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Saturday, July 26, 2008

On J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey: A Winnicottian perspective


ON IDENTIFICATION AND IDENTITY CRISIS IN J.D. SALINGER’S FRANNY AND ZOOEY: A WINNICOTTIAN PERSPECTIVE


by Azly Rahman

notes written at Columbia University, New York


In analyzing the dialogue taking place between Zooey and Franny in J.D. Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey, I have chosen to use D. W. Winnicott’s notion of “identification” particularly in looking at Zooey’s attempt to help his sister Franny out of the latter’s predicament. Winnicott’s notion of “identification” concerns an individual’s use and relating to subjects in the process of maturation in that creativity, mental health and emotional well-being can be achieved if one is able to “destroy” objects of transition such as “soft toys”, “breast”, “security blanket”, “mother”, “father” etc., and relate them subconsciously to concepts such as belongingness, security, openness, and love.

When these objects as functional objects, transitional in nature have been destroyed and re-appropriated once again as objects, the individual can then see them as relational and conceptual and not cling to them for security as such as in the case of Franny’s clinging to the book, The Way of A Pilgrim and to the prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’.

In the novel, I could sense this Winnnicotian concept of play in the characters of Franny and Zooey. Whilst both in their childhood years were child prodigies whose information and knowledge (not understanding) of wisdom has been passed down by their elder brothers Seymour and Buddy, Zooey must have progressed better than Franny in the maturation process. Franny’s search for meaning in life has brought her into a psychopathological state of mind of which she finds hypocrisy and nausea in the external reality of her consciousness, seeks refuge in re reading The Way of a Pilgrim and thinks that the prayer can ease her pains in the process of balancing her Inner and Outer self.

Zooey is characterized as one who not only share the sociology of spiritual-metaphysical information with Franny but also one who is able to help his sister relate what she has all along not able to find meaning in. Hence, by pointing out the metaphorical relation between The Fat Lady and Jesus, acting and “being before doing” (Winnicott’s concept of ‘I am’ versus ‘I do’), Zooey was able to play the role of a psychoanalyst, albeit crudely performed, in what appeared to be a powerfully charged phases of psychoanalytic dialogue between two emotionally-bound individuals searching for meaning.

Zooey is thus responding as much to a younger part of himself as he is to Franny not only because of the narrow age difference and the commonality of educative experience they share in matters of spiritual knowledge but also because he feels that he could also revisit the “objects” he and Franny are familiar with: objects such as Seymour and Buddy, their radio show, and The Fat Lady they were asked to please for every performance. I would categorically say that this “identification” has helped more than hinder in his attempt to respond to Franny’s crisis, particularly evident in his telephone impersonation of their mentor Buddy, A Winnicottian reading of this would be that as a child Franny’s attachment to Buddy has made the latter an “object” she clinged on to for guidance and wisdom and Zooey’s phone call as Buddy has not only anchor her sister’s experience but also helped her “destroy” Buddy as an object and made her realize what lies behind the bits of wisdom he has passed down. Hence when Buddy is “destroyed, other objects such as the prayer and “The Fat Lady” becomes relational, rather than merely functional and the objects can then become objects again “after surviving destruction”.

Zooey, unconsciously has created a dialogical play area which is transitional in nature not only for Franny to see the early spark of spiritual understanding but has, I believe helped him too in furthering his journey towards Truth. The educativeness of Zooey’s response lies in his early reluctance of helping Franny out of her predicament. Being an “accidental dialogue partner and a reluctant psychoanalyst all in one” progressing towards phases of frustration in the process, devising strategies to get Franny responding and finally playing the decisive role of Buddy – all those have been pertinently educative for Zooey himself.

Perhaps if not because of her sister’s crisis, Zooey would not have the opportunity to revisit his own inner reality. It is perhaps to a case of two people subjectivizing the objective so that a newer objective reality is then perceived. It is perhaps too an educative moment wherein two individuals having gone through childhood in a “web of guesses” have finally come, in unison, to a moment of truth, a juncture of common understanding of what it means to be “wise adults” after having being told that they once precociously “wise children”! (the plight of the gifted and ‘hurried’ children).

It is when both revisited the past -- objects, experiences, and knowledge – that, in the Winnicottian analysis, objective transition can happen, inner reality can be examined, and objects of passion and attachment clinged on to can be destroyed so that a harmonious balance between the Inner and the Outer self can be struck. I relate a great deal to both the characters and to the powerful psychoanalytical dialogue not only because of their intense search for the self but also primarily to a similar process I have personally gone through for the last ten years of my life.

I was once Franny clinging on to various spiritual texts, arguing with the world, and was attempting to find meaning in a simple prayer I attempt to incessantly recite until a Zooey in me emerges! I now can better understand a truth in a Western spiritual tradition. *****

1 comment:

Antares said...

You're indeed a homegrown Malaysian phenomenon, Azly. Hope our orbits will intersect on your next visit to your homeland! :-)

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