Zachary Martin Glass
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How You Know Him:
I find it difficult to consider anyone a protagonist or antagonist in pretty much any of Salinger’s work, given their predilections to be both to themselves. So I shall just say the ‘main character’ of the second half, being the somewhat self contained Zooey, of Franny and Zooey by good old J.D.
Why He’s Crushworthy:
I have to admit, the first time I read Zooey I wasn’t a big fan of, well, Zooey. I thought he was a bit pompous, sometimes cruel, and almost intolerably impatient. But then, with each subsequent re-reading, I seemed to like him a bit more. He started making a little more sense. And his flaws were a little more forgiving. In fact, his flaws made him human. But it was still with little thought that I considered the youngest male of the irreputable Glass family, which consists of mother Bessie, father Les, eldest Seymour (deceased, suicide, we hear a great deal about this), Buddy (reclusive writer), Boo Boo (Tuckahoe homemaker), Walt (deceased, occupied Japan, no one talks about this), Waker (Carthusian monk), Zooey (PhD-less actor), and Franny (college student and actress). All of the Glass children are brilliant and none of them can function properly in society.
Zooey is, perhaps, the most functional of the members of the family we see up close (that’s to say Boo Boo seems to be doing all right in herWestchesterexistence but we don’t know an incredible amount about her other than the two cents she often throws into Buddy’s writings). And I think this is essentially because he’s able to step outside their family, see how incredibly screwed up they are, and bend his life around it rather than forcing a stringent idea of how things are meant to be.
For example, like the rest of his family Zooey was a contestant of a radio program called It’s a Wise Child, which began as a trivia game for children but whichSeymour turned into more of a round table for kids to discuss things that most kids can’t discuss. He was considered the second, afterSeymour (who is revered by Buddy, the rest of the Glasses, and, if Buddy’s unreliable narration can be believed, all of those who heard him on the radio), most satisfying member of the family to listen to. This is perhaps because at the age of twelve he “had an English vocabulary on an exact par with Mary Baker Eddy’s, if he could be urged to use it” and is considered the family’s most skilled verbal stunt pilot. When it’s time he dutifully attends college until he’s twenty-one years old when he decides he wants to be an actor and doesn’t feel the need to pursue a PhD. This does not make old Bessie Glass all that happy because, of course, she wants her son to have something to fall back on. But, Zooey persists, doesn’t go after his doctorate, and becomes a relatively successful leading man in television.
But it’s clear that Zooey has issues, as all good characters must (however else will they be interesting?). He blames the elder brothers Seymour and Buddy almost exclusively for screwing him and Franny up. The problem? They’re over-educated. The elder Glasses took control of their education early on and infused their youngest siblings with religion and philosophy before they moved on to the literature and sciences the rest of us get. Zooey complains because he can’t sit down to a dinner without mentally the Four Great Vows. He tried once and choked on a cherrystone clam.
He’s also horribly judgmental of everyone who’s not as smart or witty or interesting as himself. His standards, like the standards of every other member of the Glass family, are so unreasonably high that he ends up hating everybody.
“We’re freaks, the two of us, Franny and I,” he announced, standing up. “I’m a twenty-five-year-old freak and she’s a twenty-year-old freak, and both those bastards are responsible. […] I swear to you, I could murder them both without even batting an eyelash. The great teachers. The great emancipators. My God. I can’t even sit down to lunch with a man any more and hold up my end of a decent conversation. I either get so bored or so goddam preachy that if the son of a bitch had any sense, he’d break his chair over my head.” And that’s on top of the Wise Child complexes he’s convinced they all have. Not just the strain of celebrity at a young age, but for being celebrated for something that never leaves them; the ability to show off just how clever they are.
Zooey has been engaged in a “private war against narcissism he had been fighting since he was seven or eight years old”. In fact he goes through his daily routine of teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and shaving with the least amount of time spent looking in the mirror as possible.He’s described, by this sister Boo Boo via his brother Buddy, who’s writing the tale, as looking like “the blue-eyed Jewish-Irish Mohican scout who died in your arms at the roulette table at Monte Carlo”. We’re also told that his eyes are “a day’s work to look into” and that he exudes “an authentic espirit superimposed over his entire face”. So my guess is that it’s safe to say he’s good looking.
But then the bulk of the book is Zooey attempting to help his sister, Franny, out of a spiritual funk she’s found herself in. She’s become disillusioned with school (as all college students must, though perhaps not on such a grand scale). She blames teachers and students alike for their egos, railing against men who call themselves poets but who she consider men who write poetry. I’m really not going to get into the story, or idea, of this book, as I have tried (I said tried) to keep this about Zooey.
He gets frustrated helping his sister because these are all things that he’s been through before, come to terms with, and finally accepted. We don’t know if he had the sort of breakdown that Franny is exhibiting, but we do know that he had at least a small crisis of faith (faith being an all encompassing term here, not simply a religious issue). But he also knows something that I’m very familiar with myself. There are times when, no matter the level of stunt verbalization, words fail. You know what you mean but you can not get the point across. So you keep talking, hoping that eventually you’ll alight on the right words and the person you’re with will suddenly understand.