Study Guide

Freedom Freedom and Confinement

By Jonathan Franzen

Freedom and Confinement

What, you're surprised? It's right there in the title, just that one word: Freedom. Big letters! Freedom! Franzen has acknowledged that the book is, at least in part, an exploration of the ways in which America's big-time fetish – freedom – affects each of us on a personal level (source). But the word itself has a wide variety of connotations, aside from the ones one might hear in a State of the Union address, or with a declaration of war. These are the freedoms the book focuses on, and we find the word speckled through the text like a bunch of Easter eggs hidden around the backyard. Ultimately we are urged to ask: What is freedom, really? Are we as free as we think we are? If not, how are we bound? If so, how can we go about choosing the best way to live?

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. How does Katz's unexpected success affect his personal freedom? (Think in terms of his music, his work, and being spotted on the subway.)
  2. The national dialogue about "freedom" during the Bush administration is reflected in the characters' struggles with personal freedom. Can you find any specific examples that connect the two in the novel?
  3. Walter says, "People came to this country for either money or freedom" (3.4.184), and he seems to assume that those remain the only two options available. Does that sound right to you? Is it an either/or thing, as Walter suggests?
  4. Patty gives Walter permission to sleep with Lalitha. Why is this precisely the wrong thing to say to him?
  5. In his interview with Zachary, Richard questions the "subversive edge" of rock and roll, and claims that the last revolutionary song was the "Marseillaise" in 1792. Is he saying that traditional means of seeking or expressing freedom are no longer available to us? If not, then what is he suggesting? If so, what does he recommend we do instead?

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