That J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey was a bestseller in 1962 is almost surprising, given what reviewers said about his expected audience. At the time of its publication there was much speculation about
the group most likely to read Salinger's works, and many critics came to the conclusion that mostly highly sensitie, intellectually gifted individuals would purchase Franny and Zooey. Yet Franny and Zooey was a best selling novel, which s
urely cannot be due to purchases by this limited population alone. The novel was popular, then, for a variety of other reasons. The book itself has lived on as a significant part of academia, often assigned in high school and college English courses. <
U>Franny and Zooey's literary merit, if the reviews are to be believed, stems in large part from Salinger's attention to detail and dialogue. Of course the impact of the audience on sales cannot be discounted either. Franny and Zooey was firs
t the interest of a the literati, collegiate set, and with the academic focus much of the interest in the novel has returned to this crowd. Finally, Franny and Zooey appealed to a culture that was in a transition period. As it has been well docum
ented, the end of the 1950's and the beginning of the 1960's was a time of significant change in America. Salinger's novel captures many of these metamorphosing aspects of culture, including the new focus on eastern religions and the television media. T
he specifics of these reasons are easily explored by looking not only at reviews for the novel, but by looking at sections of Franny and Zooey itself.
Franny and Zooey has had a longevity beyond its initial success in bookstores. The early reviews of Salinger's book were not always glowing, but most of the critics had praise for his focus on detail. While some said that this obsession with the
minutae of the main characters might stem from Salinger's too close relationship with the Glass family, most critics did not see this as a drawback. In fact, many saw his attention to detail as an important part of what brings the reader closer to the pr
otagonists and keeps interest in the story alive. This might in some part account for the popularity of the book. With the humor and sympathy that Salinger invokes through the details Franny and Zooey becomes an immediately engaging read, and one
that a person could easily recommed to a friend.
Throughout Franny and Zooey, Salinger pays especial attention to sunlight and to the hands of his chracters. As one critic noted, Salinger always tells the reader exactly what the characters are doing with each of their hands. He often uses thes
e details to help characterize the mood of an individual. In the Franny section of the novel her hands first become a focus after she has excused herself to the ladies' room during a lunch with her boyfriend. She is nervous and fragile, facts that Sali
nger emphasizes when he says that "she placed her hands, vertically, over her eyes and pressed the heels hard...her extended fingers, though trembling, or because they were trembling, looked oddly graceful and pretty" (22). Later, in the Zooey section, F
ranny has fallen into a deep, and hopefully helpful, sleep following part of the emotional breakdown begun in the earlier section of the novel. As she lay sleeping "her right hand...on the coverlet, was not merely closed by shut tight; the fingers clenc
hed, the thumb tucked in" almost as if "she had checked back into the mute, fisty defenses of the nursery" (123). No matter how complex the characters' moods are, Salinger attempts to give the reader clues as to their emotions with descriptions of their
Salinger uses sunlight in a similar capacity, as often his descriptions of sunlight appear when the characters are in need of some sort of escape. For Franny, after she has harshly criticized her boyfriend, of which he is acutely aware, she starts "star
ing at the little blotch of sunshine with a special intensity, as if she were considering lying down in it" (15). During a conversation with Zooey, Franny notices that "Zooey was sitting in the main shaft of sunlight in the room" a brief second before c
hanging the subject to something that neither of them really want to discuss(141). Franny is not able to escape, though, and the dialogue progresses.
Another quality that is present throughout the novel is the richness of the dialogue. This too is commented upon by the critics. Some of which have attributed this to Salinger's background as a playwright. The dialogue takes up a significant majority
of the book, and while this wordiness was criticized by some reviewers, others commend Salinger on his courage. Focusing his entire 200 page novel on hours and hours of conversation is rather unconventional, and could have flopped. The type of dialogue
in Franny and Zooeydraws the reader into the novel immediately, in much the same way that a play does. After briefly sketching out his setting in a couple of paragraphs, Salinger then lets the dialogue do all of the work. The characters simply en
ter the scene and perform their roles. Salinger himself was an actor for a brief period in school so it is easy to see how this type of setup is very natural for him. Like a play, it is the fact that the reader is privy to some very intimate conversatio
n that keeps them interested in the scene at hand, and for that matter, anxious for the scenes ahead. This playlike aspect could also account for the relative ease of reading that Franny and Zooey offers.
The dialogue of Franny and Zooey, in addition to drawing the reader in, also establishes the marked individuality of the characters. While all of this talking could appear to be at first exhausting and a bit unrealistic, Salinger is careful to ex
plain himself through Zooey. He says that the reason that the Glass children are so long winded is that "we've got ?Wise Child' complexes. We've never really got off the goddamn air. Not one of us. We don't talk, we hold forth" (140). Franny is a se
nsitive observer of the world around her, and a sharp critic as well. In talking about a professor that particularly annoys her she notes that "he's just a terribly sad old self-satisified phony with wild and wooly white hair. I think he goes into the m
en's room and musses it up before he comes to class..." (127). Her sharp tongue and sharper eye are easily shown in this and other passages. Franny is obviously a woman with deep reactions to the world around her. Zooey is also concerned with the phoni
ness of the world, but his reactions take a more personally critical bent. When talking with his mother he yells at her "just don't, that's all. Don't admire my goddamn back" because she has dared to act maternal (118). Zooey is concerned about his si
ster, and because he feels so helpless he is ixtrememly critical of everyone else.
