Study Guide

The Corrections Mortality

By Jonathan Franzen

Mortality

His affliction offended his sense of ownership. These shaking hands belonged to nobody but him, and yet they refused to obey him. They were live bad children. (2.454)

Alfred is a control freak to the core, so it's a cruel twist that he becomes unable to control even his own body

The truth was that he was going to die. That heaping your tomb with treasure wouldn't save you. (3.263)

Gary's fear of death is a direct echo of Alfred's. In his attempt to distance himself from his father, Gary ends up doing the same exact thing.

"Well, but if he thought there might actually be a cure—"

"What, so he can be depressed for an extra five years and die miserable at eighty-five instead of eighty? That's going to make all the difference?" (3.818-819)

Gary genuinely believes that this is how Alfred would spend the rest of his life—because that's what he'd do, too.

Death, Enid thought. He was talking about death. And all the people clapping were so old. But where was the sting of this realization? Aslan had taken it away. (4.987-988)

The shame-reducing power of Aslan is powerful, but the real question is: Do you really think that's a good thing?

For years he'd lived with death and kept it in its place by making it trivial. He still managed a reasonably wicked laugh, but in the end the struggle to hold fast to the trivial proved as desperate as any other. (5.295)

This is a much more admirable way of dealing with that. That being said, everyone's struggle with death ends the same way.

The quiet conviction that all his thrift and all his conservator's passion would have a point, later on: that someday he would wake up transformed into a wholly different person with infinite energy and infinite time to attend to all the objects that he'd saved, to keep it all working, to keep it all together. (6.22)

Be honest: We all think this way sometime. While it's good to take care of yourself, you should never fool yourself into thinking that you're the exception to the rule.

There he'd been, in extremely cold salty water, his lungs half-full and his heavy legs cramping and his shoulder useless in its socket, and all he would have had to do was nothing. Let go and drown. But he kicked, it was a reflex. (6.26)

Alfred saves his own life, despite the fact that part of him wants to die. In a way, this can be seen as a turning point for him—though it may be short-lived.

There came a time, however, when death ceased to be the enforcer of finitude and began to look, instead, like the last opportunity for radical transformation, the only plausible portal into the infinite. (6.33)

Alfred has spent his life waiting for a correction; now, at the end of his rope, he finally realizes that there isn't one coming.

With a towel around his waist he stopped in the living room, where Alfred leaped to his feet. The sight of Alfred's suddenly aged face, its disintegration-in-progress, its redness and asymmetries, cut Chip like a bullwhip. (6.1024)

Alfred has always been a god (or a devil) in Chip's eyes, but the truth is that he's just a mere mortal like the rest of us.

Chip could see it clearly now, behind the cold front of Gary's wordless departure: his brother was afraid. (6.1118)

Only Chip can see through Gary's façade. Gary has glimpsed his future in Alfred's fate and he doesn't like what he sees.