Study Guide

Freedom Part 2, Chapter 1

By Jonathan Franzen

Part 2, Chapter 1


  • The title of Part 2 is "Mistakes Were Made: Autobiography of Patty Berglund, by Patty Berglund (Composed at Her Therapist's Suggestion)." What can we infer from this title? Two things: one, at some point in her adult life, Patty is in therapy. And two, she's not very happy about it.
  • The first thing Patty tells us about herself is that she's an atheist. But it's only in passing, really, to tell us that if she did believe in God, "she would thank the good Lord for school athletic programs, because they basically saved her life and gave her a chance to realize herself as a person" (2.1.1). (Wow, that's a pretty serious endorsement.)
  • She then goes on to specifically list her coaches by name, from whom she "learned disciplines, patience, focus, teamwork, and the ideals of good sportsmanship that helped make up for her morbid competitiveness and low self-esteem" (2.1.1).
  • Patty grew up in Westchester County – an affluent area in the New York City suburbs.
  • She has very little in common with the rest of her family. She's basically the black sheep among her more-favored siblings, who are artistic and A-students, while Patty is athletic and a B-student.
  • She's tall (5'9"), but wishes she were taller. She knows it would have made her a better basketball player, and suspects it would've made her life better in other ways too. But who knows.
  • Patty's mother, Joyce, is a state politician in the Democratic Party. She grew up Joyce Markowitz, in Brooklyn, but Patty suspects she was ashamed of being Jewish.
  • Joyce eventually married the "exceedingly Gentile" Ray Emerson, who comes from a very wealthy family, works as a public defender, and enjoys ridiculing the people he's representing in court.
  • Ray's parents, for all their fabulous wealth, are very stingy – much to the dismay of Patty's greedy siblings, who are spoiled by Joyce and Ray instead.
  • As a reaction to their greed, Patty decides "not to care about anything but sports" (2.1.24).
  • When Patty is seventeen, she gets date-raped at a party. It's her first sexual experience. She goes home that night and cries in the shower. She describes that hour as "the most wretched hour of her life" (2.1.27).
  • In fact, her anger at the injustice of being raped gives voice to many other injustices she feels: in particular, how her mother never attends any of her basketball games, while otherwise never missing any of her sister's artistic performances.
  • The next day, in the locker room, her softball coach notices scratches and bruises on her body, and Patty tells her the whole thing. The coach says they're going to call the police, but first they call Patty's mother.
  • It turns out the boy who raped Patty, Ethan Post, is the son of very wealthy and well-connected political friends of Patty's parents. So Patty's mother is not so enthusiastic about calling the police. Yeah…
  • Patty's mother drives her to Patty's father's law office. He's pretty angry. He curses a lot. But his anger does seem pretty measured, if you ask us. We'd even say he's very practical about the whole thing, thinking about it from a legal point of view.
  • He refuses to consider taking Ethan to court, because they would never win.
  • So they take Patty to the doctor instead, and then they go home.
  • Ethan denies that he raped Patty, and says she's lying.
  • Patty is not so sure that even her parents believe she's telling the truth.
  • Her dad tries to convince her how painful it would be to try to bring Ethan to court. The family is very powerful, etc. He tells her, "Life's not always fair, Pattycakes" (2.1.200).
  • In her senior year at high school, Patty becomes an even better basketball player – stronger, and more aggressive.
  • The following spring, Joyce announced her candidacy for local state assemblywomen, and the Posts (i.e., Ethan's parents) offered to host a fund-raiser at their house. Joyce asked Patty's permission before accepting, and Patty said she was "beyond caring" what Joyce did (2.1.212).
  • But Patty absented herself from the campaign family photo that year.

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