Study Guide

Freedom Betrayal

By Jonathan Franzen


And a neutral bystander he [Walter] remained all through the spring and summer of Joey's sophomore year and into the following fall, when Jessica went off to college in the East and Joey moved out of his parents' house and in with Carol, Blake, and Connie. (1.1.120)

One could make the argument that the entire book pivots around this one fateful decision. What do you think Joey's motives are? Is it just to share a bed with his girlfriend? Or to get out from under his parents' thumb? Or to flex his freedom muscles? Or just to spend time in Blake's awesome room? Does he even understand how betrayed his parents will feel? Does he consider the consequences of his actions?

"No, seriously, I can see why you don't respect us. If all you ever see, year after year, is girls who want you to betray your best friend. I can see that's a weird situation." (2.2.781)

Is this an accurate description of Richard's view of women? Is this why he doesn't respect them? Or do you think it inflates his view of himself to deny these temptations?

That she could say all this, and not only say it but remember it very clearly afterward, does admittedly cast doubt on the authenticity of her sleep state. But the autobiographer is <em>adamant</em> in her insistence that she was not awake at the moment of betraying Walter and feeling his friend split her open. Maybe it was the way she was emulating the fabled ostrich and keeping her eyes firmly shut [...] (2.3.393)

Again, that italicized word: "<em>adamant.</em>" Patty's highest priority is to absolve herself of blame for betraying Walter. That is, she totally gets what an unforgivable betrayal it is, but in order to live with herself she needs to do whatever she can to make it seem, um, less bad.

The most traumatic events ever to befall the longtime front man of the Traumatics had been (1) receiving a Grammy nomination, (2) hearing his music played on National Public Radio, and (3) deducing, from December sales figures, that Nameless Lake had made the perfect little Christmas gift to leave beneath tastefully trimmed trees in several hundred thousand NPR-listening households. The Grammy nomination had been a particularly disorienting embarrassment. (3.1.2)

Richard sees his mainstream success as a betrayal of himself and his values. It's noteworthy that he describes it through the prism of being the "longtime front man of the Traumatics."  This seems to suggest that he's actually betraying some younger version of himself, and concerned he might have compromised his ideals somewhere along the way.

The angry stirring of Katz's blood was of a piece with the divinations of his dick. I'm going to do you a different kind of favor now, old friend, he thought. We're going to finish some unfinished business, and you and the girl will thank me for it. (3.1.406)

Betrayal! Richard seeks to once again seduce Patty and destroy her marriage, and he's committed to this (um, terrible) plan both emotionally and sexually. But of course Richard insists that this is another example of his devoted loyalty. Can it be both?

"And I totally abandoned her, because Dad hated her so much. She was suffering, and I never called her again, and I threw her letters away without opening them." (3.2.173)

What most obviously follows betrayal? Guilt. Decades later, Patty cannot have forgotten that it was Eliza who lied and deceived her. Nevertheless, she feels guilty for not forgiving her, and <em>this</em> now feels like a betrayal. Perhaps it's because Patty has had so few meaningful relationships in her life. But notice how she prefaces this remark by blaming Walter – "It's <em>Walter's</em> fault that I betrayed her!" Maybe she's just looking for yet another reason to feel bad.

According to his moral calculus, his having <em>married</em> Connie entitled him to one last grand use of his sexual license, which she'd granted him long ago and never expressly revoked. If he and Jenna happened to click in a big way, he would deal with that later. (3.5.37)

Let's put this another, less flattering, way: a long time ago, Connie told Joey he could sleep with other women. And he did. Then they got married – which, needless to say, entails a more serious commitment than some freshman year long-distance relationship. It would've been pretty weird if, after they got back from the courthouse, Connie turned to Joey and said, "Just so you know, this probably means you shouldn't sleep with other woman anymore." And Joey would've been like, "Dude, obviously! I can't believe you would even say that. We just got married." Yet here he is, not one month later, scheming to get into bed with Jenna.

"You did the worst thing you could possible do to me," he said. "The worst thing, and you knew very well it was the worst thing, and you did it anyway. Which part of that am I going to want to think back on?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, weeping afresh. "I'm so sorry you can't see it the way I see it. I'm so sorry this happened."

"It didn't 'happen.' You did it. You f***ed the kind of evil s*** who would leave this on my desk for me to read."

"For God's sake, though, Walter, it was just sex."

"You let him read things about me you never would have let me read."

"Just stupid sex four years ago. What's that compared to our whole life?" (3.6.137)

It's a fair question, that last one. But is it the sex that Walter is most upset about and hurt by? One could make the argument that it's really the things <em>surrounding</em> the sex – the desire she felt for Richard, and her pursuit of that man's affection. But perhaps most of all, like Walter says, it's really upsetting that she would share this revealing document with Richard, and Walter would only read it once Richard had cruelly placed it on his desk. Ouch.

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