Jonathan Franzen - the Discomfort Zone - an Analysis of One Man's Identity

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  • Topic: The Discomfort Zone, Jonathan Franzen, Franz Kafka
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  • Published : September 7, 2010
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JONATHAN FRANZEN’S THE DISCOMFORT ZONE – A Personal History - analysis of one man's identity

by V

Jonathan Franzen's The Discomfort Zone is essentially a collection of Franzen's essays published in The New Yorker that deal with problems, life – time experiences, both social and emotional aspect of the author's life. This essay will focus mainly on Franzen's effectual attempt to create a self – portrait and at the same time make it legible and comprehensive in a way that anyone could cope with the problems and experiences he had during his maturation. The book contains six essays : “House for Sale“, “Two Ponies“, “Then Joy Breaks Through“, “Centrally Located“, “The Foreing Language“ and “My Bird Problem“ which are written in an autobiographical, chronological way that enables the reader to follow his life from childhood, adolescence to his maturation.

In the firts section of the book, entitled “House for Sale“, Jonathan returns to his family home in St.Louis after his mother's death, in attempt to sell the house wher he spent most of his life. Here is where Franzen shows his witty and humorous mind, regardless of how serious and grevious the situtaion is :

„I went through the house and stripped the family photos out of every room. I'd been looking forward to do this almost as much as to my drink. My mother had been too attached to the formality of her living room and dining room to clutter them with snaphots, but elsewhere each wndowsill and each table-top was an eddy in which inexpensively framed photos had accumulated.“ (4)

He compares his mother's house to a novel which she continuously reorganized and rearranged throughout the years. When talking about his mother's lifetime struggle to keep everything inside and outside the house in order, he feels the melancholy and dissatisfaction with the way things ended. On one hand he wanted the house to be sold and even disliked it , but on the other, as he says : „ ... I'd outgrown the novel I'd once been so happy to live in, and how little I even cared about the final sale price.“(25)

Franzen also managed to fit some of his political an social ideas and opinions in this section. He talks about the social situation in America during his childhood which was shaped by the idea that the middle – working class would always feel the debt to its society. He revises both liberal and conservative political concept of the time – being and puts himself in the „middle“:

„In the middle of the middle, though, as I watched the old wallpaper come off in heavy, skinlike, pulp – smelling masses that reglued themselves to my fathers work boots, there was nothing but my family and house and church and school and work.“ (15)

In “Two Ponies“ we follow the life of Jonathan as a 10 – year – old boy and his reflections on both family life and current social situations around him. The opening part of this section actually provides a hint about the relationships inside the Franzen family. He was growing up alongside his two brothers, Tom and Bob, whom he appreciated and respected infinitely. According to Jonathan, Tom is a true representative of the social epidemic of that era, a rebellious adolescent who ran away from home in a search for his own identity:

„ Late adolescents in suburbs like ours had suddenly gone berserk, running away to other cities to have sex and not ot go to college, ingesting every substance they could get..For a while, the parents were so frightened...and so ashamed that each family, especilly mine, quarantined itself and suffered by itself...Tom's bed, neatly made, was the bed of a kid carried off by the epidemic.“(32)

In spite of being a child, Jonathan is able to provide comfort to his mother in times she felt sadness and shame because of Tom's leaving. He is therefore unconciously building up his emotional strength and at the same time bonding with his mother like never before.

The insatiable obsession with Charles M.Schulz's „Peanut...
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