Jonathan Franzen, the enigmatic author of ‘The Corrections’ (2001), was featured on the August 23rd cover of Time Magazine. The cover adorned with the title ‘The Great American Novelist’ prominently features a stoic image of Franzen gazing into the distance. The immediate backlash that emerged from the Time Magazine profile and Franzen’s ubiquitous media presence (see numerous glowing pre-release reviews) was dubbed ‘Franzenfreude.’ Jonathan Franzen’s contemporaries and critics were apprehensive about the author’s meteoric rise to fame and status as a postmodernist. ‘Freedom’ is a stunning depiction of the myriad of relationships and trials that plagued the post WWII American family of the Berglunds as they cautiously ventured into the 21st century. Franzen adeptly addresses the notion of emotion, ideology, and individual choice, among other qualities in this sprawling cross-generational novel. ‘Freedom’ at times bears a political tinge, but takes pointed shots at grandstanding liberal and conservative ideals in qualifying freedom.
Franzen paints an unflattering portrait of the dysfunctional Berglunds family. Walter and Peggy Berglund are a quixotic suburban couple who live a seemingly picturesque life in a gentrified St. Paul, Minnesota neighborhood. An introspective examination reveals two individuals molded by uninvolved parenting and unfortunate circumstances. ‘Freedom’ undoubtedly follows the five-point structure of Greek dramatic plays. Franzen begins with the looming descent of the Berglunds and a flashback to the formative years of the couple. Walter’s college friend Richard Katz is devised as a foil to the Berglunds’ relationship. Richard’s uncompromising nature is attributed to the title of the novel. However, the narrator does not condemn or condone the actions of the characters. ‘Freedom’ operates to a certain extent as an existentialist novel. The various characters reconcile with the intangible quality of freedom. The characters at times appear disenchanted and misanthropic. The elder characters serve as allusions to the younger characters in exhibiting character flaws and ill-fated choices.
Franzen creates a ‘stream of consciousness’ attributive of his detailed characters and loose writing style. The author towards the novel’s parting moments reexamines the Berglund clan. Franzen considers the realistic nature of his character’s attributes and quandaries when he stated in a New Yorker article “a novel represents a compact between the writer and the reader, with the writer providing words out of which the reader creates a pleasurable experience.” ‘Freedom’ represents an encapsulation of the myopia and optimism of a world shared by Jonathan Franzen and readers alike.
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