The Corrections | Study Guide

Jonathan Franzen

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The Corrections | Themes


Generation X

The children of Enid Lambert and Alfred Lambert are all adults in the 1990s when the story takes place. They belong to Generation X which is the name given to the demographic group of Americans born between 1965 and 1980. Generation X experienced many setbacks and struggles as they entered adulthood. They were the first generation that were predicted to be financially worse off than their parents despite having higher college education rates. Generation X experienced several economic downturns including the dot-com burst of the 1990s, the housing loan crisis of 2007, and the Great Recession of the late 2000s. Those in this group have been characterized as gloomy, aloof, and possessing a desire to define happiness in their own way. They felt the pressure to measure up to their parents' financial success while questioning if they shared the same goals and values of the generation before them.

The Lambert children exhibit Generation X characteristics. Eldest child Gary Lambert seems to have a comfortable and happy life but behind the facade is unhappy with his personal life and mental health. Younger brother Chip Lambert is torn between his elitist intellectual views and his desire to "sell out" and find financial success as a screenwriter. Denise is the only Lambert sister. She has ruined many of her adult relationships because she is unsure of what she wants. The siblings all experience feelings of being inadequate, left behind, and unsure of what their next step should be which are defining problems for Generation X.

Midwestern Culture

The American Midwest is a region of the United States. People in these states tend to value practicality, friendliness, and conservative political values. Midwestern culture is generally seen to be distrustful of people who are different, and it can be judgmental when a person does not follow societal norms. Midwesterners are often viewed as behind the times or uncool, but they are also seen to possess useful and pleasant attributes such as a strong work ethic, sensibility, and friendly disposition.

The Lambert children all leave the Midwest much to their parents' disappointment. Each sibling tries to find an opportunity that they think is too big for the Midwest to contain. Gary Lambert wants wealth, Denise Lambert seeks sexual freedom, and Chip Lambert looks for intellectual elitism. The siblings each fail to meet these objectives to some degree. The Lambert siblings want to rebel against the Midwestern principles their parents followed, but they also learn to appreciate some Midwestern values. Gary realizes that Alfred Lambert and Enid Lambert's conservative financial choices helped them avoid losing money when the economy entered recession. Chip begins to take accountability for his actions and becomes more responsible and reliable. Denise understands that she can have sexual freedom without self-destructive tendencies.

Franzen makes fun of or rejects some of these values. Alfred and Enid expect conformity from their children and are disappointed when each rebels and leaves. The couple are quick to judge and condemn lifestyles that go against what they perceive as normal or acceptable. Alfred is conservative with his money and misses out on opportunities to greatly expand his wealth. Franzen also points out the positive characteristics of Midwestern culture. Midwesterners value hard work and are not frivolous in their actions or spending. When Gary loses his money in the dot-com stock market crash, Enid is able to use the modest savings they have kept in a bank to live off while the economy recovers. She also encourages Chip to stay and help his parents repair the house and live more comfortably.


Satire is the use of exaggeration, humor, or ridicule to expose the weaknesses or faults of society. The purpose of satire is to point out the follies of society so that people can make positive changes. Writers use satire for political and social commentary that is thought provoking as well as entertaining. The humorous nature of satire makes it accessible to many types of people and readers. The Corrections is a social commentary on the cultural and political trends of the 1990s. It points out many faults in 1990s society including dissatisfaction, elitism, and pharmaceutical drug use. The Lambert family members try to hide their faults and failures from one another, but the reader is aware of the missteps they have committed in their adult lives. Franzen uses the dysfunction in the Lambert family as a model for the faults of American society. The funny, exaggerated, and shocking dilemmas that the family members face serve as a mirror for cultural defects in American society.

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