© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.



by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary

How It All Goes Down

Free Markets Foster Competition

  • To begin her third chapter, Patty pauses for a moment to apologize for being so persistently negative about her parents. If nothing else, she would like to thank them for not forcing her to be "Creative in the Arts" like they did with her sisters, who are now "in their early forties and living alone in New York, too eccentric and/or entitled-feeling to sustain a long-term relationship, and still accepting parental subsidies while struggling to achieve an artistic success they were made to believe was their special destiny" (2.3.1).
  • Then Patty brings us up to speed on the next stage of her relationship with Walter. Here's another good quote: "He may not have been exactly what she wanted in a man, but he was unsurpassable in providing the rabid fandom which, at the time, she needed even more than romance" (2.3.2).
  • Looking back, Patty recognizes that she should have taken more time after graduation to "develop a career and a more solid post-athletic identity, get some experience with other kinds of men, and generally acquire more maturity before embarking on being a mother" (2.3.3).
  • But, competitive as she was, she felt that marrying a super-nice guy and living in a super-nice house and having super-nice kids and doing exactly what her family would never do was a really good way of feeling successful too.
  • So, Walter and Patty get married three weeks after she graduates from college. They don't invite Patty's family, which makes Walter's mother sad, but Patty swears it's for the best.
  • (Patty also argues against having a real ceremony, since if they did, Richard would end up being the best man, which she wanted to avoid for obvious reasons.)
  • The couple did, however, go out to New York the previous spring, to meet Patty's family.
  • Patty admits she felt a little embarrassed about Walter.
  • She also, in writing a reason for why she "loved" Walter, stops to insist (and either remind or convince herself) that she "doesdoes love him" (2.3.6).
  • They go out to dinner as a family. Patty's father gets drunk. Her sister Abigail is completely self-centered and obnoxious. Walter lectures Joyce (politely) about the Club of Rome, a group that argues that economic growth might not be as beneficial as it is always assumed, since, if it is continued as practiced today, it will have devastating effects on the environment.
  • So, yeah, the dinner is a disaster. They go back one more time, for Thanksgiving, and then swear they'll make their own family instead.
  • Now Patty writes, simply, "Poor Walter" (2.3.34). After ditching his own artistic ambition out of "a sense of financial obligation to his parents," now as soon as his dad dies, he has to once again put aside his own dreams and aspirations, since Patty wants a nice house and babies, and someone needs to support them.
  • But let's back up for a moment, because Walter and Patty have been waiting in the car outside the bus station since the end of the last chapter, and the engine's running. So let's join them in checking out the Berglunds' motel, Whispering Pines.
  • They arrive. The place is, to put it gently, not so fancy. (To put it bluntly: it's a dump.)
  • Walter shows her to her room, Room 21 (Walter's mother wouldn't approve of them sleeping in the same room). They make out a little bit and then Walter sits up and asks her point blank why she'd gone on the road trip with Richard.
  • Patty says there was something she needed to figure out. Walter asks what that was, and Patty says who she wanted to be with. And that's Walter.
  • Then she starts crying and admits that Richard wasn't nice to her.
  • Walter promises he'll be nice, and Patty swears he won't be sorry.
  • Patty makes a note of this in her autobiography, that those were her exact words: "I swear you won't be sorry" (2.3.76).
  • Then Walter grabs her rather violently and pushes her back on the bed and tells her he has loved her since the moment he saw her. But says that although he loves Richard, he doesn't trust him.
  • He demands to know again why she went to Chicago with him. He says he isn't stupid (implying that he knows she's attracted to Richard). He's really angry. Whoa.
  • Eventually Walter tries to stop freaking out and Patty takes a bath. When she comes out, Walter is still there, sitting on the bed with his head in his hands.
  • Patty apologizes again and says she needs some sleep, and asks for a kiss goodnight. And kissing is much more fun than fighting, so they end up in bed together: "And so began the happiest years of their life" (2.3.107).
