Franny and Zooey is a major piece of J.D. Salinger's Glass family saga. After his 1951 classic, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger devoted his time to writing about this family of mystical prodigies in several stories from Nine Stories (1953) and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). Both the stores "Franny" and "Zooey" were originally published, as most of Salinger's stories were, in The New Yorker magazine, in 1955 and 1957, respectively. They were combined into the novel in 1961, and rose to number-one that year on The New York Times bestseller list.
The major themes surrounding Franny and Zooey accord with Salinger's life. He had delved deeper into studies of Buddhism and other Eastern religions, and their central concepts, which peek up in his earlier work, take center stage here. Franny and Zooey may be viewed as Salinger's fusion of Judeo-Christian religion and Eastern religion, and both Franny and Zooey go to great lengths to show the similarities between the different doctrines, especially in regards to incessant praying.
Likewise, the idea of privacy pops up frequently in the novel. Buddy Glass, Salinger's alter ego, has sequestered himself in a rustic house, much like Salinger did in Cornish, New Hampshire. The novel makes many arguments for the necessity of privacy - namely, that the artist can worry only about his own art, and not its reception. These may be viewed both as philosophical arguments, and as Salinger's justification for his reclusive lifestyle. On the jacket cover to Franny and Zooey, he takes this further, addressing directly the need for privacy in the writer's life. Bolstering these views are the novel's depiction of celebrity and its attendant ills. Salinger, of course, became famous from The Catcher in the Rye, and his fame is part of what made him flee to New Hampshire. But Salinger is also known for having flirted with and exploited his fame, hanging out in New York's chic nightclubs and dating playwright Eugene O'Neil's daughter, Oona. Just like the Glasses, he had to come to terms with his fame.
The more earthbound goal of the novel is as a critique of 1950s bourgeois culture. This is seemingly ironic, since Salinger published so frequently in The New Yorker, the epitome in bourgeois periodicals. But his stories revolved around well-educated, literate people, and The New Yorker audience was a logical match. Most likely Salinger also relished the idea of criticizing his very readership, the Lane Coutells who believed they were above reproach since they read Flaubert, did not watch television, and were familiar with psychoanalysis. But Salinger shows the ways their bourgeois lifestyle can be just as conformist as that of the masses, and moreover how egotistical it can be.
A major charge levied against Franny and Zooey, and most of Salinger's writing after Catcher, is that it is too self-indulgent, too philosophical as opposed to narrative, too cute - in short, as Buddy, admits about his own writing, too "clever." Writer John Updike, in a review of Franny and Zooey, says that Salinger loves his characters more than God does. Former lovers of Salinger have said that he essentially considers the Glasses real people, and the novel bears that out, detailing their most minute personal histories - how the living-room furniture got scratched, for instance - as a way to make them eminently real and to mythologize them. They are both highly realistic characters and totally unrealistic gods, characters who can discuss their childhood scrapes as easily as the effect of Buddhistic egotism on 20th-century hobbies. Whether the individual reader is turned off by the precocious Glass children and by Salinger's adoration of them or not, they are inarguably a unique creation, monuments to contemporary American culture and to eternal spiritual questions.