How well do we handle freedom?

By Carol / January 23, 2012 /


“Use well thy freedom.” Those words are chiseled on a college building in Jonathan Franzen’s novel FREEDOM. They articulate one of the major themes of this 576-page tome, which follows the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund and their two children.
We want freedom. We cherish our freedoms. We fight to preserve freedom. But as I was reading this book, I was reminded of the line in the movie – A Few Good Men.
When Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says, “I want the truth.” Jessep (Jack Nicholson) responds, “You can’t handle the truth.”
We want freedom, but how well do we handle it?
Children raised in a totally permissive environment may grow up without the personal and social skills to thrive as adults. Unrestricted access to drugs may lead to abuse and destroyed lives. Often the rules that restrict our freedom exist to protect us from ourselves.
The characters in Franzen’s novel all fight to break the bonds that hold them – parents, marriage, work. For good or ill, all of Franzen’s characters experience their desired freedom at some point.
But the freedom they achieve might be liberating or destructive, or both.
I didn’t find myself particularly liking any of the characters in this novel – and when I invest as much time in reading a book as this one takes, I’d like to like at least ONE character. Because of this quality, getting through the 576 pages was a bit of a slog. But the characters were real. Their desires, their challenges, their lives. And I think the messiness of their lives is indicative of the messiness of freedom.
We need to use well our freedom.
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