The Use and Misuse of Freedom
When I finished Freedom, I hardly knew how to react. There had been so many twists and turns along the way that I had no idea how I should expect the novel to end, and yet I was still surprised. Honestly, based off Walter’s personality shift from the beginning to the end of the novel, I really did not think he would take Patty back.
After my initial reactions to the end of Freedom, I looked back at the novel as a whole and the ending made more and more sense to me. Not to be corny, but the theme of freedom really does prevail throughout the book. Joey desires economic and political freedom from his parents, Katz wants his music to be free from the mainstream idea of music, and Walter fights for nature to be freed from the grip of society because of the damage society does. In the end, Patty realizes that she has the ability to be whoever she wants, regardless of what her family thinks of her. With her newfound freedom, she takes control of distributing the inheritance from her father and her siblings are really impressed with how independent she has become. She had the freedom the whole time; she just needed to learn how to utilize it.
On the other hand, Walter’s life seems to collapse once Lalitha dies. He no longer has any family close by, so he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. With his freedom, he becomes nothing short of a crazy nature nut. He is understandably upset with the housing development around Nameless Lake (or should I say Canterbridge Estates Lake?), but he takes his displeasure to the extreme. Walter’s freedom is an example of freedom turned sour.
When Patty and Walter split, I completely expected Walter to end up better off than Patty. However, Patty deals with her freedom much better and gets her life back on track (albeit it takes a few years). I think through the end of Freedom, Franzen demonstrates that no matter how awesome some people are, when they are left to their own devices, they cannot handle themselves. Does Walter take Patty back because he forgives her, or because he knows he needs her? No one can answer that question definitely, but we can continue to speculate.