Study Guide

The Corrections Family

By Jonathan Franzen


Enid could hear Alfred upstairs now, opening and closing drawers. He became agitated whenever they were going to see their children. Seeing their children was the only thing he seemed to care about anymore. (1.28)

Although Alfred isn't always portrayed kindly, this moment reveals that he does care. It's not that he doesn't love his children; it's that he's incapable of expressing it.

"I'm saying, Melissa, that children are not supposed to get along with their parents. Your parents are not supposed to be your best friends. There's supposed to be some element of rebellion. That's how you define yourself as a person." (2.376)

This sentiment is pretty common in today's society. That being said—are you really going to take advice for dealing with your parents from Chip?

It was the same problem Enid had with Chip and even Gary: her children didn't match. They didn't want the things that she and all her friends and all her friends' children wanted. Her children wanted radically, shamefully other things. (2.964)

Enid's children think that they've tricked her into thinking they're living up to her standard. The truth, however, is that Enid pretends to buy their lies out of shame. Go team?

Chip was in a hurry to get to his apartment before his parents left. Now that he had cash in his pocket, a roll of thirty hundreds, he didn't care so much what his parents thought of him. (2.1022)

The thirty-something-year-old Chip is still terrified of disappointing his parents. That certainly flies in the face of the edgy image he's created for himself.

The universe was mechanistic: the father spoke, the son reacted. (3.179)

Simple, but true. Gary would like to think that he's grown out of this phase of his life, but some things don't change.

Gary left Caroline and followed him, his sense of isolation deepened [...] Her sons would protect her from her husband. Her husband who was a shouter. Like his father before him. (3.291)

Despite his best attempts to avoid it, Gary ends up acting a lot like his father. Now he has a choice: He can accept this and become more empathetic toward Alfred, or he can hide from the truth. We'll let you guess which one he chooses.

What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn't always agreeable or attractive. (4.234)

Time and time again, the novel shows us how our reality rarely meets expectations. There's no magic spell that will change your personality—you are who you are.

Every night after dinner he honed this skill of enduring a dull thing that brought a parents pleasure. It seemed to him a lifesaving skill. He believed that terrible harm would come to him when he could no longer preserve his mothers' illusions. (4.248)

Isn't this exactly how Gary treats Enid as an adult? He desperately wants his mother's approval, even if it requires misrepresenting his own feelings.

The scene was so wrong, so sick with Revenge, that for a moment Alfred honestly thought the boy at the table was a ghost from his own childhood. (4.378)

It looks like the cycle goes farther back than we thought. You can imagine it going back even farther, with each successive generation trying in vain to do things differently, but failing.

Chip was so busy feeling misunderstood that he never noticed how badly he himself misunderstood his father [...] that if there was anybody in the world whom Alfred did love purely for his own sake, it was Chip. (6.832)

Chip finally realizes what everyone else already knew: Alfred loves him more than anyone. Chip has defined his life so far in opposition to his father, so this is a huge shock his self-image.