"Zooey" Part 2 Summary:
Zooey carefully returns Buddy's letter to its envelope. He picks up a manuscript from the bathmat and reads, while still in the bathtub, a lover's spat scene between "Rick" and "Tina"; Rick's part is underlined. Before Zooey can get too far, his mother, Bessie, interrupts and comes in. Irritated, Zooey closes the shower curtain. Bessie, a "medium-stout woman in a hairnet" whose age is "indeterminate," and who always wears a multiple-pocketed Japanese kimono at home, nags Zooey for staying in the bath so long. We are told that the apartment is an old, fairly nice apartment on New York's fashionable Upper East Side. Bessie looks through the well-stocked medicine cabinet, much to Zooey's exasperation. She puts in a new bottle of toothpaste, which she says will protect Zooey's "lovely teeth."
Bessie asks Zooey if he's talked with his sister yet. He says he hasn't today, as he spoke to her for two hours last night, and tells her to leave. Bessie complains for a while about Buddy's not having a phone, and Zooey keeps insulting her and refuting her arguments. She spots the manuscript and says its title, "The Heart Is an Autumn Wanderer," is "unusual." Zooey derides her for this. She says Zooey never thinks anything is beautiful, an accusation to which Zooey takes mock-umbrage, saying he finds everything, even "'Peter Pan,'" beautiful. Bessie says she's frustrated and doesn't know what to do with Franny, and that their father never likes to admit anything is wrong. She thinks he still expects to hear the children on the radio. She says that last night, while Franny was crying and "mumbling heaven knows what to herself," Les wondered if she would like a tangerine. She bemoans having no one in the family to help her. She complains about Franny's not eating anything nourishing. Zooey mocks her diagnosis, equating Franny's improper diet with Christ's. Zooey tells her again to leave, and Bessie says the painters have finished in Franny's room and will want to go into the living room soon, where Franny is sleeping. Bessie's aristocratic slender fingers and attractive dancer's legs and feet are described. She leaves, saying she'll be back soon.
A few minutes later, Zooey, wearing pants, shaves at the bathroom mirror. Bessie returns. She brings up the idea of having Waker (the living twin) talk to Franny, though Franny has refused to talk to anyone. Zooey shoots down this idea, as Waker is a Catholic priest and Franny's problem is "non-sectarian." He insults Bessie again, and she defends her intelligence and says she knows more than they think - for instance, that Franny's green book is the root of her problem. She says Lane has called several times, worried about Franny. Zooey says Lane is fake. Bessie criticizes Zooey for making people he doesn't like - or "love, really" - nervous. She says Lane thinks the book, which she got out of her school library, is religiously fanatical. Zooey corrects her - the book, called "'The Pilgrim Continues His Way,'" and is the sequel to the "'The Way of the Pilgrim,'" and Franny has taken both books out of Seymour and Buddy's old room. Bessie says she doesn't like to go into Seymour's room. She says Zooey is mean, and starts comparing him to Buddy. Zooey gets furious, saying he's sick of hearing Buddy's and Seymour's names, and accuses Buddy of trying to copy Seymour. He calls himself and Franny "freaks," and blames his oldest brothers for making them that way. He says that he cannot eat a meal without first saying the "Four Great Vows" under his breath, and bets that Franny is the same. He explains that the vows are a Buddhist prayer that Buddy and Seymour drilled into them.
After Bessie nags him about getting married and getting a haircut, Zooey warns her against getting a psychoanalyst for Franny by reminding her of what psychoanalysis did to Seymour. Then he recants, admitting he thought there might be a psychoanalyst who could do her some good, though it would have to be one who had the "grace of God" in him. He explains to Bessie what the "Pilgrim" books are about, describing the sequel as a dialogue on the reasons behind the Jesus Prayer. He connects the effects of the Jesus Prayer with what Eastern religions term the mystical opening of the "'third eye.'" He insults Bessie's religious ignorance. She watches Zooey shave and compliments his "broad and lovely" back, as she was afraid his weight-lifting would ruin it. He snaps and tells her not to admire his back. He tells her to leave, as he has to get ready to meet LeSage, his employer in television. She wonders what good it does her children, who were once so joyful, to be so smart if they're not happy.
"Zooey" Part 2 Analysis:
Zooey's conflict with Bessie is both telling and humorous. Her extended stay in the bathroom gives Zooey's razor-sharp wit many opportunities to insult her, and exposes the most obvious difference between the two, their respective levels of intelligence. Bessie is decidedly ordinary, unlike her extraordinary children. However, she clearly has aspirations to be something more and, like her children, she also used to be an entertainer - a vaudeville dancer. Perhaps this is why she wears the diva-like kimono, as a costume to cover her "medium-stout" figure but leave her dancer's legs and aristocratic fingers exposed. But she ruins the effect, as her paraphernalia-laden kimono (the pockets are filled with tools) makes her into a virtual "handyman." The kimono, of course, also comes from Japan, which shows another gap between herself and her children; she is interested in Japan for its kimonos, while they appreciate it for its Buddhism.
