Freedom (novel) Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 42 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Freedom.
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Freedom (novel) Summary & Study Guide Description

Freedom (novel) Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (1st Picador edition) is a novel about the peculiar lives of the members of an upper-middle class family named the Berglunds. The family includes Walter, an environmental activist, Patty, a stay at home mom, and their two children, Joey and Jessica. The novel uses a 3rd person perspective and the vast majority of the novel is narrated by Patty while narrating her own memoir entitled “Mistakes Were Made.”

The novel opens with a prologue-like chapter explaining that no one in the Berglund’s old hometown of St. Paul expected Walter to get involved with coal companies and taking advantage of workers. After this, the narrative shifts into a long flashback as part of “Mistakes Were Made.” These flashback sections inform the reader that Patty came from a well-connected family and was very popular in high school due to her sport prowess. The reader also learns that during high school, Patty was raped by a boy named Ethan Post, but her parents convinced her to not press charges due to the fact that Patty’s parents were political friends with Ethan’s parents. This creates a vast expanse of numbness in Patty.

While in college, Patty continued her sport career. She met a girl named Eliza who was clearly incredibly obsessed with Patty. Through Eliza, Patty met Walter and his best friend, Richard Katz. Patty became interested in Richard while leading Walter on. She eventually attempted to seduce him while on a road trip, but it was unsuccessful.

Years later, Walter and Patty married and settle down. When Richard fell on hard times, Walter invited him to stay at his family’s lake house and work on a deck for money and boarding. He agreed and wrote an album worth of songs there. When Patty and Walter visited the lake house, Patty and Richard had sex and kept it from Richard. This affair did not continue much longer, but Patty became obsessed with Richard and thought about him very often.

Later, Walter and Patty’s son, Joey’s college experience was “ruined” by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also had some relationship complications with his girlfriend Connie (whose family he moved in with in high school, which angered Patty and Walter). He eventually got embroiled in some shady business dealings, but eventually changed his ways, marries Connie, and becomes a legitimate businessman.

Around this time, Walter worked for a man named Vin Haven who wanted to protect a bird called the Cerulean Warbler. It became clear that Vin Haven cared more about money than the bird, so Walter and his assistant Lalitha eventually took matters into their own hands. They recruited Richard for a music festival/battle of the bands. Before this came to fruition, Walter started a relationship with Lalitha and Richard put the manuscript of “Mistakes Were Made” on his desk. Due to this, Walter kicked Patty out of the house.

Before a major speech, Walter took sleeping pills which caused him to give a ranting speech blasting the coal companies and the workers. Because of this, Walter’s project fell apart, but Joey decided to fund it. Lalitha later died in a car accident causing Walter to retreat to the lake house. After reading the final chapter of “Mistakes Were Made,” he takes Patty back and the novel ends.

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