June 17, 2010


While reading Jonathan Franzen's "The Discomfort Zone," some of his statements reminded me of readings and discussions from class. In one chapter he is discussing his marriage. His brother had suggested that they live together before getting married, but Jonathan's reply to his brother (as recounted in "The Discomfort Zone") was:

"a subjective phenomenon (e.g., romantic love) did not become, properly speaking, "real" until it took its place in an objective structure, and that it was therefore important that the individual and the civic be synthesized in a ceremony of commitment."

Jonathan believed that he had to get married to prove that their love was "real." There had to be a "ceremony of commitment" to tie him and his wife together in society, which I'm guessing is what he meant by "the individual and the civic." After six years of living together he and his wife found it unbearable, but not as repulsive as the idea of divorce. In a later portion of the chapter he goes into long explanations about his ideas on divorce, but it boils down to he had been socialized to believe that marriage was forever and divorce was for those who didn't try hard enough to make their commitment last.

I found this interesting because of all the reading we've been doing about the symbols of marriage, such as the ring, and the rules of engagement. These ideas were so engrained in Jonathan Franzen that he thought he was a failure because he did everything "by the rules" but his life/marriage didn't fit the norm.

thanks to http://hadassahsabo.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/divorce.jpg for the image.


  1. It is amazing how sensitive we are to the Symbolic Interaction's view of botched performance. We judge ourselves so harshly and the majority of those rules are the subjective ideologies of society. Tonight while surfing youtube for video links for my analysis I came upon two songs that fit this class so perfectly and apply to this blog so well. One by Tammy Wynette D-I-V-O-R-C-E, mirrors the image that it is an unspeakable word, to have committed such an atrocity is paramount to the destruction of society itself. Without knowing what historical context Mr Franzen's book was written in I would venture a guess that it is reflective of mid-century America. The other song, Golden Ring, was a duet between Tammy and her husband (for a while) George Jones, they are singing about a simple gold band bought at a pawn shop. The seem to express symbolism better than a room full of sociologists, it is "just a metallic thing" love makes it something else. The irony ends as the song in divorce and the ring once again turns back to metal. Mr Franzen could have enacted all the symbolism society needs to recognize the commitment, and it would have offered no more of a money back guarantee than the pawn shop.
    I will include the link for anyone born post 1978.

  2. It is interesting when you said Jonathan was more repulsed by the idea of divorce than a bad marriage. No doubt the institution was firmly implanted in his mind where divorce is equated with failure. Nowdays divorce may not be quite the failure like he thinks. Now it is just another rung in the ladder on the way to fit into the social idea of what love requires.

  3. Some day I'll offer a class that focuses solely on the sociology of classic country music. My favorite is "Did You Tell Her She Was Sleeping in the Bed You Made for Me." There is plenty of sociological analysis to be had in that tune!