The Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel Summary and Analysis of “Alone in the Cold War with Franny and Zooey” – End of Book Two


Daniel writes of his memories of the East Bronx Children’s Shelter. Children ranging in ages from five to twelve populated the shelter. Boys were separated from girls, so Daniel and Susan were kept apart. In addition to rooming floors, staff offices and the kitchen were on the first floor and an indoor gym was on the fourth. Daniel slept in a large room filled with individual beds that was always loud. Some of the boys were clearly mentally handicapped; one of these boys was the Inertia Kid, who would never move unless he was arranged. Some boys stayed a long time while others resided there for only a few days. Daniel went to school every day but the school was not academically rigorous. Sports were the focus at the Shelter and there were plenty of softball games that were quite competitive.

The food was rarely good, many of the children did not have clothes that fit, and the predominant smell throughout the Shelter was of vomit - and ammonia for a few minutes after the vomit was cleaned up. Punishment was doled out immediately if a boy got out of line. Daniel only saw Susan in passing and she always clung to him when they met. While Daniel could just tolerate their predicament, Susan’s terror was visible on her face. She was an outcast.

One day Mr. Guglielmi, the psychologist, called Daniel into his office and asked how they could make his sister feel more at home. She did not eat properly, kept the other girls awake, and screamed whenever she felt someone looked at her or said something to her that she did not like. Daniel started to smile and told the psychologist that Susan thought the Shelter was jail. Guglielmi tried to differentiate between jail and the Shelter but Daniel pointed out that his parents did not appear to be coming home. Guglielmi told Daniel that his parents had written that he and Susan were to come to the Shelter but, for a few fleeting minutes, Daniel wondered if the FBI forged that letter or if they forced his parents to write it. The psychologist explained that the separation between the boys and girls was necessary but decided that Susan would be allowed to eat with Daniel and he could sit with her at the end of the day for a few minutes.

Daniel interrupts this chain of memories with an exploration into treason. He notes that it is the only crime defined in the Constitution and that the Founding Fathers, guilty of treason themselves, defined treason as a crime only when it was against the state and not against an individual ruler or party.

Daniel switches back to the contemporary narrative and writes about how his wife took care of him when he was sick with the flu. They did not discuss the day at the park, and Daniel noted, “the timing of her return relieved us of the dreary rituals of reconciliation. Forgiving me turns her on.” A couple of weeks after he recovered from the flu, he and Phyllis have sex. He vividly describes how she comes close to orgasm and, seeing this, he did “the cruel thing” of pulling back suddenly before waiting to reenter her. After they finish having sex, she is blissfully happy but Daniel wonders why “I could not find there [on her face] the education recorded, no impression of the cruel thing…”

Returning to his days at the Shelter, Daniel recalls how he desperately wanted to distinguish himself from the other boys. He knew he could not be a sports star and that trying to impress his peers with his mind might label him an “over-articulate fag intellect,” so he decided to curry favor by being a performer. He began imitating the Inertia Kid and so completely embodied the boy’s physical and mental state that he almost lost himself in his mimicry.

Daniel planned an escape for himself and Susan. He instructed her on what she was to do; the plan was to run away on the next Saturday and return to their parents’ house. Irrationally, he even believed his parents might be heading toward the house as well or perhaps were already there. The two children successfully escaped and headed into the East Bronx. It was a cold day and they hurried along, trying not to attract the attention of adults even though it eventually dawns on Daniel that they were lost. Daniel held Susan’s warm little hand in his and dragged her along, “ever on the alert for secret signals” like noises and static. Daniel remembered feeling slightly nostalgic for the Shelter because it would have been lunchtime as they wandered around the city. He then thought of his cruelty to the Inertia Kid and bitterly repented his behavior.

Finally Daniel and Susan reached Bathgate Avenue, the site of a large outdoor market that their parents used to talk of admirably and visit on special occasions. There were people everywhere buying and selling and Daniel immediately felt better because he knew they were close to home. They completed the last, most dangerous part of the journey through busy streets and open spaces and finally neared their own neighborhood.