The audience of Franny and Zooey, in addition to the details and dialogue, was also analyzed by the critics. The main idea is that it is those that perceive themselves to be gifted intellectually that would be most likely to enjoy Salinger's nove
ls. Franny and Zooey as individuals are the type of person who are viewed by critics as Salinger fans. Both are highly sensitive to the falsity of the world around them and intellectually curious enough to search for alternatives. This type of person c
an be found on college campuses across the United States, and while Salinger realizes how important they are to his career, he includes a charicature just to keep his readers on their toes. Lane, Franny's boyfriend, is the typically pompous collegiate in
tellectual. He needs to have the right girl on his arm and he wants her to read his prize paper on Flaubert. He is conceited enough to offhandedly mention that the paper got an "?A' on it in letters about six feet high" and that "this guy Brughman think
s I ought to publish" it (12, 13). Then, to complete the dramatization of Lane's huge ego, Salinger adds that after praising himself Lane "had suddenly become exhausted...by a world greedy for the fruit of his intellect" (14). This kind of jesting and
love-hate relationship with his audience could further account for the novel's initial success and continuing place in an academia that tries not to take itself too seriously.
Salinger already had a bit of a cult following with this audience by the time that Franny and Zooey came out. His novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which is still a staple of every angst-filled undergraduate's bookshelf, had been published a
few years prior to Franny and Zooey. The base readership that Salinger built with Catcher in the Rye could only be expanded with the publication in book form of two of his most popular stories. Salinger's persona is also a part of this cultish f
eel. He had, by the publication of Franny and Zooey, already secluded himself completely at his home in the small town of Cornish, New Hampshire. He had stopped giving interviews and cut off all contact. Salinger's famous reclusivity continues t
o this day. Just recently Rolling Stone magazine published a story about a journalist's pilgrimage to Cornish in hopes of seeing or speaking to Salinger. So, for the Salinger fan of the early 1960's it was only the further publication of his books that
permitted any sort of contact with the author. Without interviews and public appearances with which to satisfy themselves, those truly devoted to Salinger simply had to buy his books. Others that knew about his famously reclusive nature might also have
picked up Franny and Zooey out of curiosity, if nothing more than to see what this crazy man was capable of.
Another smaller audience that Salinger makes a direct appeal to is that of New Yorkers. The Glass family is firmly ensconced in New York, a fact that Salinger makes clear throughout his novel, and it is apparent that they love their city. Zooey, when t
alking about making a film in France says that "I'd hate like hell to leave New York...I was born here. I went to school here. I've been run over here--twice...I have no business acting in Europe" (137). With this kind of loyalty expressed, the New Yor
k literati could not have helped but to be flattered. His association with the New Yorker magazine prior to the publication of Franny and Zooey could only have furthered his close association with the New York literary scene.
Yet Franny and Zooey did not appeal to the New Yorkers alone, but rather the whole of the United States. During the late 1950's and early 1960's the United States experienced a dramatic shift away from conservatism into a more liberal culture. W
hile Franny and Zooey was not compared by critics to other author's works, other books popular at this time also show the cultural shift. Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl was a wildly liberal book for its time. It had a place
on the Nonfiction bestseller list of 1962, alongside the New English Bible. The Agony and the Ecstasy's fictionlization of the life of Michaelangelo is a throwback to an earlier era when books like the Robe were popular, and yet it appear
ed on the same list as the more modern Franny and Zooey. Both Franny and Zooey express a dissatisfaction with the status quo similar to that of their contemporaries in the real world. Franny is not happy with the pseudo-intellectual collegiate li
fe, and Zooey is not satisfied with his job.
Zooey also embodies another aspect of the time period with his profession. He is an actor, but as the narrator points out his job is not with the movies or Broadway, but as a "?sought-after'...young leading man in television" (52). Though at this time
television had been around for a while, it was still a relatively new cultural phenomenon. The 50's image of the family seated around the television set for an evening of fun was current, and Zooey's job makes him a part of that lifestyle. This relatio
nship to the cutting edge cultural changes could only add to the popularity of the novel, as people of the time would easily relate.
This time period in the United States also saw an increasing interest in cultures abroad, especially those of Africa and Asia. The religions of Asia make several appearances throughout Franny and Zooey, as when Zooey talks about his Franny's tur
n to Buddhism at the age of ten. He also instructs her, according to some later academic writing about the novel, in much the same way that a Zen master would his pupil. Later, when Zooey returns to his older brothers' room, he reads some of their quote
s, one of which is from the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text. Many later critics have seen this focus on eastern religion as a drawback of the novel because it is so very emblematic of this era that people reading the book in other times have difficult
The cultural aspects of Franny and Zooey, along with the audience and the details of the book itself, all account for the book's success. While Salinger so brutally caricatured the collegiate intellectual in this book, it is most likely this grou
p that spawned the early sales of the book, and it is this group with whom the novel lives on. The Glass family in this novel and in other Salinger stories has seen much analysis from English departments at colleges across America, and will most likely s
ee more in the future. The book was a bestseller for a year, though, and so other aspects of the book must be analyzed. Both sections of the novel were published as short stories in the New Yorker, a kind of pre-publicity for the book's later publicatio
n. In addition, there are aspects of the changing culture in which the book was published that are reflected in the story. The religious discussion in Franny and Zooey is quite elaborate and far-reaching, yet another facet of the book that might
have added to its popularity. Finally, the beautiful language and characterizations in the novel cannot be ignored. While not every book on the best seller list is of the greatest literary merit, Franny and Zooey is most assuredly an intelligent
and readable masterwork.