  • A few days later, Walter's dad dies, which is a big relief to Walter.
  • He and Patty frolic in Room 21.
  • Four hundred people show up to Walter's dad's funeral. Richard is not one of them. Walter is way hurt.
  • Walter tells Patty about the beginning of his friendship with Richard, when they were freshmen roommates in college. Most impressive to Richard, at the time, was that Walter was from Hibbing – best-known for being Bob Dylan's hometown.
  • They both really liked the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back.
  • Years later, Patty watches it with Walter, and is fascinated by the famous scene in which the folk singer Donovan plays a song at a party and then Dylan takes great pleasure in playing an infinitely awesomer song and making Donovan look and feel bad.
  • Walter feels pity for Donovan; Patty is fascinated by Dylan's competitiveness.
  • Patty reminds us that Richard has no relationship whatsoever with his mom (who, again, walked out on his dad and him when Richard was really young).
  • Then we get a more expanded version of a story alluded to earlier, in which Walter is dating a girl who's taking advantage of him. So Richard sleeps with her in order to prove to Walter that the girl's totally unworthy (i.e., disloyal).
  • But at this point, when Walter and Patty are newlyweds, Richard has moved back East and settled in Jersey City, and they don't hear from him for a few years. (Richard starts drinking, which he had avoided for years because of his father's alcoholism, and this doesn't go well.)
  • The Traumatics release three albums. The first two go largely ignored; the third gets some press attention.
  • Eventually, the band comes through Minnesota on tour, and Richard comes by the Berglunds' house for lunch (bringing with him the Traumatics' new female band member, Molly, who may or may not be Richard's girlfriend).
  • This is pretty awesome for both Walter and Patty, but especially Walter. He feels happy and successful, in the home he's fixing up himself, and with their beautiful little kids. Richard tells him about all the new hip indie bands, and Walter goes out and buys their albums to impress his neighbors.
  • Then Patty gives us a big foreshadow: "At that point, the only thing that could have thrown Walter back into the bad ways he'd felt in college [...] would have been some bizarre pathological sequence of events. Things at home would have had to sour very badly. Walter would have had to have terrible conflicts with Joey, and fail to understand him and earn his respect, and generally find himself replicating his relationship with his own dad, and Richard's career would have had to take an unexpected latter-day turn for the better, and Patty would have had to fall violently in love with Richard. What were the chances of all that happening? Alas, not zero" (2.3.154).
  • Once again, we say: uh-oh.
  • Next Patty forces herself to say something about sex – specifically, her disinterest in it, and her guilt over this disinterest, and the problems created by her disinterest (and, of course, Walter's non-disinterest). Most of the time, she'd just rather be doing other things.
  • Regarding Joey and that whole drama, Patty declines to write anything: "the autobiographer fears that it would make her lie down on the floor and never get up" (2.3.156).
  • Walter and Richard then become close again. (At this point it's around 1991, as the men are discussing the situation with Iraq and Kuwait.)
  • Richard drops by Ramsey Hill whenever he's on tour. He really likes Jessica, who he thinks has a lot of Walter's mother in her. (Patty, on the other hand, wishes Jessica were more like her.)
  • Richard and Molly break up, and it turns out her mother is an Arts editor at the New York Times, which explains what little positive press their most recent album had received. So the next one, sans Molly, doesn't attract much attention at all.
  • The next time the Traumatics play in Minnesota, Walter and Patty go to the show. Not many other people do. Richard's songs are aggressively and abrasively anti-capitalist. Patty is happy to see him regardless.
  • That night, Walter and Patty have a very satisfying night in bed. Patty writes, "in autobiographical retrospect it now looks almost like the high point of their together" (2.3.177), but at the time it gave her hope that their marriage was really in great shape.
  • A few weeks later, Walter's mother dies suddenly. (As we learned at the book's opening, this is when Joey and Connie have their adolescent free-for-all in the house while Walter and Patty are away.)