Again Daniel interrupts his memory and lists a few names of famous traitors, including Benedict Arnold and his wife, Aaron Burr, Wilkerson, and Robert E. Lee. He believes Edgar Allen Poe needed to be added to that list because he tore open the Constitution and the “smiling face of America” with darkness and poison.

He returns to the moment of the children’s arrival at the Isaacson house. It was boarded up and empty, the curtains were missing, the door was locked, and Williams was gone. As the realization of the emptiness set in, Susan peed her pants and both of them watched the spreading stain on the porch.

Book Two concludes with Ascher holding each of the children under an arm, walking quickly along Tremont Avenue. He was sighing and rebuking them for running away, but eventually concluded that, “Men do not respect God. You are only children and you can’t understand – it’s natural, I would run away too...what can I tell you? Soon we will be in court. We shall have our trial.”


Daniel’s narrative frequently includes historical information: the life of Harry Stimson; the Yalta and Potsdam conferences; different methods of punishment; the U.S. and the Soviet Union after WWII, etc. In this section, Daniel takes up the idea of treason, listing various traitors from American history such as Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, the Hartford Convention Federalists from the War of 1812, and even Robert E. Lee. In his opinion, however, the “archetype traitor, the master subversive” (177) was actually Edgar Allen Poe because he “wore a hole into the parchment and let the darkness pour through” (177).

Poe accomplished this through his lifestyle and his writing, both of which were shadowy, subversive, and deviant. What Poe wrought has continued to pour its “dark hellish gases like soot, like smog, like the poisonous effulgence of combustion engines over Thrift and Virtue and Reason and Natural Law and the Rights of Man” (177). In his blackness, Daniel may be a modern-day Poe or an example of what Poe made possible. Daniel has a tinge of madness about him just as Poe obviously did. Daniel is obsessed with the idea of the traitor because his parents have joined that infamous list. In his mind, however, their status as traitors is due to what Poe accomplished a century before.

Daniel points out that treason’s status as the sole punishment that is defined in the Constitution. Article III Section 3 reads, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” Ironically, the Founding Fathers had all been declared guilty of treason under the British government and were thus very concerned with how it should be articulated in the founding document of their own nation. Up until the Isaacsons, no American had ever been executed for treason against his or her country. It is no wonder that Daniel marvels over his parents’ fate.

This section also features another example of Daniel’s cruelty toward his wife. Knowing he has her practically enslaved sexually, Daniel gets his kicks from withholding her orgasm (although he finally relents). This arouses her even more and she claims it was the best they have ever had. Daniel, however, knowing the streak of cruelty that actually prompted his choice to pull back, could not fathom how he did not leave an imprint upon her. He wrote that he “could not find there the education recorded, no impression of the cruel thing, the cruel thing…” (169). Although their life at that time was “friendly” (169) Daniel could not resist exercising his power over her – and he wonders why she is not always aware of his brutality.

Finally, this section also demonstrates more of the trials and tribulations faced by the children as they coped with their parents’ absence. While at the Shelter, Daniel tries to make a name for himself while Susan alienates the other girls around her. Daniel mercilessly teases the Inertia Kid and Susan conceives their situation as “jail.” This behavior continues into adulthood, where Daniel assumes power at the expense of another (Phyllis) while Susan withdraws from the hardships of life through a suicide attempt. They eventually decide to escape and make their way all the way back to their childhood home, only to find it empty, abandoned, and desolate. This encounter is a vivid reminder of the literal loss of their family stability and identity. The wholeness exemplified by the home has been shattered.

The title of the section "Alone in the Cold War with Franny and Zooey" contains an allusion to J.D. Salinger's sibling characters Franny and Zooey Glass. Franny is the disenchanted but sympathetic youngest child and her older brother Zooey is more misanthropic and critical. One theme of Franny and Zooey, originally published as separate stories in the 1950s, is the critique of contemporary bourgeious culture - which Daniel certainly understands.