Franny and Zooey: Summary of Narrator’s Introduction
Summary of Narrator’s Introduction
The narration switches from third person limited in “Franny” to a first-person introduction to “Zooey.” The narrator introduces himself as Buddy Glass, the older brother of Franny and Zooey. He is going to put both stories in the context of the Glass family history, which will illuminate Franny’s problem as well as provide the solution.
Buddy Glass is a writer and therefore implies he is the author of both short stories about his family members. He says he is writing “the author’s formal introduction” but that it is “rather excruciatingly personal” because he is not writing short stories but “a sort of prose home movie” (47). The current story will involve two females and one male (his mother, sister and brother) who will all object to his treatment of them. Zooey, the male figure, for instance, will tell the author that people will not want to hear about mysticism. The use of the word “God” except as an expletive, sounds like “name-dropping” (48).
Buddy says he has been writing since he was fifteen and that The Great Gatsby was his Tom Sawyer. Buddy claims that he knows the difference between a mystical story and a love story, and that the story he tells is not mystical but a “compound, or multiple, love story” (49). The plot line is a “collaborative effort” (49), as the facts were given to him by the characters themselves. All four of them are blood relatives and speak “a kind of esoteric, family language” (49).
The story will begin with younger brother Zooey rereading an old letter from Buddy in November of 1955 in the bathtub. From here, the narrator will tell the tale in third person.
Zooey Glass is twenty-five and a complex person, slight of body but extremely handsome, a blue-eyed Jewish-Irish television actor. The narrator (Buddy) makes it clear that Zooey’s handsomeness is more than physical. He has a certain joy or “authentic esprit superimposed over his entire face” (52). He is successful and sought after as an actor; he has been acting since the age of seven.
All seven Glass children, five boys and two girls, were precocious and had appeared each in turn on the radio quiz show, “It’s a Wise Child,” from 1927 to 1943. They were bookish children whom the audience found brilliant. Seymour was the oldest, and Franny and Zooey the youngest. Zooey had even been tested by psychologists to find out “the source of Zooey’s precocious wit and fancy” (55).
The letter from Buddy is dated 3/18/51 and runs several pages and is given in full. Buddy speaks of his mother by her first name, Bessie, and says she is still angry that Buddy will not install a telephone so she can reach him in upstate New York where he now lives as a writer and teacher. He insists in the letter that he does have a phone, the phone that he and Seymour shared at home in their joint bedroom. He tells Zooey that he has never disconnected the phone because he likes to see Seymour’s name in the phone book every year. (A previous footnote by Buddy in his introduction had explained that Seymour had mysteriously killed himself, a central fact and crisis in the Glass family history.)
Buddy tells Zooey to be kinder to their mother because she is tired. Both Bessie and Les (their mother and father) thrive on sentimentality. Bessie wants Buddy to persuade Zooey to go on for a Ph.D. instead of relying on acting for a career. Buddy speaks of his own teaching career in which he has to correct student papers instead of doing his own writing. He teaches in college though he does not even have a B. A. He did not get any degrees because he was a snob in college and a “lifetime English-major” (58) who wanted to read whatever he wanted. Seymour was the one who got his Ph.D., and it did him no good. Zooey already has an M.A. and that seems good enough. He should pursue his acting because he is a born actor.
Buddy teases Zooey about the current low public taste in movies. Will Zooey be forced to play Pierre or Andrei in War and Peace with “all the nuances of characterization left out” (61)? Sarcastically, he lists many vulgar entertainers, popular on American TV in the 1950s, and adds that no one has ever seen a beautiful production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. He is worried about Zooey pursuing acting, because Zooey is so particular in his taste and ability.
Buddy tells Zooey of the strange haiku-style poem he found in the hotel room where Seymour shot himself: “The little girl on the plane/ Who turned her doll’s head around/ To look at me.”
Then Buddy tells Zooey, and the reader, a crucial and central story about the Glass family. As the older brothers, Seymour and Buddy took over the early education of Franny and Zooey, who were a generation younger. Buddy and Seymour were afraid of the Wise Child syndrome, afraid the children would turn out to be useless intellectual snobs. They had immersed themselves in eastern philosophy and knew, as Zen Buddhism teaches, one should start with meditation before tackling intellectual knowledge. One should know satori, pure consciousness, “a state of being where the mind knows the source of all light” (65). So Seymour and Buddy taught Franny and Zooey about mystical experience, all about saints and enlightened sages—Jesus, Gautama, Lao-tse, Shankaracharya and Sri Ramakrishna before they knew of Homer or Shakespeare.
