Study Guide

The Corrections Summary

By Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections Summary

Although The Corrections is challenging to break down into a basic plot, it's safe to say the events center on one thing: Enid's desire to have the whole family home for one last Christmas.

The Early Years

Alfred and Enid live in the Midwestern suburb of St. Jude with their three kids: Gary, Chip, and Denise. Alfred works for the Midland Pacific railroad, a small but successful regional company.

Denise is the last to leave home, and she works with her father at Midland Pacific the summer before she leaves for college. During that time, she has an affair with an older coworker named Don Armour. Alfred mysteriously quits his job that same summer after the railroad is purchased by venture capitalists.

The Correction Years

Fast-forward nearly a dozen years. The family is now scattered across the world:

  • Recently divorced, Denise is now the head chef at her own restaurant. Things get complicated when she sparks an affair with the boss' wife.
  • Gary is married, has three children, and works in the banking industry. He's in the midst a minor breakdown, spurred by his growing depression and his wife's refusal to go to St. Jude for Christmas.
  • Chip lost his job as a professor after having an affair with a student, so he ends up moving to Lithuania, where he builds fake websites to con wealthy investors.
  • Alfred and Enid still live in St. Jude. Alfred has been suffering from numerous mental and physical ailments for years, but Enid doesn't want to admit that he has a problem.

At the same time, the family learns that a new drug called Correcktall could potentially cure Alfred. There's just one catch: He'll be ineligible for the treatment if diagnosed with dementia.

Meanwhile, Enid and Alfred have an exciting cruise to go on. But due to Alfred's nighttime freak-outs, Enid ends up taking a drug called Aslan that blocks her from feeling shame. Which is a good thing, because otherwise she'd feel pretty bad when Alfred falls off the boat and is airlifted to shore. Don't worry, though—he survives

Let's check back in with the kids, shall we?

  • Denise was fired after her boss learned of the affair. She sinks into a depression, but agrees to come to St. Jude for Christmas
  • Gary finally tells Caroline that she doesn't have to come with him to St. Jude. He ends up investing money in the Axon Corporation, producers of Correcktall.
  • Chip loves his job at first, but the political situation destabilizes and he has to run away—just in time for Christmas. He calls Enid from the airport to tell her that he's coming, but as he hangs up the phone, we see tanks pull up on the runway…

One Last Christmas

Gary and Denise are the first to arrive in St. Jude. Gary is impatient with Enid's constant requests, and although Denise hides it better, she is, too. No one expects Chip to show up, but come Christmas morning there's a knock at the door from Chip.

Meanwhile, Denise makes a huge realization: Don Armour blackmailed Alfred in order to procure a job for himself at the newly purchased Midland Pacific. That's why Alfred suddenly quit.

After Christmas, Alfred is diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's. He moves to an assisted living center and passes away about two years later. Chip moves to Chicago and starts a family, while Denise moves to Brooklyn and works at a hip new restaurant. And Enid—well, she's "going to make some changes in her life" (7.22).