Study Guide

Freedom Depression

By Jonathan Franzen


Pretty much every character in Freedom struggles, at one point or another (or the whole time), with depression. Walter and Joey, for example, sink deeply into depression out of grief and guilt, respectively. Of course, sadness and depression have always been a part of the human condition. What sets apart the depiction of depression in Freedom? One easy thing we can point to is the fact that anti-depressants seem to be everywhere: at the very least, Patty and Connie try to ease their pain with meds. We might also point out how self-conscious all these people feel about being depressed – being depressed, recognizing it as unhealthy, unhelpful, etc., yet feeling helpless to escape its dragging weight.

As an interesting (and relevant) side note, a lot of the commentary on this book has mentioned Jonathan Franzen's close friendship with the writer David Foster Wallace. Wallace committed suicide just as Franzen was beginning the writing process, and thus the book was largely written while Franzen was grieving for his absent friend (source).

Questions About Depression

  1. Can you find any parallels between Patty's and Connie's difficulties with depression, in either causes or effects?
  2. What about Eliza? Can we interpret her actions as stemming from depression?
  3. Walter reports that Patty's depression improved while writing her personal history. Does it seem just as likely to have plunged her into greater despair, reliving all those terrible times? Or is going back to examine those things actually beneficial?
  4. Who doesn't experience some form of depression in the novel? How can we explain this?

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