Jonathan Franzen’s provocatively-titled 2010 novel, Freedom, interrogates the way this term became an all-encompassing propagandistic code word to justify any American action on a global or individual scale. The novel asks us to question whether “freedom” has come to mean simply a sense of entitlement, enabling our dominion over every available locale. This article examines the ways in which Freedom highlights the microcosmic desire to impact our spaces—for ourselves, for our families, for our friends—as indicative of an intrinsic and destructive passion for exercising our freedom in ways that make no one free. Specifically, this article argues that the problem—for both America as a whole and the novel’s unhappy family in particular—involves a misplaced belief in the power of location to act as a substantial force for change. Franzen’s characters nevertheless consistently seek “elsewheres,” a term used here to describe the unknown spaces that act as empty signifiers in and through which they hope to distill a self. The novel demonstrates that the pursuit of these “elsewheres” as a perceived external solution to internal conflict only demonstrates how circumscribed their, and all of our, alleged freedoms really are.


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pp. 67-95
Launched on MUSE
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