While reading the second part of this novel I was disgusted with numerous characters, specifically Andreas, his mother, and Horst, too many times. If anyone saw my face while reading this section, it would have been clear my thoughts on the actions of these characters. Andreas’s mom, Katya is very similar to Pip’s in how they never show or tell their children their true selves. They constantly are hiding behind lies trying to protect them and instead they are psychologically messing up their children permanently. Andreas was a little boy who knew how to respect people and have fun without getting in trouble, but Katya was not prepared to be a mother for a teenager who struggles with sexual arousal and masturbation. Instead, she coddled Andreas at such a young age that Andreas became a hormone monster when he reached puberty. All of these hormones were just the starting point to a life where he had erections from killing other people or stealing files and having to stop himself from sexually defiling young, innocent and abused girls. At least, he could stop himself. Horst, the abuser and step-father of Annagret, could not even try to stop himself and is by far the most horrible character as of yet. He molested his wife’s child. First, though he had relationships with a girl way too young for him, had her fall in love with him, and then leave her for her mother. He lied to Annagret, like almost every parent in this novel, and coerced her into believing that it was O.K. that he was penetrating her with his fingers and eventually his “pecker.” Even though they are only fictional characters, just thinking back on it now gives me horrible chills . These chills stem from knowledge that things like this happen in real life; Jonathan Franzen is not some sick guy making up child molestation or liars. People like these characters get people to trust them only to they are able to hurt them. It makes me sick.
3 thoughts on “Purity: Disgust and Trust”
I completely agree with the entirety of the Lily’s passage above. I found myself having the exact same reaction when stumbling upon some of the various characters, their actions, and their back stories. When reading fiction, sometimes I start to only associate the novel with fiction. I forget to think where the narrative or the characters are coming from outside of the novel. What did the author experience that made him or her craft such horrifying characters? Was it simply imagination or for the sake of an amazing “read,” or was it truly because the narrator in some way, shape, or form has encountered individuals like the characters directly or indirectly. In particular, I was extremely sad to see the progression of Andreas as a character. As Lily mentioned, Andreas goes from being a very respectable and innocent member of the youth community to a “hormone monster” creating destruction for others. I have a hard time not associating the author to the characters, as in cases like Purity, the characters feel so real and tangible to think they are make believe. So far, I have really enjoyed the novel and Jonathan Franzen’s style of writing, as this is the first novel I have read by him.
I was also extremely disgusted by everything going on in this section and was not expecting anything like this after reading Franzen’s first section of the novel. One of the main things I kept circling back to was wondering why Franzen decided to include these events and character backgrounds into the story. Was it simply for shock value? If so, job well done. I am thoroughly shocked and disgusted, but at the same time, just shocking readers with horrifying backstories to characters doesn’t seem like a practical decision for how to take a story. If Andreas is supposed to be a thinly veiled stand-in for Julian Assange, even if Assange also exists in the novel, then what does Franzen gain by associating Assange with Wolf’s actions? I feel like I need more context for why Franzen would write these scenes, but in the end, only Franzen knows that so it is up to us to decide why we think these scenes were included.
I agree with both of the comments and the post and do also question Franzen’s decision to include this kind of characterization in the novel. While consuming books and other media that is fictional, sometimes I wonder what purpose it serves to show graphic or horrifying details. It just makes me think of how in our modern society, “shock value” and gratuitous depictions of violence, especially towards women and children, are often seen in media. It makes me think of how we, as individuals, being exposed to this type of content, how that affects our mindset and our capacity to feel empathy and horror when we see the news. At some point, would we not become numb to the idea of seeing sexual and physical violence when we see it so often in fiction? It also makes me wonder at whether Franzen took into account, as a writer who’s a man writing characters who are women and children, whether it is necessary to include trauma as a part of the character’s backstory. I cannot help but remember Franzen’s comments on how he wanted his book to be for readers who are men, as opposed to women, and what that says about the casual inclusion of traumatic violence.