Lane Coutell is waiting on the platform at a train station. He is waiting for Franny Glass, who is coming in with other college women, for a football weekend at Lane's college. As he stands there, he reads a letter from Franny. In the letter, she discusses her dislike for most poets and keeps telling Lane that she loves him. Lane is interrupted by a friend of his. Then, the train arrives. Franny and Lane have a somewhat awkward reunion. Lane asks about a book that Franny is holding, but she brushes off his question. She tells him about the girls that she rode in with who fit the stereotypes of different colleges. Franny tells Lane that she has missed him and realizes that she is lying.
Lane and Franny go for lunch at Sickler's, a restaurant where students on the "intellectual fringe" dine. They are drinking martinis. Lane is talking about a paper he has written about the French author Gustave Flaubert. He got an "A" on the paper and wants Franny to read it. Franny's patience is wearing out. She tells Lane that he is talking like a "section man." These men, she explains, are the graduate students that help teach her classes. They over-intellectualize literature and ruin it. Franny then apologizes for her rant and says that she has been feeling strange. She tells Lane that she wishes she had not gone back to school that year, or at least that she had given up the English department. She feels that everyone in it destroys literature rather than creating it.
Lane begins to take offense. He says that she has two of the "best men" in her department, both of whom are poets. Franny counters that they are not "real poets." When Lane asks what a "real poet" is, Franny says that to be a real poet, one must leave something beautiful. She says that she just wants to have someone there that she can respect. At this point, she begins to feel strange and excuses herself to the bathroom. Lane is annoyed when she leaves but tries to look "attractively bored."
From the moment that Franny gets off of the train, she talks about conformity. When she makes fun of the girls on the train that are stereotypes of their schools, she is both recognizing and insulting their similarity to all those who attend the same institution. This theme is crucial because Franny is trying to avoid being like everybody else, but she also feels hopelessly trapped. After all, even her boyfriend, Lane, tries hard to fit in and look just right. When the two go to Sickler's, Lane is content because he is in the right place with a "right-looking" girl. He thinks to himself that she is not too "categorically cashmere sweater and flannel skirt." In other words, she is not too predictable and ordinary. But even this thought seems to be an example of his conformity; it is "right-looking" to have a date who does not look boring. Franny is struggling to avoid this kind of conformity but cannot seem to escape it.
Franny is not only becoming disgusted with conformity, but she is also beginning to hate all criticism and ego. Her frustration brings up the themes of individual importance and creation versus destruction. She dislikes the English department at her college because she thinks that the older members of it do not give undergraduates any credit for their own ideas and, therefore, destroy their interest in the material. "Section men" look down at Franny and other undergraduates, thinking themselves to be right all the time. Franny seems to despise the idea that only people who are older and have been studying literature longer really know how to interpret it. She thinks that the ideas of every individual should be considered important. In addition, Franny hates that the people in the department only criticize and tear apart literature. They never create anything, she says to Lane.
Franny's lukewarm attitude toward Lane shows her growing dislike for English department intellectuals. After all, Lane certainly is one of them. In addition, her reluctance to discuss with Lane the small green book that she has with her all the time foreshadows its personal importance to her.