Buddy feels guilty that he did not check in on Franny and Zooey as they were growing up, after Seymour’s suicide. Zooey was eighteen and was known to spend ten hours at a time in meditation then, so Buddy supposed he was all right. Franny, however, was only thirteen at that time. As a family, they have not talked about Seymour or his death, or about spiritual matters, but it is now time. Buddy thinks that Zooey is the one who has most forgiven Seymour for the suicide. He blesses his acting career and tells him to do it “with all his might” (68). He and Seymour will both applaud him for bringing beauty into the world.
Commentary on Narrator’s Introduction
“Zooey” is one long and intricate narration with no divisions, but this analysis will cut the story into scenes, beginning with Buddy’s introduction and letter. The introduction and letter give the Glass family background and tell about the education of Franny and Zooey, thus preparing us for the scenes to come.
The letter is dated four years earlier when Zooey was twenty-one and trying to decide a direction for his life. The fact that he already had a Master’s Degree underscores his genius. Buddy plays his old role of the older brother/teacher encouraging Zooey to practice his acting art rather than going for prestige and intellectual knowledge. A Ph.D. was the path Seymour had taken, and his life was a tragedy.
The older brothers had tried to save the younger children from modern culture and the ugliness of the “Wasteland” of America by tutoring them at home about enlightened sages and gaining enlightenment, which Buddy describes as a state of being with God. The ancients taught that spiritual wisdom is essential before tackling the world. Mere rote learning does not prepare one to live a meaningful life.
The letter and Buddy’s description of how Franny and Zooey were raised sheds light on Franny’s current spiritual crisis. Zooey, it appears, had taken the education seriously and continued in some form of meditation. He is described by Buddy as having a permanent benign and happy expression, the true source of his handsomeness. It is implied by Buddy that Zooey attained some degree of success with his spiritual quest. He is happy and adjusted. Franny, however, as the youngest, seems to have been left on her own, and now, confronted with the ugliness of the world, she only remembers the ideals she was taught by her brothers. She tries a spiritual technique she finds in a book but has no teacher. Feeling desperate and stuck, she has a breakdown.
Interestingly, Zooey received this crucial letter when he was about Franny’s age. Buddy helped Zooey over the hump into adulthood, and now Franny needs help. Zooey is the one who will give it to her.
This introduction to the Glass family explains their world as special and separate from the world around them. This is why Franny cannot explain her concerns to Lane. Her family is the only group of people who understands her and what she is going through. The family has their own special language, as Buddy puts it. It is a little like being a member of the BrontÎ family of child geniuses who wrote their own books and created their own myths. Who else can they talk to?
In a time in America when eastern philosophy and mysticism were not well known or regarded, it would have been remarkable to be given “the Upanishads and the Diamond Sutra and Eckhart” for “home reading when you were small” (60). All of the texts mentioned talk about the mystic unity of life and the ability of the individual to merge into cosmic awareness. These children cut their teeth on such books when other kids were reading Dick and Jane.
Buddy is still involved in eastern philosophy, he says. Every Friday he lectures on Zen and Mahayana Buddhism at the college. Buddy brings out a crucial point in the letter. He did not come home after Seymour’s death because he was afraid Franny and Zooey would question him about all this philosophy they were taught. Seymour was considered the leader, the family teacher and saint. He is elsewhere described as a seer-poet. If he was so enlightened, why did he commit suicide? What kind of an example is he for the children now?
Much of Salinger’s work concerns the Glass family, especially the effect of Seymour’s suicide on the rest of the members. Buddy became the family writer after Seymour died and now spends his life writing stories about his family. As the senior sibling, he carries on their memory and tradition.
Buddy’s letter shows that Zooey is a lot like Franny. He too is an actor who has had to confront the artistic problems Franny faces. The roles he will be offered will often be trivial, and he may have to play with other untalented or egotistical actors. As Zooey is a television actor, he has to deal with the trite culture of American TV in the 1950s.
Buddy is explaining to Zooey how the children were raised with a different worldview from everyone else’s, as half apology, half justification. At this point in the story, it is not clear whether the Glass children were given an advantage or disadvantage. Seymour killed himself, and Franny is having a nervous breakdown. The emphasis shifts then to Zooey as possibly having something to say about the matter.