When Zooey Glass finishes re-reading Buddy's letter, he thinks about it for a while and then picks up a script, probably to memorize lines. The script reads like a melodramatic soap opera. His mother, Bessie, knocks on the bathroom door and asks if she can come in. Zooey pulls the shower curtain around himself and she enters, telling him that he should not stay in the bath so long. Zooey is immediately annoyed. Bessie sits down in her house kimono and goes through the medicine cabinet. She stalls, then asks whether Zooey has talked to his sister (Franny) yet. Zooey says no, but that he talked to her for two hours the night before. Bessie then starts complaining about Buddy having no phone. Zooey becomes very annoyed with her. Bessie comments that the title of Zooey's play is "unusual," and she remarks that Zooey never thinks anything is beautiful or unusual. Zooey responds by insulting Bessie's taste. Bessie then tells Zooey that she is worried about Franny and about their father, Les, who won't acknowledge that there is anything wrong with Franny even though Franny can hardly stop crying. She says that Les expects to hear all of the children on "It's a Wise Child," the radio show that they were all on as children and adolescents.
Zooey and Bessie continue to argue about Zooey talking to Franny. Then they are quiet, and the narrator describes Bessie's eyes: They tell the story of her having lost her favorite, kindest son (Seymour) and her only cheerful son (Walter). But, her children hate to look at her eyes because even with all of their tragic beauty, Bessie usually only talks about practical matters. Finally, Bessie leaves the bathroom. Zooey gets out of the bath and shaves. As he does so, Bessie comes back to ask whether she should summon their brother Waker, who has become a priest, to talk to Franny. Answering herself, Bessie decides that Waker is too emotional. Bessie then tells Zooey that Lane Coutell is worried about Franny. Zooey calls Lane a fake. Lane thinks Franny's problem has to do with her book. Zooey tells Bessie that Franny got that book from Seymour's room. Zooey says he is sick of talking and thinking about Seymour and Buddy. Bessie mentions getting Franny a psychoanalyst. Zooey thinks that is a terrible idea; he thinks that they are all shallow. Zooey explains the "Jesus prayer" to Bessie and then makes fun of her for a while. Bessie admires her son's back, and Zooey then becomes uncomfortable. Finally, after telling him that all of her children were more fun and happy when they were young, Bessie leaves him alone again.
The character of Bessie is interestingly different from her children. We learn later that she and her husband, Les, were Vaudeville performers. This kind of theater is stereotypically low class and unintellectual. But Bessie and Les had a whole brood of very intelligent children. The children become annoyed with Bessie because she does not have as refined a sense of beauty as they do. When she and Zooey fight about the title of his script, for instance, she does not understand why he is such a snob about beauty, and he cannot comprehend her lack of sensitivity. In addition, her fate--having lost two sons already--which is written on her face, is touching and sad. Yet, she nags the children about mundane issues, which, they feel, destroys the beauty that her situation and image create.
"Zooey" picks up many of the themes begun in "Franny," including phoniness. Zooey himself finds Lane to be fake. Lane does not really care about Franny or anything else that is truly beautiful. Instead, he just wants to look good for the public. In addition, Zooey demonstrates a general distrust for psychoanalysis, seeming to feel that psychoanalysis deals only with the problems of society, grafted onto an individual. Zooey seems to think that Franny's problems are more fundamental than that. She is having a spiritual crisis, which cannot be helped by someone telling her that she fears competition with others. Instead, she needs to revisit her religious learning, which is why Zooey was reviewing the letter from Buddy.
Bessie's admiration of Zooey's back makes him uncomfortable because he is acutely aware of the Oedipal implications of that comment. (In the ancient Greek play, Oedipus, the title character is cursed by Fate to kill his father and marry his mother.) This is an interesting moment because the Oedipal reference is obvious only to Zooey. Bessie is simply reaching out to Zooey because she wants him to help his sister and correct all the wrongs in the family. But Zooey is too full of knowledge to let her comment go by unnoticed.
I am a huge JD Salinger fan, and I'm one of those people who's read "Catcher in the Rye" like 200 times, several times a year since I was about twelve. I buy into every cliche said about it: it changed my life, it made me want to write, it validated my own teen angst, Salinger captures teen-speak amazingly well, Holden Caulfield is vulnerable and wise, a kid-hero, etc.
Take a Study Break!