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Literature / Freedom

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The Cerulean warbler, "a pretty little bird."

She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. The autobiographer is almost forced to the conclusion that she pitied herself for being so free.

Freedom is a 2010 novel by Jonathan Franzen, centered on the Berglund family, particularly Patty, a former basketball star turned housewife; Walter, her environmentalist husband; and their independent, entrepreneurial son Joey. It also touches on Walter's college friend Richard Katz, an indie musician.

This Work Contains Examples of

  • Betty and Veronica: Multiple.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After Lalitha's death, Walter and Patty spend a few lonely years apart before getting back together. Joey is successful and Happily Married to Connie, while his less avaricious sister struggles in the publishing industry. The Nameless Lake house becomes a bird sanctuary dedicated to Lalitha.
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  • Black Sheep: Patty and Walter. Patty, unlike her sisters, chose athletics over arts and the University of Minnesota over a prestigious East Coast college. Sweet Walter's older and younger brothers were abusive to him.
  • Cats Are Mean: Walter hates cats, viewing them as "the sociopaths of the pet world" for what they do to birds.
  • Character Narrator: Some of the sections are from Patty's autobiography "Mistakes Were Made," in which she refers to herself as "Patty" or "the autobiographer."
  • Elopement: How Joey marries Connie.
  • Fatal Flaw: Patty's competitiveness. It's presented as the driving force behind her interest in Richard, sparked by a desire to one-up her friend Eliza. Her instability after having children with Walter is attributed to her having nothing to feed her competitive side.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Connie believes this and therefore gives Joey permission to sleep with other girls while he's in college.
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  • Ladykiller in Love: Richard has no trouble attracting women, while still harboring feelings for Patty.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: In college, Walter is soft-spoken and gentle, with several female friends, while Patty is a jock.
  • My Beloved Smother: Patty is too enmeshed with and emotionally reliant on Joey, ultimately driving him away.
  • Oh, Crap!: Patty when she sees that Walter has read her autobiography and now knows about her affair with his best friends.
  • Rape as Backstory: Patty's first experience with sex was getting date-raped as a teenager, which affected how she viewed sex as well as her parents, who urged her not to seek retribution.
  • Sliding Scale of Beauty: Joey observes how men react differently to seeing him with Jenna than they do when he's with Connie.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: How Joey views Jenna's beauty. People are too distracted by her looks to see her for the sad, adrift girl that she is.
  • Turn of the Millennium: The book touches on key events in the 2000s, including the September 11 attacks, the Bush presidency, and the Iraq War. A whole chapter is called 2004.
  • Two-Timing with the Bestie: Patty falls for and has an affair with Richard, Walter's best friend since college.
    • And Eliza sleeps with Patty's college boyfriend Carter.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Eliza falsely claims to have leukemia to manipulate Patty.