"Franny and Zooey" by JD Salinger - Fifty Years Later

Essay by emmachaseHigh School, 11th gradeA+, July 2007

download word file, 4 pages 4.0

Franny and Zooey Fifty Years Later - Show how the book is now dated.

The dictionary defines dated as “to show the age of; show to be old-fashioned.” J.D. Salinger’s two-part story, Franny and Zooey, considered so modern and “perhaps the best book by the foremost stylist of his generation,” fifty years after it’s original publication, now seems dated. Both the simplicity of the central characters’ emotional turmoil and the cultural references to food, smoking, technology, religion and entertainment make the story seem quaint and old-fashioned.

In the first section of the book, Franny, the title character is visiting her boyfriend, Lane, at his Ivy League college for a football weekend. The clothes, the language, the food andLane’s arrangements for the weekend all seem to place the story in a much earlier time. He wears a camel’s hair coat and a cashmere muffler and Franny is wearing a sheared raccoon coat.

She writes a letter to Lane, which he has saved, calling him “dearest Lane” and the letter is typed and mailed. They go to a restaurant for lunch and order martinis, escargot and frogs legs and both smoke cigarettes throughout the entire meal. Lastly, they’re invited to a pre-game cocktail party and he has reserved a room for her in some kind of boarding house. None of these things seem at all like a contemporary college experience where email, jeans, a tailgate party and spending the weekend together would be expected.

Franny’s nervous breakdown and all the family activity that happens as a result also seem quaint. Franny faints in the restaurant with Lane and then, the next day, finds herself at home wrapped in an afghan in her families New York apartment. Franny is upset by what she sees as the phoniness of the people she knows and the college she is attending. She is searching for spirituality and is obsessed with a small book called “The Way of the Pilgrim” and the “Jesus Prayer.” In this day and age this sort of behavior seems more like a bad day or an identity crisis than a nervous breakdown. In our time we expect to see much more self-destructive behavior, cutting, drugs, eating disorders or violence. It is also strange that she would turn to her family and that they would see it as their job to cure her. Now, it would be more likely that Franny and her family would turn to a therapist, a hospital or some sort of clinical solution to Franny’s breakdown. It is very nice that Zooey, Franny’s younger brother, after some false starts, at the end finds the right story and words to improve the situation but it seems like a naïve conclusion.

Franny is upset over everyone’s desire to be alike. In their lunch at the beginning of the book Lane is pleased with himself for “finding himself in the right place with an unimpeachably right looking girl.” (Salinger 11) Franny notices this and it annoys her.

The 1950s, the time when this story takes place, are known for being a time of conformity and this is part of what Franny is rebelling against. The issue of celebrity is another part of this. Franny, Zooey and their 5 brother s and sisters were all well known as contestants on a radio show called The Wise Child. The public considered them to be “insufferably superior little bastards…or bone-fide underage wits and savants, of an uncommon, if unenviable, order.” (Salinger 54) Both Franny and Zooey both continue to be in the public eye. Zooey is a TV actor and Franny is active in college and summer stock theater. Both of these characters see how entertainment is conformist and it makes them both uncomfortable. Again, all of this seems to make this story seem old-fashioned. The Glass children’s celebrity seems so small in comparison with the cult of celebrity that we live with today. Who can even remember the name of someone who wins Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Jeopardy, today’s equivalent of The Wise Child.

The cigarettes in "Franny and Zooey,” may date this work more than any other single aspect of the story. Every character is the book beginning with Lane and Franny, the older Glass children in flashbacks, their mother Bessie and Zooey all smoke continuously through the book. There are cigarettes, lit, ignored, smoked, stomped out, carried, and used for emphasis in almost every scene. Zooey’s cigar, the hunt for matches, the cigarette burns in Buddy and Seymour’s desks are all smoking-related images in this story. In contemporary life cigarettes almost only have negative connotations and in contemporary writing it is almost only the bad guys who smoke.

In our time where religion is often used as a political tool, a social status symbol or a reason for war it is interesting to see religion in “Franny and Zooey” used as a path to a personal understanding. In many contemporary situations religion is a very public thing. There are mega churches, religious programs on TV and politicians using the Christian Conservative movement as their base. In this story both Franny and Zooey have been taught much about many different religions and Franny is trying to use the “Jesus Prayer” to help her find her personal way and place in the world.

Throughout “Franny and Zooey” the culture of the 1950’s is a central part of the story. The use of typewriters, the foods that they eat, the smoking, and the radio celebrities are all specific to that earlier time. The larger issues of conformity and the characters personal relationship with religion are also very different than contemporary culture. Overall the Glass family, although all very intelligent and in the middle of a crisis, seem very unsophisticated. Franny and Zooey is well written and fun to read with its dramatic characters and 50’s slang but when read in 2006 it seems dated.

Sources“Franny and Zooey.” Books of he Times. September 14, 1961. “Dated.” About Dictionary.com. 2006. accessed: October 21, 2006. Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. New York, New York: Back Bay Books, 1955