Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Price takes the novel’s epigraph from the Book of Psalms. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Broken hearts and forgiveness figure prominently in Freedomland. After meeting Brenda, Jesse wonders what it would be like to lose a child. After reading Freedomland, one wonders about that and more, about “how the other half lives.” Price makes painfully clear how the other half lives in the midst of so much despair, fear, and casual violence. His ironically titled novel festers with images of abandonment and decay such as the local public hospital, “vast, Gothic, and half shut down,” and the no-man’s land of a park named in honor of three fallen leaders of a civil rights movement that has bypassed Dempsy, where Brenda speaks for many when she plaintively asks, “Who’s gonna love me now?” Although the novel can be faulted for occasional lapses into strained literariness of a tough-guy kind—“The dispatcher call-out was as flat as a dead man’s EKG”—and occasional heavy-handed irony, Freedomland succeeds in showing the reader “how things work,” from police procedures and reporter’s tricks to the complex sociology of the inner city. More important, the novel succeeds in showing why things are as they are, and why the reader should care.