© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Freedom

Freedom

by Jonathan Franzen

Family Theme

In a recent interview, Jonathan Franzen described family as "the one thing you can't change," much as we might like to (source). For a nuclear family of four, the Berglunds sure pack a whole lot of allegiances and alienation into a mere two decades. The parents play favorites with their children, the children expose and exploit weaknesses in their parents. More than one son in Freedom reacts to (OK, revolts against) his father's politics by embracing the exact opposite position, and more than one parent champions the child she considers most like herself. What does all this tell us about the modern family unit? One might wind up thinking it would be better to have no family at all, given how maladjusted these characters from broken homes are.

Questions About Family

  1. Why is Joey so cruel to his mother? Is there anything she could she do to reconcile with him?
  2. Jonathan's father is conservative, and Jonathan ends up liberal; Joey's father is liberal, and Joey ends up conservative. Is this type of reaction inevitable? Or does it say something about the older men having failed as fathers, to the point where their sons will do anything to be different from them?
  3. Then on the female side, we have Jessica, who for most of the novel hates her mother, but becomes more and more like her over time. In the end, the two end up having a great relationship. What difference does this suggest between the mother-daughter relationship and the father-son relationship?
  4. If she could go back and do it again, what sort of relationship do you think Patty would want her kids to have with their grandparents?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement