How does freedom pertain to Michael K in Life & Times of Michael K?
Freedom pertains to Michael K just as a lack of options pertains to Michael K. In his great poverty, Michael becomes trenchant and stubborn as he clings to the power of choice regarding the few options that are available to him, eventually going so far as to choose starvation.
At one point the doctor who treats and follows Michael K comments:
You should have crept away in the darkest reach of the deepest hole and possessed yourself in patience until the troubles were over. Did you think you were a spirit invisible, a visitor on our planet, a creature beyond the reach of the laws of nations?
Looking at the text as a commentary on the state of South Africa, Michael K's freedom becomes more than a will to persist in a stubborn posture of positive choice. His freedom becomes part of a rebellion, an escape from the politically driven injustice and racial oppression of apartheid.
Stripped of its racist justifications, South Africa is revealed for what it basically is: a cruel police state, a vast bureaucracy of prison keepers and prisoners.
His repeated efforts to escape and to live free from his various imprisonments, literal and figurative, demonstrate the importance of freedom to Michael K, while deepening the sense that "K’s plight reads like a modern slave narrative."
Though living on his own terms in any pure way may be impossible, Michael K is incapable of choosing to negotiate a compromised freedom, striving always for as complete as freedom as possible.
If he can only choose between scraping out a subsistence living outside the walls of an institution and living as a kind of prisoner, Michael K will choose to scrape out a living in the wilderness. One of the novel's most significant statements is expressed in the fact that these are, ultimately, Michael K's only options.