Salinger depicts the Glass family’s troubled lives in his novel Franny Zooey. This is especially true for Zooey and Franny, the youngest Glass children. The two Glass children were educated to promote religious awareness and knowledge while appearing on a radio program called “It’s a Wise Child”. Seymour tells the Glass siblings to be the best versions of themselves when they are on this panel. The “Fat Lady”, a female character that exists in their minds, is not named and has no identity. Franny, Zooey and their older brother Seymour see this woman as a symbol of all humanity. She represents its traits, beliefs and actions. The fat-lady symbol represents an unattainable lifestyle, despite its promotion of equal respect to all humans. This is due to the human tendency to conform as well their inbred competion and the universe’s ultimate indifference to them. Looking at the people living in our society, we can see a constant desire for conformity.
Franny has a strong desire, when with Lane, to conform and act according to what the society wants her to do. Lane is the dominant male character in their relationship, with a slight distance from Franny. Franny appears as a loyal, loving, and compassionate girlfriend. The two characters are trying to be the same person, but they end up being different people. Lane is attracted to Franny, which can be seen in her letter, with its “handled and unfresh look”. (Salinger, 4) Franny admits to having a strong feeling for Lane. This dispassionate relationship shows how the social norms of Franny’s world and Lane’s influence their actions.
The Glass family is not a typical family. However, just as all humans do, they conform to the ideals of society in their actions and character. Franny, Zooey and their brothers use religions and beliefs from around the globe as a way to conform. It gives them a comforting feeling of not having to change themselves in order to fit into the society’s standards, but being independent and unaffected by it. Franny, Zooey, and their brothers were raised to have an awareness of Eastern religion and use it as an example. This meant that they were given an education which emphasized wisdom rather than knowledge. They will only conform to another set of standards and not to their true individuality. By allowing the society to influence them, they also conform. Franny’s small green book symbolizes this idea, which is that conformity without their society still counts as conformity. Zooey also reflects that this little book “is the very root of it all” (Salinger 96) A part of humanity is constantly trying to conform in order to avoid being rejected by society. Due to this fear of being an outcast, it is difficult to make a person follow the advice and try to please Fat Lady. The fact that so many people are not willing to go out of their way to follow the advice given by the Fat Lady is what makes it difficult to carry it out.
Many people are motivated by the need to be applauded and receive praise from others. This can lead to a sense of competition. Franny, who is sick of “ego,ego,ego” (Salinger, 29), feels that those around her do not act on what they truly want in life but instead, are motivated by their egos and are looking for approval or some sort of reward. Franny’s awareness and competition with herself when living her life has made her aware of how people are trying to please their families, friends, and strangers. Franny grew in part because she was raised by the radio show It’s a Wise Child. She wanted to please a fat lady that only existed in Franny’s mind. Franny struggled to fulfill this need because of her inbred desire to compete with others and to be better. She didn’t realize that her ego was the cause until she realized it. Salinger (30) says it’s the exact opposite, as she wants “the courage of being an absolute nobody”. Franny had been involved in the theatre because of her ego and competition. Her realization that this was true led her to leave it. The need to improve the world is a universal human trait. This makes it difficult for anyone to do anything that will help humanity. Franny & Zooey makes it controversial to imagine a universe indifferent to the affairs of humans. This is because their religious upbringing is strongly influenced by the notion of a greater power.
The importance of religion in this novel is best illustrated by Buddy and Seymour, who want to teach their children to “not seek knowledge but to search for no-knowledge, or, to use Zen’s words, to find out what it means to “pray incessantly”. (Salinger, 33) As well, Franny wants to try the Bible saying that says “you should pray continuously” (Salinger, 33). Although the importance of religion in maintaining a meaningful relationship with nature is clear, no quotations are used to express this. Losing faith in your religion makes you question everything that you believe. Franny has grown up knowing many other cultures and their beliefs, standards, and traditions. She is now lost when it comes to her religion. Franny, who is a Russian peasant as described in Salinger’s “The Way of a Pilgrim”, wants to know what she believes and to live a life without conformity. Zooey explains that Franny doesn’t really say the Jesus Prayer to Jesus. Instead, she’s saying it “to St Francis as well as Seymour’s grandmother and Heidi’s mother all wrapped together” (Salinger 169). This religious ambiguity results in her breakdown because of ego, social conformity and society. Due to the twisted ideologies that humans have, treating everyone with equal respect is a difficult task. In addition, the idea of ambiguity in religion illustrates how the universe has a great disregard for human suffering and affairs. Seymour’s Fat Lady can be used to improve school, health, social relationships, or work. But it may also hinder growth, due to our need to conform and compete. Fat Lady advises that people should strive to be their best selves, but it is difficult for them to do this because they have so many other factors in place.
In a culture where people conform, yet few are aware, it is easy to be ignorant of how society can negatively affect a person and steal their individuality. Due to the blatant absence of rewards or compensation, pursuing individuality has no meaning and is not worth it. Franny & Zooey is a book that explores individuality and the pros and cons of doing things solely for ego.