Perhaps, too, Bessie's former profession as a vaudeville dancer is what makes Zooey so hostile toward her. Vaudeville is considered a low-art form, and Zooey, too, is mired in a low-art medium, television. Bessie - and all her unschooled opinions, such as her appraisal of the manuscript's "beautiful" title - is a constant reminder for Zooey that he shares the same professional space. This is why he maintains, however ironically, that he can appreciate beauty in all forms. He wants to believe that he is above his status as a television actor. And while his gifted mind obviously can appreciate beauty in some ways, and is himself beautiful (though he tries to hide from the fact), in another ironic turn he is also clearly the most destructive character we have seen, even more than Lane or Franny's description of the "section men." He is ruthless in his attacks against Bessie, a woman who has lost two sons, has a somewhat incompetent husband, and should be viewed in a sympathetic light. Salinger foreshadows another conflict, in that just as Franny wants the world to be more creative and less destructive, her own brother lives destructively.
As stated above, Zooey tries to hide from his own beauty, even attempting not to look at his face while he shaves. But, like Franny, he is a born performer, destined to be stared at, and he must also wrestle with ego. While the teleplay he reads is over-the-top melodrama, Salinger reveals it as an exercise in ego in more subtle ways. While Buddy's letter, and his narrative description of "Zooey," are self-conscious, full of disclaimers about its own "cleverness," the teleplay is clever in more insidious ways. Buddy's self-conscious disclaimers attempt, at least, to deflate his own ego, to show that he understands his style can be grating and pretentious. In the teleplay, the characters' self-consciousness only serves to heighten their egos and, more importantly, that of the teleplay's author. The character Tina says she feels like she's someone in a "terribly sophisticated play"; as Salinger so clearly shows, the melodramatic teleplay is anything but sophisticated. Moreover, Rick calls her on quoting a line from Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms." Unlike Buddy, who willingly allowed the voices of various family members (Franny, Zooey, and Bessy) to collaborate on the writing of "Zooey," Tina - and the hack author of the teleplay - tries to appropriate Hemingway's voice for her own gains. Unable to come up with a real line for her sadness, she steals one from another author.
Zooey clearly tries to distance himself from the teleplay's abundance of ego. He lavishes extreme care with Buddy's letter, even though he toys with it, balancing it on the tub and putting it in danger of falling in. His true feelings emerge when it nearly does fall in and he quickly puts it away. He treats the teleplay carelessly, however, sloshing water over the tub when picking it up, reading it on his wet knees, leaving it on the bathmat and radiator.
Salinger foreshadows the spiritual conflict between Franny and Zooey when we discover Franny has been using the incessant Jesus Prayer - Bessie says Franny has been "mumbling heaven knows what to herself." Zooey makes a mock-association between Franny and Christ, on the grounds of their diets, but it is clear that Christ will play an important role later when Zooey eventually talks to her. It makes sense, then, that he rereads Buddy's letter, one which touches upon many religious issues - it is as if, with the letter, he is studying for the exam of helping out Franny. The elder Glasses have a habit of teaching their younger siblings the ways of spirituality, almost as if they were monks at a monastery. They disdain the traditional bourgeois method of seeking out a psychoanalyst. However, Zooey makes the point that a psychoanalyst with some religious inspiration might be able to help. Since Seymour, the wisest and most spiritual, is dead - and his name sounds like "see more," as if he were a seer, a prophet - Buddy is the Glasses' remaining spiritual leader. His name, too, resounds: he is their Buddha. But now it is Zooey's turn to help Franny and, maybe, help himself.
Bessie's invasion of Zooey's privacy symbolizes the name Glass in yet another way. While their lives are transparently glass-like in some ways, with no boundaries between them, they also covet their privacy. Buddy has gone so far as to not install a phone in his secluded house, and the children keep much from each other, and especially from the ignorant Bessie. The lack of privacy in the Glass apartment makes for some odd scenes, notably Bessie's sitting in the bathroom while Zooey bathes. Some critics see the scene as a perversion of the mother-child relationship; Bessie is virtually giving her 25-year-old son a bath, and even gives him new toothpaste. While some may view Bessie's appreciation of Zooey's back as a symptom of her reverse-Oedipal complex (in the Greek tragedy, Oedipus murdered his father and married his mother), there may be another reason to showcase Zooey's back. His frame is described as slight, but his back has been broadened through weight-lifting. In much of Salinger's fiction, his favored characters have narrow shoulder blades that are frequently described as "wings," and the association is of angels. In addition, Salinger is heavily influenced by the German poet Rilke - who, remember, was referenced at the start of "Franny" - who wrote frequently about angels. Zooey, then, is a sort of fallen angel; as he works out and broadens his back, ostensibly for his superficial acting career, he loses his "wings."