"Zooey" Part 4 Summary:
Zooey steps across the newspaper strewn across the hallway (for the painters) and runs into Bessie. She asks him why he's sweating, and why Franny is crying. Zooey goes into his room and gets a handkerchief, then continues, for the first time in seven years, into Seymour and Buddy's old bedroom. He looks at a large white board on the wall which has been filled with literary and religious quotations, and reads a few. The rest of the room is filled with books. Zooey opens one of the desk drawers and takes out a stack of shirt cardboards. Seymour had written a diary entry on his 21st-birthday on one of them, recounting the various song-and-dance performances his family had entertained him with to celebrate the event. After he waits for a while, Zooey dials a "very local number" on the phone and places his handkerchief over the mouthpiece.
Franny and Bessie, meanwhile, are having another fight about her not eating. The phone rings, and five minutes later Bessie comes out and says Buddy, who sounds like he has a cold, is on the phone and wants to speak to Franny. Franny uses the phone in her parents' bedroom. "Buddy" (really Zooey, but he shall be referred to as "Buddy") asks her how she is, and says he didn't listen to most of what Bessie told him, though he knows the basic facts. Franny says she's ready to murder Zooey, as he's "completely destructive." She says he's bitter about everything, and brings up his definition of himself and Franny as "freaks." She also recalls his story from last night about having once had a glass of ginger ale in their kitchen with Jesus. "Buddy" says something with a grace that only Zooey would be able to pull off, and Franny realizes it's Zooey. She tells him if he has anything to say, he should say it, but she's tired.
Zooey says he wanted to tell her to continue with the Jesus Prayer, if that's what she wants. He apologizes for acting like a "seer." He tells her that he and Buddy drove to see her perform in "Playboy of the Western World" last summer, without her knowledge. He says she was amazing, but that she unrealistically expected everyone else, including the ushers, to be geniuses. He tells her the only important thing in religious life is "detachment." He tells her she should act, as she has been given the gift to do so, and that this is the only religious thing she can do. He tells her she can concern herself only with her own art, not with how others around her affect or appreciate it.
Zooey recalls one time before an "It's a Wise Child" performance, when Seymour told him to shine his shoes before he went out. Zooey had said everyone there was a moron and he wasn't going to shine his shoes for them. Seymour told him to shine them for the "Fat Lady." Zooey didn't know what it meant, but he shined his shoes every time he went on after that for the Fat Lady, whom he pictured sitting on her front porch in the heat with the radio on all the time. Franny said Seymour told her to be funny for the Fat Lady once; her imagined Fat Lady was fairly similar to Zooey's version. Zooey says that everybody is Seymour's Fat Lady, even her loathsome professors. He lets her in on a secret: the Fat Lady is "Christ Himself." This fills Franny with joy. Zooey says he can't speak anymore, and hangs up. Franny listens to the dial tone for a bit, then hangs up. She crawls into bed and smiles at the ceiling.
"Zooey" Part 4 Analysis:
The climax of "Zooey" brings the separate themes of spirituality, ego, and criticism of bourgeois values together. Zooey's basic prescription is this: one must detach one's petty, selfish ego and instead love and respect all humanity - the "Fat Lady" - despite their flaws, simply because they are human and deserve respect. This is why Buddy, in his introduction, called the story a "love" story rather than a mystical story.
The concept of universal love is a simple one, yet almost impossible to pull off, but it seems as if Franny, and maybe Zooey, are ready to embrace it. Zooey not only teaches Franny these ideas, but one gets the sense that he is re-learning them himself to lose his own ego, inspired by his older, wiser brothers. Zooey lets go of his own ego in his phone call. At first, when he pretends he is Buddy, he actually increases his ego - he asks many questions about Zooey, and ends up merely imitating Buddy's voice and mannerisms, not his wisdom. But when Zooey lets down the facade, he uses Buddy's advice from his letter to Zooey. He urges Franny to act, as that is her God-given gift, much as Buddy urged him to do. He also takes some wisdom from the board in Seymour and Buddy's room, specifically from the first quote of the "Bhagavad Gita" (a sacred Hindu instructional text), which states that "Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety." Zooey tells Franny that the artist can aim for perfection only "on his own terms," and that she must not worry about her reception or the other actors around her. It seems Zooey is most moved by Seymour's diary entry he reads. The birthday performances his family gives him that Seymour describes are performances totally without ego, only with the desire to please their beloved brother/son. Zooey recognizes that this is the only reason one may worry about one's performance - in service of a loving, ultimately selfless act.
Since Zooey's phone conversation takes place in Seymour and Buddy's old room, their presence affects him in more ways than the diary entry or board of quotes. The last word of dialogue in the novel is "buddy," a tag Zooey throws around liberally, usually in an aggressive or comically hostile tone. But here it is affectionate and loving, and reminds us that he has finally channeled the kindness of his brother "Buddy" and their missing buddy, Seymour.
Zooey says the Fat Lady is "Christ Himself," which implies that she deserves as much as respect as Christ does, even if she seems like everything Zooey and Franny distance themselves from - uneducated, unattractive, a fan of lowbrow entertainment. But there is a Fat Lady nearer to them that Zooey doesn't mention. Though Franny pictures the Fat Lady as having ugly legs, Bessie, owner of slim legs, is the true Fat Lady. Zooey even calls her "Fatty" in this section, and other times refers to her as "fat." Bessie is the ordinary person that the extraordinary Franny and Zooey have trouble respecting. But if they can learn to respect and love her, they will have attained what Zooey called "Christ-Consciousness," because Christ is present in everyone. In other words, when they love and respect Bessie, who has Christ within her, they will unite the Christ within them with the Christ within her. And this united Christ-Consciousness is what Franny has been searching for all along. Unlike the pilgrim, who had to travel the world to spread the word about the Jesus Prayer, Franny now knows a way to attain detachment and achieve Christ-Consciousness. She can do this simply by loving, even from her bed at home. She can defeat her personal ego and embrace the universal ego. She claimed at the beginning of "Franny" that she was sick of liking people, and wanted to meet someone she could "respect." To quote her precisely, "I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect" (italics added). Only by taking this desire literally - praying to the Son of God - can she achieve it.
We are reminded of the Jesus Prayer once more when Franny listens briefly to the dial tone after Zooey hangs up. The dial tone, like the Jesus Prayer, is an incessant sound. But she does not rely on it to give her salvation - she takes its "wisdom" and knows "when to stop listening to it." She does not need to hoard spiritual wisdom like a material treasure, as she previously felt she was doing, but uses it only as much as she needs to. No wonder, then, that the novel ends as she smiles at the ceiling - at heaven.
As a final piece of symbolism, Zooey's associations with water increase in this final section. We have seen him in the bath and shaving, and now he sweats profusely. He even steps on the newspaper picture of baseball player Stan Musial holding up a fresh-caught fish, and we know he has affection for his fish, which he feels the others have let die. This image is not incidental. Salinger was influenced by T.S. Eliot's 1922 poem, "The Wasteland," in which the poet sees the modern cultural landscape as dry and barren. Eliot, borrowing from mythology, awaits the arrival of the "Fisher King," who will save humanity from this dry death. Zooey's wetness may show that he is the Fisher King for Franny (note: she could only dream of water - remember her nightmare about diving in the swimming pool - and after she fainted with Lane, he only went so far as to have someone else get her a glass of water). He is also the Fisher King for the Fat Lady, who sits on her porch in the extreme heat, batting away flies and listening to the radio. Perhaps this, then, is the final meaning for the "Glass" family - they hold water for the drought victims of the world.