We can approach this theme on a small scale (microscopic) and on a large scale (telescopic). In Freedom, Franzen certainly tries to craft characters that are representative of what it's like to live in 21st century America. So, um, this points us right to depression, ennui, and the disintegration of traditional family dynamics. At the same time, each character opens to us to a larger sense of what America means today (telescopic). It's what people often call the Zeitgeist , or the spirit of an age. So through Walter we learn about big environmental issues, Joey leads us to consider the Iraq War, and Richard vents about the corrosive nature of American consumer culture.