and pressures of society, the fact that people are like round pegs trying to fit into square holes.
Metaphors of Spirituality
Other catalogues in the Glass apartment serve a different purpose. The living room is described by a list of items indicating a close family life—ping-pong table, fish tanks, bird cages, phonographs, radios, a grand piano, writing table, bookcases with children’s books, including Dostoevsky and Nancy Drew next to each other. The apartment itself is a metaphor for the family that inhabited it. Happy memories are contained in the objects, in the books, in the old Vaudeville tunes that the father plays on the piano to cheer Franny. The apartment, however, like the current lives of the family members, is in disarray as the painters are making it over and routine is disrupted. Zooey says they live among ghosts.
Zooey escapes to the little visited bedroom of Buddy and Seymour, reading the quotes on the bulletin board of favorite books. In this inner sanctum are many quotes from the spiritual classics the children thrived on. Books of literature and spirituality become a metaphor for the higher life of imagination and seeking that the children shared. Zooey claims that Franny did not get The Way of a Pilgrim from the library, but from Seymour’s desk. Franny is upset because these books containing a beautiful world that sustained her and her siblings at home are destroyed in college by academic analysis.
The telephone on Buddy’s desk that belonged to him and Seymour takes on symbolic significance when Buddy mentions that he keeps it so he can talk with “my old friend Yama, the God of Death” (57). Zooey does just that in the bedroom by pretending to be Seymour/Buddy on the phone to Franny. He calls up the dead ghosts for her to speak their wisdom.
Zooey teases his mother by speaking of the bathroom as a “chapel” (114). He means it ironically because his mother comes in to “confess” all her worries, and Zooey, like a priest behind the shower curtain, listens and tries to explain Franny’s spiritual crisis to her. The bathroom/chapel image ties in, however, to Zooey’s effort to get Franny to see that all life is sacred. He tells her she cannot succeed in the Jesus prayer unless she understands that her mother’s chicken soup, which she refuses, is “consecrated” (195). She is refusing holy communion.
Finally, the Fat Lady becomes a symbol for enlightenment. It is a Christ-like parable told by Seymour to get the children to see with humility what they were doing on the radio show. They thought of the audience as tiresome and stupid, so why should they do their best? The Fat Lady could symbolize the poor, the outcast, or the ignorant. Both Franny and Zooey pictured her as having terminal cancer. Perhaps their show brought her joy or consolation. Christ taught, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me” (Matthew 25:40). They must do their best for the Fat Lady because she is also Christ. To see the oneness and sacredness of all life is what Franny wants, and it is in front of her nose. Her mother is the Fat Lady, and her soup is consecrated.