Gossip Between Social Media and Fiction
The Case of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom
Representations of gossip thrive in contemporary American literature and TV series, and they are often tied to the impact the Internet and social media have had on the way we communicate. Far from being a new phenomenon, fictional depictions of gossip are found in the very first forms of literature. In general however, literary narratives have assumed a highbrow attitude toward gossip, linking it to minor, morally flawed characters. Also, being portrayed as idle talk, gossip has often been used in opposition to more refined forms of speech. Yet, gossip is a form of narration that responds to the basic need of all fictions, that is, to tell stories about other people. In the era of social media, gossip has acquired prominence in shaping communication, and one can notice a form of exchange between social media gossiping and fictional representation: while on the net gossip shows literary aspirations, in fictions such as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom gossip stands out as a structural device capable to serve both plot formation and character construction. The analysis of the first chapter of Freedom shows the workings of gossip with the result of destabilizing the one-dimensionality of the protagonists, giving voice to multiple perspectives on the real and setting up questions that the plot is supposed to solve.