How Salinger’s “Franny” Represents Every Woman’s Bad, Sexist Dating Experiences
Start writing a post

How Salinger’s “Franny” Represents Every Woman’s Bad, Sexist Dating Experiences

If Lane Coutell was a real man in 2017, his Tinder bio would read Ivy League. Future entrepreneur. I'll buy you dinner.

How Salinger’s “Franny” Represents Every Woman’s Bad, Sexist Dating Experiences

A few years after publishing "The Catcher in the Rye" and introducing the world to Holden Caulfield and his iconic “people hunting hat,” J.D. Salinger turned his attention away from the troubles of an angry high school boy to the troubles of an angry college girl. Salinger published “Franny” in the “New Yorker” in 1955. The short story is about college student and aspiring actress, Franny Glass, who meets up with her boyfriend Lane to attend a weekend football game and ends up suffering both a crisis of faith and a crisis of identity. In 1957, Salinger published a follow up novella called “Zooey” that picked up where Franny’s tale left off, this time from the perspective of her wise-cracking older brother attempting to lift Franny’s spirits while she seeks refuge in their childhood home. These two pieces were later printed together as the single work, "Franny and Zooey," in 1961. However, here I’m going to look only at “Franny,” alone, the way it was originally published and put out in the world, before Franny’s story and breakdown became intertwined and overshadowed by the more “legitimate” spiritual crises of her older brothers.

“Franny” is notable for being Salinger’s only major work with a young woman in the lead. Salinger’s other stories tend to stick to portraying female characters as pure, pre-pubescent children with a wisdom far beyond their years or as vapid, nagging wives and mothers. Sybil from "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Esmé from "For Esme with Love and Squalor" and even sweet Phoebe Caulfield fall into the role of the waifish, innocent sage. Meanwhile, "Bananafish's" Muriel is framed as clueless and shallow for painting her nails and Zooey’s Bessie Glass is brutally demeaned and dismissed as “fat and stupid” by her grown son for daring to disturb him in the bath.

However, Franny Glass is neither the saint or the shrew. She’s a terrified, disillusioned 20-year-old on a desperate search for a greater purpose. Like Holden, one of her greatest concerns is the inauthenticity or phoniness of society. She later confesses quitting her position as a well-respected talented actress in the theatre department because accepting praise for her performance made her feel like “a nasty little egomaniac” and she admits, “I just hated myself.” Women are taught never to compliment themselves and instead seek validation from others (usually men). Instead of saying “Thank you” when a guy compliments us we’ve learned to deflect and diminish with a simple “Really? It’s such a mess this morning. You’re too kind.”

While in men confidence and pride at winning a big basketball game are encouraged, women who like their appearance or openly celebrate a big promotion at work are labeled vain and narcissistic. Holden expresses his frustration through over-confidence and outlandish boasts, such as physically fighting Stradlater and calling everyone at his prep school a bunch of morons. Meanwhile, Franny turns her anger inward, tearing herself down and questioning her own abilities and sense of worth. Their differing responses reflect a common difference between the genders approach to dating:

“When a woman gets rejected by a man she blames herself. When a man gets rejected he blames a woman.”

Despite being the story’s title character, the reader’s first look at Franny is warped and filtered through a letter written to her boyfriend Lane. The letter itself is clearly a calculated attempt by Franny to mask her worries and fulfill the role of sweet, bubbly girlfriend constantly telling him how much she adores him and quickly following up news of her father’s possible illness with “Anyways can’t wait to see you! Till Saturday, my flower!!” Yet, some of Franny and Lane’s imbalanced relationship manages to slip through here, when Franny writes, that if she spells something wrong “kindly overlook it” although she’s been taking his advice to use a dictionary more because she always sounds “so unintelligent and dimwitted when I write to you.” From these first sentences, it’s clear that Lane sees himself as more intelligent than Franny and takes on the duty of patronizingly correcting her mistakes. Here Franny also scolds Lane for never saying that he loves her writing, “I hate strong, silent men.” She also lets slip that she’s beginning to “look down on all poets except Sappho,” the ancient Greek poet who is most famous for her poems about female friendships and romantic relationships.

In the same letter, Franny even quotes a verse of Sappho to Lane she found particularly striking:

Delicate Adonis is dying, what shall we do?

Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your tunics.”

Her admiration for this particular poem shows her longing for a world where even if the male hero (Adonis) falls short, the women will still join together and be strong.

As the story progresses it becomes clearer that Lane’s interested not in Franny as a person, but in the idea of Franny and what others perceive her as. When he sees her get off the train his first reaction is pride that he’s the only person who truly “knew Franny’s coat.” He views her first as a status symbol draped in raccoon fur rather than his partner. When they’re at the restaurant Lane silently relishes in being in a public place with “a girl who was not only extraordinarily pretty, but so much the better, not to categorically cashmere sweater and flannel skirt.” Not only does this sum up Lane’s opinion on Franny being entirely built on how she appears to the people around them. Similarly Lane’s affection towards her stems from her being “better” than all those “other girls” who he regards as cliché, airhead stereotypes based solely on the way they dress. If Lane Coutell was a real man in 2017, his Tinder bio would read “Ivy League. Future entrepreneur. Sick of bimbos Looking for someone who can actually keep up with me and talk about things that matter like literature and politics. Don’t worry, I’ll pay for dinner.”

Franny catches Lane’s moment of superiority and it causes her to feel extremely “guilty” as she feels she has to play along with the illusion and hide her knowledge of this moment of embarrassing vanity. She has been taught to conform to this vision of the picture-perfect partner. Rather than openly share her inner turmoil she goes to great lengths to hide her emotions and excuses herself to the restroom to cry and lie on the floor. Here, Franny is clinging to the idea that being upset and showing her emotions is wrong and will make her into the awful, crazy girlfriend and that she should only cry in private to spare Lane the embarrassment of dealing with her “hysteria.”

After this fit, Franny washes her face, smooths her hair, and applies a fresh coat of lipstick before returning to the table smiling and looking, according to Salinger, “quite stunning.” As long as she looks beautiful on the outside, her sadness stays unnoticed. Mere moments after Franny returns from the breakdown and once again puts on a cheery demeanor while ordering her food Lane hits her with a clearly irritated sigh before declaring,” A chicken sandwich for God’s sake.”

Lane’s desire to control what Franny eats is not out of any real concern for her health but at the idea of being in a high-class French restaurant and not ordering the “right choice” of frog legs or snails like he chose too. So many women encounter this same lose-lose dilemma on in the dating when they worry that ordering a large dish will make a man think they’re greedy or a pig while ordering a salad may brand them as too high-maintenance. Franny’s irritation at the ridiculous conditions of this arrangement snaps back, “You order what you want […] I can’t work up an appetite just because you want me to.”

Salinger further demonstrates Lane’s ‘super-male” sense of importance as he dominates the entirety of their interactions and treats Franny as a silent, adoring audience of his speech rather than an active participant in the conversation. In a particularly telling passage, Salinger writes, “Lane was speaking now as someone who has been monopolizing the conversion for a good quarter of an hour or so and who believes he has just hit a stride where his voice can do no wrong.” In the sentence immediately following Lane criticizes the character of his advisor by saying he “lacks testicularity,” equating inadequacy to the absence of male genitalia. This demeaning gendered judgment is finally too much for Franny and she breaks her silence by interrupting, “Lacks what?”

The sudden use of her voice throws him both literally and figuratively off balance as he readjusts his position and hastily corrects his phrasing to “masculinity.” Franny refuses to let his sexist declaration go ignored, refuting with “I heard you the first time.”

Towards the end of the story, Franny does make the effort to gain an active standing in the date and changes the topic of conversation to the book she’s been reading called “The Way of the Pilgrim,” about a monk learning to pray without ceasing in order to speak directly with God. The importance of this book is obvious to the reader as Franny’s voice rises in volume and for the first time in the entirety of their interactions she’s shown as passionate and excited about what she’s discussing rather than hesitant or, in her words, “terrible and destructive.”

Unfortunately, Lane spends the majority of her explanation ignoring Franny in favor of playing with his frog legs and complaining that the food is “too garlicy.”

In the final, few pages he does seem to show a brief moment of acknowledgement and asks Franny what would happen if the monk is successful in his quest. Franny starts to answer his question, but the sudden shift in power and autonomy is too much for her to handle and she ends up fainting in the middle of the restaurant and being carried out by both Lane and a male waiter. The final line of the story concludes with Franny, left alone, lying on the floor when “her lips began to move, forming soundless words, and they continued to move.”

While both “Franny” and “Zooey” feature Salinger’s impressive writing and a touching brother/sister bond that still remains vastly underexplored by today’s media, “Franny” still could have been much stronger if Salinger had let it stand on its own. Imagine if rather than following up this bittersweet attempt at connection with 80+ pages of a sage older male figure swooping in to “talk some sense” into this misguided girl and save her from herself, readers were left only with that striking image of the young woman trying desperately to communicate, but being left only with silence.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?


Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less

14 Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts Your S.O. Will Love

If they love you, they're not going to care if you didn't get them some expensive diamond necklace or Rolex watch; they just want you.


Let me preface this by saying I am not a bad girlfriend.

I am simply a forgetful one.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

10 Helpful Tips For College Students Taking Online Courses This Semester

Here are several ways to easily pass an online course.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels

With spring semester starting, many college students are looking to take courses for the semester. With the pandemic still ongoing, many students are likely looking for the option to take online courses.

Online courses at one time may have seemed like a last minute option for many students, but with the pandemic, they have become more necessary. Online courses can be very different from taking an on-campus course. You may be wondering what the best way to successfully complete an online course is. So, here are 10 helpful tips for any student who is planning on taking online courses this semester!

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments