In Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom, Patty Berglund tells her own life story in the book within a book, Mistakes Were Made: Autobiography of Patty Berglund by Patty Berglund (Composed at Her Therapist’s Suggestion). She was born Patty Emerson in Westchester, New York, the privileged daughter of artistic, somewhat pretentious parents who were embroiled in the state politics of the Democratic Party.
As an adult, Patty believes that she grew up continually reacting against her parents' expectations and wishes. They praised the academic and artistic successes of their other children and wanted all their offspring to attend elite private colleges. Patty became a basketball player and chose to attend the University of Minnesota. This rebellion began early, but was intensified during Patty's teenage years. Her first experience of sex came when she was raped at a party, and her parents were anxious to cover up this incident, because the rapist was the son of their Democratic political allies. Patty thinks that this was the central incident of her teenage years, which traumatized her and estranged her from her parents.
While Patty often considers her own psychology, there is little overt theology in Freedom. However, the theological concepts of redemption and forgiveness are central to the novel, and to Patty's story of her own development. Patty initially believes that the strongest redemptive force in her life was the combination of moral qualities given to her by those who coached her in professional sports:
It was from these wonderful coaches that Patty learned discipline, patience, focus, teamwork, and the ideals of good sportsmanship that helped make up for her morbid competitiveness and low self-esteem.
When an injury prevents her from forging a career as a professional basketball player, Patty flounders, marrying a man she does not love and embarking upon a life which, while outwardly serene, is directionless and unfulfilling for her. She creates a social persona which is in conscious opposition to the WASP-ish intellectualism of her parents, becoming as Midwestern and inoffensive as possible. It is only when her father is dying that she is able to admit what a strong influence he had on her:
Spending so much time listening to her father make fun of everything, albeit a little more feebly each day, she was disturbed to see how much like him she was, and why her own children weren’t more amused by her capacity for amusement, and why it would have been better to have forced herself to see more of her parents in the critical years of her own parenthood, so as to better understand her kids’ response to her. Her dream of creating a fresh life, entirely from scratch, entirely independent, had been just that: a dream. She was her father’s daughter.
In the end, Patty's psychological theories of how she has reacted against her parents to carve out a path as different as possible from theirs are adapted into a more tolerant acceptance of them and herself, as well as her husband, Walter. She also finds redemption as well as self-acceptance by occupying a socially useful position, which reflects that of the coaches who shaped her young life.