  • Patty tells us that, from her point of view, this is really when everything fell apart.
  • For one thing, she goes into the alley behind the house and slashes the tires of Blake's truck.
  • Patty internally engages in an imagined court battle, arguing for and against whether, despite her many mistakes, she is truly a horrible person.
  • Anyway, by now it's a couple of years later, around the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment (late 1998).
  • Things continue falling apart. Patty begins drinking heavily.
  • OK, now she's going to say something about Joey. She says the real problem is that Walter couldn't accept that Joey was nothing at all like him: cool, confident, studly. And that Walter ruined her friendship with Joey, which was probably the most important thing in her life.
  • So she blames Walter, and Walter blames her. Big surprise.
  • The Traumatics break up for good, and Richard forms a new band: an alt-country band called Walnut Surprise.
  • A bunch of other complicated stuff happens in Richard's life, and he finds himself 44 years old and with nowhere to live. So Walter makes him an offer: he can stay rent-free at the house on Nameless Lake, if he'll start on the renovations Walter has been planning, most importantly building a deck.
  • Richard accepts. On the way up, he stops for a night in Ramsey Hill. Patty gets wasted and totally embarrasses herself. She and Walter bicker and it's just an ugly scene all-around.
  • But it knocks some sense into Patty: she stops drinking and starts eating again (great idea!), gets back into exercising, and gets herself a new haircut. She starts seeing her old basketball friends more too, and they give her nice compliments. Life is awesome.
  • Then in June, Walter and Patty go up to Nameless Lake. He goes just for a few days, on the way to a big fund-raising fishing trip with his new job at the Nature Conservancy.
  • Patty reads War and Peace (yes, really), while Walter and Richard play chess.
  • Then Walter leaves for his fishing trip in Saskatchewan. Patty is really nervous being in the house alone with Richard. Her heart is racing. She's so nervous she drops an egg on the floor.
  • Patty goes to the grocery store and almost has a nervous breakdown. She's trying so hard to act normal around Richard, but is being a total spaz instead.
  • Finally Richard calls her out on it, and she admits to being really nervous around him. He offers to leave. She asks him to please stay.
  • But still she's freaking out. She drinks a big glass of cooking sherry (yuck!).
  • They have a very frank discussion: about Walter, and about their marriage, and about the strange relationship the two of them (that is, Richard and Patty) have.
  • Richard says that Walter trusts her, and if she trusts Walter, they'll be OK. Patty isn't so sure.
  • He asks if she doesn't want to be with Walter anymore, and she says she doesn't want to lose him, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
  • Then, after all this tension, Richard just tells her point blank: "I'm not going to be the person who wrecks my best friend's marriage" (2.3.367).
  • Patty describes herself as "nearly weeping with disappointment" (2.3.368).
  • Then she goes to bed and reads War and Peace. And then, in the middle of the night, she climbs into bed with Richard. She claims she's sleepwalking. He tries to get her out of his bed, but she persists. They have sex.
  • The next morning is very awkward. Then they have sex again, very much wide awake this time.
  • Afterwards, Patty starts cracking jokes, and Richard gets very angry with her. He starts pacing and smoking cigarettes and freaking out about what's just happened.
  • Richard admits that he's liked her since college, and wanted to sleep with her that night in Chicago, but didn't because he didn't want to betray Walter.
  • Knowing Richard has feelings for her makes Patty realize that the situation is even more complicated than she first realized.
  • Patty cries a little more. Then they have sex one more time. And then they decide that Richard should leave. But first Patty makes him a few sandwiches, and he plays her a few songs. (He's taught himself the banjo over the summer.)
  • Richard leaves. Walter returns. Patty is very excited to see him (Walter). She says being alone with Richard was really awkward, which isn't exactly a lie – because it was, at least for a while.
  • The rest of the summer feels almost like a second honeymoon for the Berglunds.
