Anxious People

Anxious People

by

Fredrik Backman

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Anxious People: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Jack sees Zara, she’s just stepped onto the balcony after telling the robber not to do anything silly. Zara feels shocked and uncomfortable—is she developing empathy? She sanitizes her hands, counts windows, and puts her headphones on. The music drowns out everything in her head, and it’s so loud she doesn’t hear Lennart (who’s still in his underwear and the rabbit head) step out and tap her headphone. He offers her a cigarette (there’s a hole he’s certain he can smoke through). Zara refuses and tries to get out of talking to Lennart, but he keeps tapping on her headphone to ask why she’s here. He asks if she’s “on safari”; he’s been doing his job long enough to recognize people who are just curious.
Zara is so worried about whether she’s starting to become empathetic that she experiences various symptoms of anxiety. Interestingly, Nadia has suggested that Zara is more empathetic than Zara wants to admit, and now readers are seeing that Nadia was likely right. Zara wants to help people and do the right thing, but in her job, she doesn’t often have the opportunity to do that. Lennart is obnoxious, but it’s also worth commending him: he’s the first person Zara is willing to speak to who isn’t a mental health professional.
Themes
Mental Health and Connection Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
Zara is used to seeing through people, not having them see through her—and Lennart’s comment enrages her. But instead of saying something mean, she asks if Lennart is cold. He insists he isn’t, so she puts her headphones back on. But Lennart taps again on her headphone to share that he’s an actor. He just disrupts apartment viewings as a side business because the “cultural sector” is in a rough spot. Zara accuses him of thinking capitalism is good only when artists benefit from it. She says he’s manipulating the economic system and says that apartments aren’t supposed to be investments. They’re supposed to be homes. Angrily, Zara says that a man jumped off a bridge 10 years ago when the property market crashed on the other side of the world. Innocent people were hurt and the guilty got bonuses—all because people like Lennart “don’t care about balance in the system.”
Through her counseling sessions with Nadia, Zara has shown readers that she’s very good at reading people and looking for context clues. But few people can do that to her (and though Nadia does, to some degree, she keeps her thoughts about Zara quiet). As Zara lays into Lennart, it’s humorous—he’s clearly not singlehandedly making buying an apartment unattainable for most people. But still, she gets at what the novel suggests are some uncomfortable truths about how apartments and mortgages function in the modern era. Having a mortgage means that a homeowner doesn’t actually own their home—the bank does. So, people who are just trying to house their families are the ones who get hurt when things go south, as the banks, Zara notes, only look out for themselves.
Themes
Mental Health and Connection Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
Quotes
Lennart chuckles, tells Zara to calm down, and says the financial crisis was the banks’ fault. Zara has spent enough time with wealthy middle-aged men to know what Lennart will say next, so she says it herself: he doesn’t care about the apartment’s seller or Anna-Lena or Roger, and the housing market is a construct, which means he doesn’t have any responsibility. And like all men, he’ll then tell her about 1902 in Hanoi, when the city offered residents rewards to kill rats and people started breeding rats. This is supposed to prove that people are selfish and untrustworthy. Then, people like her and Lennart (who are the real problem) can say that it’s never their fault. They say people are greedy and never should’ve given them money.
Though Zara briefly began to talk about how poorly she thinks of the financial sector in her counseling sessions with Nadia, she’s opening up to Lennart far more than she ever did to Nadia. She implies that Lennart should care about Anna-Lena, Roger, and the apartment’s seller, if only because they’re fellow people just trying to get by. As Zara sees it, people aren’t as greedy as men have continually told her they are. Anna-Lena, after all, is just trying to help Roger feel needed, while Roger is working hard to seem competent.
Themes
Marriage, Conflict, and Communication Theme Icon
Mental Health and Connection Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
Assumptions  Theme Icon
Quotes
By now, Lennart is laughing, and he tells Zara that she wins. Quietly, she points out that Anna-Lena and Roger are just postponing a divorce, and this must make Lennart happy because then they’ll have to buy two apartments. Lennart says this isn’t true. He believes in love and after going to so many apartment viewings, he knows there’s a lot of love in the world—just look at all the apartments that aren’t for sale. That this answer isn’t ridiculous annoys Zara, but she pulls out two cigarettes and sticks one in the rabbit’s mouth.
In the previous passage, Zara suggested that she and Lennart are a lot alike: both heartlessly manipulating people like Anna-Lena and Roger, without any thought for their feelings or wellbeing. But Lennart shows here that he thinks more highly of people than Zara thought he did. Further, the fact that Zara doesn’t write off his answer as “ridiculous” suggests that she agrees with him—she is, perhaps, becoming more empathetic than she’d like to admit.
Themes
Mental Health and Connection Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
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After a minute, Lennart says that Anna-Lena is one of his favorite clients. She just wants to make Roger feel needed, and everyone assumes that she’s oppressed and sacrificial. But she used to be a senior analyst, and Roger put his career on hold to care for their kids while she kept getting promoted. By the time it was Roger’s turn to focus on his career, he was too old. Now, she’s trying to make it up to him by renovating apartments when she just wants a home. Zara feels like telling Lennart everything, like how she counts windows and likes spreadsheets and thinks the economic system is so strong that it’s crushing everyone. Lennart asks what Zara is listening to, but Zara suggests he put pants on before the police storm the apartment. This isn’t the most poetic love story, but Zara and Lennart are hooked.
Anna-Lena has already shown readers (through her anecdote about Roger helping an immigrant man get a parking spot) that he’s not as gruff and uncaring as he seems. But here, Lennart says people also misjudge Anna-Lena and underestimate her intelligence and her drive, as well as how much she loves her husband. She’s even subsuming her own desires to help Roger feel useful. It’s not entirely clear why Zara feels compelled to spill everything to Lennart—perhaps it’s just surprising that he doesn’t seem afraid of her like everyone else. But the narrator makes it clear that the two have connected, and that Zara will, for possibly the first time, fall in love.
Themes
Marriage, Conflict, and Communication Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon