Study Guide

Freedom Love

By Jonathan Franzen


"I wonder if she's actually in love with Walter, or not," Seth mused optimistically, uncorking a final bottle. "Physically, I mean." (1.1.17)

Umm, in love… <em>physically</em>? Isn't that what we usually call <em>lust</em>?

"And so her face gets all twisted, and she's like, 'You think he <em>loves</em> your daughter? You think he's <em>in love</em> with her?' In this high little voice. Like it's impossible for somebody like Joey to be in love with Connie, because I didn't go to college or whatever, or I don't have as big a house or come from New York City or whatever, or I have to work an honest-to-Christ forty-hour full-time job, unlike her." (1.1.123)

This is one of the novel's more potent examples of class-consciousness. Carol immediately assumes that Patty objects to Connie and Joey's relationship on class grounds, instead of more personal problems with Connie and/or Carol. While we can't say which is right (truth be told, it's probably a mixture of all of the above), it's natural for her to latch onto that explanation, since it paints Patty in the worst possible light amongst her neighbors, and it turns Carol into the victim.

For the defense: She loved her kids!

For the prosecution: She loved Jessica an appropriate amount, but Joey she loved way too much. She knew what she was doing and she didn't stop, because she was mad at Walter for not being what she really wanted, and because she had bad character and felt she deserved compensation for being a star and a competitor who was trapped in a housewife's life.

For the defense: But love just happens. It wasn't her fault that every last thing about Joey gave her so much pleasure.

For the prosecution: It was her fault. You can't love cookies and ice cream inordinately and then say it's not your fault you end up weighing three hundred pounds. (2.3.184-187)

Interesting that Patty, of all people, would claim that "love just happens," since she really doesn't have much experience with the word – neither with her husband nor her lover. The love of a parent for her child, meanwhile, can hardly be described as just "happening," especially when said parent doesn't even love her children equally.

For the defense: She loves Walter!

For the prosecution: The evidence suggests otherwise.

For the defense: Well, in that case, Walter doesn't love her either. He doesn't love the real her.

He loves some wrong idea her.

For the prosecution: That would be convenient if only it were true. Unfortunately for Patty, he didn't marry her in spite of who she was, he married her because of it. Nice people don't necessarily fall in love with nice people.

For the defense: It isn't fair to say she doesn't love him!
For the prosecution: If she can't behave herself, it doesn't matter if she loves him. (2.3.192-197)

What do you think of this last line? Does it really <em>not</em> matter? Well, what happens if we turn that statement around to say, "If she doesn't love him…" Then what? It seems to follow, "If she doesn't love him, then she won't be able to control herself." Which is exactly the case. If this is true, then not loving him turns out to be exactly the problem.

It pains the autobiographer to admit that she was a tiny bit embarrassed to let her family see him, and, worse, that this may have been another reason why she didn't want a wedding. She loved him (and <em>does</em> love him, <em>does</em> love him) for qualities that made abundant sense to her in their two-person private world but weren't necessarily apparent to the sort of critical eye that she was sure her sister, Abigail in particular, would train on him. (2.3.6)

The key moment here is what's inside the parentheses, as Patty catches herself using "love" in the past tense, and then tries to convince herself that she still loves Walter, repeating the words like they're some incantation. (But we'll ask something else too: Does this sound like love? To worry about what the people around her think about Walter? Hasn't she ever seen Beauty and the Beast or Shallow Hal?)

He'd always liked Connie a lot. Always. And so why now, of all the inopportune moments, was he being gripped, as if for the first time, by such a titanic undertow of <em>really liking her</em>? How could it be, after years of having sex with her, years of feeling tender and protective of her, that he was only now getting sucked into such heavy waters of affection? Feeling connected to her in such a scarily consequential way? Why now? (3.2.278)

Why is Joey so surprised by his feelings for Connie? Honestly, it's almost like he's embarrassed by them. But, as he puts it, "Why now?" It seems likely that the timing has something to do with 9/11 throwing off his equilibrium. Maybe he needs some sort of stabilizing force, or at least something familiar to connect him to the world he knew before the attacks.

"I spend my life jumping out of my skin with frustration at myself."

"That's what I love about you."

"Oh, love now. Love. Richard Katz talking above love. This must be my signal that it's time to go to bed." (3.4.359)

It isn't clear what Richard means by saying "love." He might really be confessing his love for her. Or he might be using the word in the way one might say, "I love the way peanuts come in shells." Or he might just be trying to get her into bed. But Patty's pained reaction to the loaded word leaves little doubt that she's been waiting to hear him say it for over twenty years.

And why had he stuck with Connie? The only answer that made sense was that he loved her. He'd had his chances to free himself of her – had, indeed, deliberately created some of them – but again and again, at the crucial moment not to use them. (3.5.92)

In this book we have to keep looking out for words like "free" and "freedom," and here we see a particularly interesting use. Connie has allowed Joey to be nothing if not "free." Is this part of what makes him love her, that she makes no demands?

"Parents are programmed to want the best for their kids, regardless of what they get in return. That's what love is supposed to be like, right? [...] But my point is that I've given some real thought to this question of love, regarding you. And I've decided –"

"Mom, do you mind if we talk about something else?"

"I've decided –"

"Or, actually, maybe some other day? Next week or something? I've got a lot of stuff to do here before I go to bed."

A silence of injury descended on St. Paul. (3.2.138-144)

This scene is pretty brutal, for showing how heartless Joey can be towards his mother. On the other hand, the difficulties in their relationship have stemmed directly from Patty's suffocating love of her son, and here she wants to indulge in talking about it some more. So maybe Joey is right for ending the conversation, knowing it will only dig them into deeper difficulty. Does that make sense? What do you think?

And so he stopped looking at her eyes and started looking into them, returning their look before it was too late, before this connection between life and what came after was lost, and let her see all the vileness inside him, all the hatreds of two thousand solitary nights, while the two of them were still in touch with the void in which the sum of everything they'd ever said or done, every pain they'd inflicted, every joy they'd shared, would weigh less than the smallest feather on the wind.

"It's me," she said, "Just me."

"I know," he said, and kissed her. (4.1.99-101)

This is certainly the happiest of endings – and suggests that after everything that has happened between Patty and Walter, they did (and still do) love each other. Or, perhaps, considering Patty's doubts of whether she <em>ever</em> loved Walter, this suggests that we can come to love someone by sharing our life with them, sort of like the way we naturally love our family members (even if we might not like them very much).

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