  • Except for when Patty and Richard begin exchanging e-mails. They plan another rendezvous at Nameless Lake.
  • Patty goes up a week in advance and drinks heavily and horribly. She can't stop shaking, and feels so badly about the situation that she calls Richard and tells him not to come.
  • Then she keeps calling him back, putting him through some agonizingly tortured phone calls.
  • After that, once again, Patty feels renewed. She cleans and reads and when Walter arrives from another fishing trip, she almost overwhelms him with affection.
  • Patty realizes that, at this point, "what she should have done then was find a job or go back to school or become a volunteer" (2.3.553). But she doesn't, and she makes lots of excuses why not.
  • A few weeks later, she flies to Philadelphia for Parents' Weekend at Jessica's college. Walter can't go, but he's psyched that Patty wants to go.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, she secretly makes plans to meet up with Richard at her hotel and have a day alone with him while she's there.
  • She arrives. Really excited. Richard doesn't show. Eventually he calls and says something's come up. More specifically, Walter had called him that morning and told him about how wonderfully he and Patty had been getting along lately: "'Happiest in many years,' I believe his phrase was" (2.3.566).
  • Patty tries to change Richard's mind. Then, as usual, she wallows in self-pity.
  • She briefly goes down to the hotel bar and thinks about trying to pick somebody up. But then she remembers being drunk and raped when she was seventeen. So she goes back to her room alone.
  • The next morning she heads out to Jessica's college. Patty notes that although she made a point of taking great interest in Jessica's life growing up (unlike her own mother had), they had never really been close – both because Jessica wasn't a very needy kid, and because Patty so obviously preferred Joey.
  • Patty is really looking forward to spending some quality time alone with Jessica. Unfortunately for her, Jessica and her new boyfriend William have other ideas, and he spends the whole day with them. Third wheel much?
  • That night, they go out to dinner. Patty, once again, gets disgustingly drunk and starts bragging about her athletic successes in college, which leads to her telling the whole story about Eliza.
  • Jessica is equal parts hurt (that she's never heard the story before) and humiliated (that her mom's telling her now, loudly, at the restaurant).
  • The next day, Patty feels really guilty, and tries to make amends. She wants, again, to spend the day alone with Jessica, and maybe have some fun just the two of them that night. Girl time, you know?
  • Jessica says no – she and William have to study.
  • Patty begs her. Jessica still says no, and then says, "Mom, I make your life so easy for you. Do you have any idea how easy? I don't do drugs, I don't do any of the shit that Joey does, I don't embarrass you [...]" (2.3.613).
  • Well, if Patty thought she couldn't feel any worse, she sure does now.
  • She goes back to St. Paul and her depression deepens. She sends desperate emails to Richard.
  • Around this same time, Richard's ex-girlfriend and ex-band mate commits suicide.
  • Shortly after that, Richard and Walnut Surprise release a new album, meaningfully titled Nameless Lake. Lots of hip musicians (Jeff Tweedy, Michael Stipe) praise the album, and claim to have been longtime Traumatics fans. Critics go totally crazy for it.
  • For Walter, this is like when an obscure band only you know about suddenly gets popular, but a thousand times worse. He wants credit! And he wants to feel better than Richard again, like he did back when Richard was broke. They stop talking.
  • Little does he know, all the songs on the album that he thinks are about Molly are really about Patty.
  • A few weeks after the album comes out, Walter flies down to Houston to meet with some mysterious super-wealthy guy named Vin Haven, and starts spending lots of time in D.C.
  • And as is clear to Patty, at least, Walter's sudden ambition to found something called the Cerulean Mountain Trust is fueled mostly by his long-time competition with Richard.
  • Not long after that, they sell the house in Ramsey Hill and move to D.C.
  • Patty thinks maybe this will be a new beginning. They'll be close to Joey at college, and maybe this will give her and Richard a grand second chance.
  • As soon as she arrives in D.C., she realizes she's made yet another big mistake.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Noodle's College Search