Everything I Never Told You

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Everything I Never Told You published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter's door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on

the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia's duffel bag crumpled on the floor of the closet. Lydia's green book bag slouched against her desk. Lydia's bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee
Related Symbols: Lydia’s “Baby Soft” Perfume
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

It is a normal morning at the Lee house, but Lydia has failed to come down to breakfast. The reader knows that she is dead, but her family does not. Lydia’s mother, Marilyn, has gone up to look for Lydia in her room, and in this passage she sees everything in its place but no sign of Lydia herself. The description of Lydia’s bedroom gives an impression of Lydia’s life and personality, even before she has personally appeared on the page. The “rainbow-striped sock” and book bag convey that she is still young, an impression emphasized by the “loved-baby scent” of her perfume. Meanwhile, the “neat hospital corners” of Lydia’s bed and “row of science ribbons” on the wall evoke someone who is disciplined and accomplished.

However, Lydia’s bedroom and belongings only give a partial portrait of who she really is. There is clearly information missing, made obvious by the fact that Lydia herself is not there. Indeed, her mysterious absence seems to contradict the image of her as both youthfully innocent and a disciplined, dutiful student. This contrast introduces the discrepancies between appearances and reality that occur throughout the book, as well as the tension between appearances and disappearances. If Lydia’s life is as ordinary and orderly as it seems, why has she mysteriously vanished?


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Chapter 2 Quotes

Newcomers to the school district assumed Mrs. Walker was a widow. Her mother herself never mentioned it. She still powdered her nose after cooking and before eating she still put on lipstick before coming downstairs to make breakfast. So they called it keeping house for a reason, Marilyn thought. Sometimes it did run away.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the narrator describes Marilyn’s mother Doris, who is a total contrast to her daughter. Whereas Marilyn wants to take shop instead of home economics and dreams of becoming a doctor, Doris is the school’s home economics teacher and a proud housewife. In her classroom, Doris teaches girls how to “keep house,” a phrase Marilyn finds odd. However, Marilyn’s father left the family when she was three, and in this passage Marilyn observes that perhaps “keeping house” is a more apt phrase than it first appears. This observation emphasizes the theme of appearances versus disappearances—Doris works ardently to make it appear as though everything in her family is normal, but she cannot change the truth that her husband left her. This raises the question of whom Doris’ performance is intended to serve—Marilyn? Doris herself? The absent figure of Doris’ husband? This passage also shows that, early on in Marilyn’s life, she saw home as an unstable and even oppressive place. These associations with home will haunt Marilyn’s future and inform some of her more irrational-seeming actions.

It was as if America herself was taking him in. It was too much luck. He feared the day the universe would notice he wasn't supposed to have her and take her away. Or that she might suddenly realize her mistake and disappear from his life as suddenly as she had entered.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:

When James and Marilyn meet, he is a lonely graduate student who has spent his life feeling alienated and unwelcome in the country in which he was born. To James’ surprise, rather than being put off by his status as an outsider, Marilyn is attracted to it. When the couple lies in bed together, James marvels at Marilyn’s “honey-colored hair,” which to him represents Marilyn’s identity as a “normal” white American. In this passage, the narrator describes how James’ joy at being embraced by Marilyn is tinged with anxiety that their union is too good to be true. Although James’ fears that “he wasn’t supposed to have her” are irrational, his sense that she will “disappear from his life as suddenly as she had entered” is actually correct.

From James’ perspective, his and Marilyn’s relationship seems inherently doomed because of their racial differences. James has internalized the prejudice and alienation to which he has been subjected throughout his life, and, as a result, he believes that he doesn’t deserve Marilyn. In reality, the biggest threat to James and Marilyn’s relationship is not their racial difference itself, but rather their differing attitudes toward social conformity (which are, of course, not unrelated to their respective racial experiences). Marilyn wants to excel and stand out, and she is drawn to James because she feels that he understands what it is like to be an outsider. Meanwhile, James is attracted to Marilyn precisely because she “fits in,” and he hopes that by being with her he will finally be embraced by American society. In reality, these differing views spell disaster for their union.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Marilyn, unaware that her youngest is listening so closely, so longingly, blots her eyes and replaces the diaries on the shelf and makes herself a promise. She will figure out what happened to Lydia. She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

In an attempt to understand what happened to Lydia, Marilyn has searched through Lydia’s bedroom and opened the series of diaries that Marilyn has been giving Lydia since she was five years old. However, Marilyn was surprised to find all of them blank. The blank diaries have a double significance. First, the fact that Marilyn has consistently given Lydia a gift that Lydia hasn’t ever used underscores the discrepancy between Marilyn’s desires for Lydia’s life and Lydia’s own ideas about herself (the blank diaries also suggest that Lydia might not know herself well enough to reflect on who she is, perhaps a result of Marilyn’s overbearing influence). Second, the fact that the diaries (which should reveal Lydia’s innermost thoughts) are blank shows that Lydia is going to remain a mystery to Marilyn, a mystery that Marilyn is determined to resolve. Yet this passage indicates that Marilyn may be less adept at understanding the world around her than she’d hoped. Marilyn assumes that there is someone who is “responsible” for Lydia’s death, but there is no evidence that an external party was to blame. Meanwhile, as Marilyn sits in Lydia’s bedroom, she doesn’t notice Hannah “listening so closely,” a detail that highlights the way in which Marilyn is blind to things that are immediately in front of her.

Chapter 4 Quotes

When Nath had been born, then Lydia, Marilyn had not informed her mother, had not even sent a photograph. What was there to say? She and James had never discussed what her mother had said about their marriage that last day: it's not right. She had not ever wanted to think of it again. So when James came home that night, she said simply, "My mother died." Then she turned back to the stove and added, "And the lawn needs mowing," and he understood: they would not talk about it.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

After Doris’ disapproving comments at Marilyn and James’ wedding, Marilyn never talks to her mother again, and when Nath and Lydia are young children, she gets a call informing her that Doris has died of a stroke. This passage describes Marilyn’s reaction to her mother’s death, revealing Marilyn’s profound and sustained anger at Doris. It also illustrates the extent to which Marilyn shuts out the memory of her mother. Not only does she never speak to Doris again, but she also refuses to mention Doris to James and the children. Marilyn enters a state of denial about her mother, making Doris “disappear” from her life even before she is actually dead.

Early in their relationship, Marilyn and James establish a pact not to discuss the past, and this mutual understanding brings them closer together. However, the novel calls into question how sustainable such a pact could be, since it involves such extreme suppression. Not only does Marilyn cut off Doris completely, she also prohibits any opportunity for her children to know their own grandmother. Although this specific instance arguably prevents the children from the possibility of experiencing racism at the hands of their own grandmother, Marilyn’s repression and silence are part of a behavioral pattern that ultimately comes to have a damaging impact on the Lee family.

Three photo albums of Marilyn and not a single shot of her mother. As if

her mother had never been there. Was she sad? How could she miss her mother when her mother was nowhere to be found?

And then, in the kitchen, she discovered her mother's Betty Crocker cookbook, the spine cracking and mended, twice, with Scotch tape. On the first page of the cookie section, a deliberate line in the margin of the introduction, the kind she herself had made in college to mark an important

passage. It was no recipe. Always cookies in the cookie jar! the

paragraph read. Is there a happier symbol of a friendly house? That

was all. Her mother had felt the need to highlight this.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Related Symbols: The Betty Crocker Cookbook
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Following Doris’ death, Marilyn has gone to her childhood home in Virginia in order to pack up her mother’s belongings. Marilyn is surprised by how familiar the house feels, and, furthermore, she is shocked by the extent to which Doris’ possessions bear no trace of her own existence. This confirms Marilyn’s feeling that Doris was not a whole person but merely a shell of a person, and that this is why Marilyn was never able to have a close connection to her mother. Indeed, this idea is confirmed, for Marilyn, by the presence of the well-loved Betty Crocker cookbook. Marilyn concludes that Doris, rather than pursuing her own thoughts and interests, subscribed to the model of ideal femininity propagated by Betty Crocker.

Marilyn’s disdain for Doris’ idealization of Betty Crocker is made clear by the statement: “Her mother had felt the need to highlight this.” While Marilyn took advanced chemistry courses at Harvard, Doris studied the Betty Crocker cookbook as if it were a textbook, and Marilyn seems to think that this is ridiculous. At the same time, the events of the book suggest that family dynamics and happiness may be far more complicated than Marilyn believes.

So part of him wanted to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different. Later, when Nath was too slight for the football team, too short for the basketball team, too clumsy for the baseball team, when he seemed to prefer reading and poring over his atlas and peering through his telescope to making friends, James would think back to this day in the swimming pool, this first disappointment in his son, this first

and most painful puncture in his fatherly dreams.

Related Characters: James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

James has taken Nath to the Y to encourage his reluctant son to swim with the other kids. However, once Nath is in the pool the other children deliberately desert him in the middle of a game of Marco Polo before taunting him with racist insults. Upon realizing what has happened, Nath furiously rushes to the locker room, refusing to say anything to his father. This passage describes James’ conflicting feelings as a result of the incident at the Y. James feels sympathetic to Nath, particularly as James himself has experienced a lifetime of prejudice, bullying, and exclusion. However, it is this very parallel that discourages James from comforting Nath and instead makes him want to react with violence.

The anger that James feels is arguably not truly directed at Nath, but instead at himself. James is frustrated and disappointed in his own inability to become “normal” and popular, yet he takes these feelings out on his son. This illustrates one of the dangers of parents attempting to live out their own ambitions through their children—it can lead them to blame their children for things that are not their fault.

Chapter 5 Quotes

The story––as it emerges from the teachers and the kids at school––is so

obvious. Lydia's quietness, her lack of friends. Her recent sinking grades. And, in truth, the strangeness of her family. A family with no friends, a family of misfits. All this shines so brightly that, in the eyes of the police, Jack falls into shadow. A girl like that and a boy like him, who can have––does have––any girl he wants? It is impossible for them to imagine what Nath knows to be true, let alone what he himself imagines.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

The police have told the Lee family that, although they are still investigating, there is no evidence that anyone else was involved with Lydia’s death. James thanks them, but both Marilyn and Nath are dissatisfied. Marilyn insists that a “psycho” must have killed Lydia, whereas Nath is convinced that Jack Wolff is to blame. Unlike his parents, Nath has a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of Lydia’s life, including other people’s perceptions of her. He thus understands why the police believe that Lydia committed suicide, even as he disagrees with this interpretation. Nath’s commitment to his own theory about Lydia’s death shows the extent to which people tend to cling to their own interpretations of the world, even when it conflicts with the views of everyone else.

This passage also highlights how the Lee’s racial difference alienates them from the Middlewood community. The phrase “family of misfits” suggests that people see the Lee family as internally mismatched and that this, in turn, makes them at odds with the world around them.

Chapter 6 Quotes

The summer Lydia fell in the lake, the summer Marilyn went missing: all of them had tried to forget it. They did not talk about it; they never mentioned it. But it lingered, like a bad smell. It had suffused them so deeply it could never

wash out.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening passage to Chapter 6. At the end of the previous chapter, Nath told Hannah that Lydia fell in the lake once before and when Hannah said she couldn’t remember that happening, Nath explained that it was before Hannah was born. In this passage, the narrator makes an explicit connection between two disappearances: Marilyn’s flight to Toledo and Lydia’s far briefer “disappearance” into the water. Although the details of these events have yet to be revealed, it is clear that they are traumatic memories that the Lees have attempted to suppress in order to maintain the appearance of happiness and normalcy.

However, as the narrator’s words suggest, the attempt to suppress these memories is inherently doomed. Even though the Lee family does not talk about Marilyn and Lydia’s disappearances, these events have become a part of them. Denying the fact that they happened thus becomes a way of denying who they really are as a family.

Up there––eighty-five miles high, ninety, ninety-five, the counter said––everything on earth would be invisible. Mothers who disappeared, fathers who didn't love you, kids who mocked you––everything would shrink to pinpoints and vanish. Up there: nothing but stars.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Since Marilyn’s disappearance, James and the children have been left in a depressed, despairing state. Marilyn’s absence haunts their days; they rarely leave the house and they spend most of their time sitting around aimlessly (and hopelessly) waiting for her to come home. Nath is able to distract himself slightly, however, by following the launch of the Gemini 9. It is at this moment that Nath’s burgeoning interest in outer space gains momentum, and this passage makes clear that Nath not only finds space inherently interesting, but he also relishes the way in which thinking about space shrinks the magnitude of the problems facing the Lee family.

While, to James and Lydia, Marilyn’s disappearance has become all-consuming, Nath channels his sadness and anxiety in a productive way, by obsessively learning as much as he can about space travel. Indeed, this could be identified as a major factor that distinguishes Nath from his sister, and it is perhaps the reason that Nath is able to survive and flourish amid the turmoil of his family, while Lydia is crushed by it. Lydia never develops any real interests outside of her family, and thus the burden of her relationship with her parents takes over her life.

NaOH became Nath, his small face wide-eyed and reproachful. One morning, consulting the periodic table, instead of helium she thought He and James's face floated up in her mind. Other days, the messages were more subtle: a typo in the textbook––"the common acids, egg. nitric, acetic . . ."—left her in tears, thinking of hard-boiled, sunnyside up, scrambled.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Eggs
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

In many ways, Marilyn’s disappearance to Toledo is turning out exactly as she’d hoped. The logistical matters of enrolling in community college and securing accommodation have all gone according to plan, and Marilyn relishes the opportunity to return to academic work. However, this passage describes Marilyn’s intense longing for her family, as she is unable to put the thought of them out of her mind even as she is focused on her studies. The disdain that she once felt about cooking eggs in the different styles that each member of her family prefers has turned to a painful sense of longing for this act of love and togetherness.

Note, however, that even as Marilyn is haunted by thoughts of her family, she doesn’t quite seem to feel guilty about leaving. Although she misses her husband and children fiercely, Marilyn still doesn’t seem to feel that what she has done is wrong. This suggests that, although Marilyn loves her family, her resentment of the traditional role of a housewife is perhaps even greater than that love.

It was a sign, Marilyn decided. For her it was too late. But it wasn't too late for Lydia. Marilyn would not be like her own mother, shunting her daughter toward husband and house, a life spent safely behind a deadbolt. She would help Lydia do everything she was capable of. She would spend the rest of her years guiding Lydia, sheltering her, the way you tended a prize rose: helping it grow, propping it with stakes, arching each stem toward perfection… She buried her nose in Lydia's hair and made silent promises. Never to tell her to sit up straight, to find a husband, to keep a house. Never to suggest that there were jobs or lives or worlds not meant for her; never to let her hear doctor and think only man. To encourage her, for the rest of her life, to do more than her mother had.

Related Symbols: The Betty Crocker Cookbook, Doctors
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

After realizing that she is pregnant with Hannah, Marilyn decides to return home. When she first arrives back at the house, Lydia confesses that she “lost” the Betty Crocker cookbook (although this is a lie; Lydia actually hid it in her room). Rather than being angry, Marilyn interprets this as a “sign” that Lydia can grow up to have the science career that now seems permanently out of Marilyn’s reach. She decides to encourage Lydia toward “perfection” in a way that she believes Doris never did for her. However, Marilyn’s words highlight her hypocrisy. She promises not to “be like her own mother,” but by projecting her own ambitions onto Lydia, she is guilty of the exact same parenting style as Doris—just with a different goal in mind.

This passage is useful in demonstrating the way in which the harmful burden Marilyn places on Lydia originates with good intentions. Clearly, Marilyn loves Lydia, and wants her to have a happy and successful life. At the same time, Marilyn herself is also reeling from her return from Toledo and the death of her personal ambitions of becoming a doctor. It seems that the only way Marilyn can console herself is by silently promising to “encourage” Lydia to live out the dreams that Marilyn cannot. By making this promise, however, she treats her daughter as more of a project or an object than a person in her own right, as illustrated by the comparison of Lydia to “a prize rose.”

She followed him all the way to the lake and to the end of the little pier. The houses on the other side of the water looked like dollhouses, tiny and scaled-down and perfect. Inside, mothers were boiling eggs or baking cakes or making pot roasts, or maybe fathers were poking the coals in the barbecue,

turning the hot dogs with a fork so that the grill made perfect black lines all over. Those mothers had never gone far away and left their children behind. Those fathers had never slapped their children or kicked over the television or laughed at them.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake, Eggs
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

James has driven Marilyn back to Toledo to collect her belongings from the apartment she’d been renting, leaving Nath and Lydia with Mrs. Allen, who promptly falls asleep in front of the television, leaving the children to wander off to the lake unaccompanied. This passage describes what Nath and Lydia can see when they gaze across the lake—rows of “dollhouses” in which the children imagine happy families free of abnormality and strife. Note that this domestic happiness is imagined in terms of food, a recurrent theme throughout the book. Although making eggs and grilling hot dogs are simple, everyday acts, they represent the stability, care, and normalcy that are missing from Nath and Lydia’s lives.

The fact that the houses are on the other side of the lake emphasizes the notion that the Lees are barred from accessing this happiness and normalcy by a mysterious and powerful force. However, this distance also means that Nath and Lydia do not see the real truth of the lives of the people who live on the other side of the lake. Although the houses look idyllic from a distance, this appearance could be deceiving. In all likelihood, the families in those houses may be suffering from similar problems to the Lees.

Chapter 7 Quotes

He must really hate Nath, Lydia thought. As much as Nath hates him. She imagined them in class together all these years: Nath sitting close to the front, notebook out, one hand rubbing the little furrow between his eyebrows, the way he did when he was thinking hard. Utterly focused, oblivious to everything else, the answer right there, sealed inside his mouth. And Jack?

Jack would be sprawled in the back corner, shirt untucked, one leg stretched into the aisle. So comfortable. So certain of himself. Not worried about what anyone thought. No wonder they couldn't stand each other.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Lydia has decided to befriend Jack Wolff in an attempt to upset Nath. When she first strikes up a conversation with Jack, he is skeptical and confused that Lydia (whom he sees as innocent and prim) is asking for a cigarette and claiming she doesn’t care about physics. Jack suggests that Lydia stay away from him in case he ruins her chances of getting into Harvard like Nath. Lydia interprets this as evidence that Jack hates Nath and she envisions the two of them sitting in class together. To Lydia, the two boys are opposites: Nath is smart, hard-working, and socially “oblivious,” while Jack is a careless, confident bad boy.

Of course, in reality this is not true, yet Lydia fails to critically examine what lies beneath appearances. This is ironic, as she has just spent a whole conversation trying to persuade Jack that she is not as uptight and innocent as she seems.

Chapter 8 Quotes

It happened so quickly that if she were a different person, Hannah might have wondered if she'd imagined it. No one else saw. Nath was still turned away; Lydia had her eyes shut now against the sun. But the moment flashed lightning-bright to Hannah. Years of yearning had made her sensitive, the way a starving dog twitches its nostrils at the faintest scent of food. She could not mistake it. She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn't care and went on anyway. It was too familiar to be surprising. Something deep inside her stretched out and curled around Jack like a shawl, but he didn't notice.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Hannah Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Nath, Lydia, and Hannah are at the lake. Nath has been swimming, and Hannah has been sitting with Lydia on the shore while Lydia sunbathes. Jack comes to sit with Lydia, at which point Nath walks over and sits between them, behaving rudely to Jack and telling Lydia that she’s burning. Meanwhile, a small droplet of water falls from Nath’s hair into Jack’s hand, and—although no one else notices—Hannah sees him tenderly kiss it. The fact that Hannah has been excluded and forgotten throughout her life has made her perceptive, especially to other people’s feelings of unrequited desire for love.

This sets Hannah apart from the other characters; whereas their experience of marginalization makes them take out their own insecurities and disappointment on others, Hannah’s isolation makes her feel closer and more sympathetic to those around her. In addition, while the other members of her family often misunderstand and misread other people’s feelings, Hannah is able to recognize Jack’s love for Nath with startling accuracy. On the other hand, her shyness prevents her from expressing this knowledge, and thus her sympathy with Jack remains confined to her own mind.

Chapter 10 Quotes

"I am disappointed." Marilyn's head snaps up. "l thought you were different." What she means is: I thought you were better than other men. I thought you wanted better than that. But James, still thinking of Marilyn's mother, hears something else.

"You got tired of different, didn't you?" he says. "I'm too different. Your mother knew it right away. You think it's such a good thing, standing out. But look at you. Just look at you."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), James Lee (speaker), Doris Walker
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

Marilyn has discovered James’ affair, and has been spitefully questioning him about Louisa. She even suggests that Louisa would make a “nice little wife” and says that Doris spent her life trying to make Marilyn into the kind of woman that Louisa is. The mention of Doris infuriates James, who points out how much of a “disappointment” he was to Marilyn’s mother. In this passage, both James and Marilyn speak about disappointment, but mean two completely different things. Crucially, Marilyn does not fully explain her reasons for feeling disappointed in James, instead silently thinking “I thought you were better than other men.” This allows James to convince himself that Marilyn’s disappointment is not rooted in his affair, but in his race.

James also assumes that because Marilyn is white, she does not really know what it means to stand out, and thus cannot be said to have truly desired it. To some extent, James’ words suggest that he preemptively pushed Marilyn away on account of his belief that she would eventually grow tried of him. In reality, Marilyn has not grown tired of being marked as “different” due to her interracial marriage, but rather she is demoralized by playing the role of housewife and learning that James has cheated on her regardless of her sacrifices for their family. To Marilyn, the fact that she and James have collapsed into gender stereotypes is the greatest disappointment of all.

“I didn't care. I knew what I wanted. I was going to be a doctor." She glares at James, as if he has contradicted her. “Then—fortunately—l came to my senses. I stopped trying to be different. I did just what all the other girls were

doing. I got married. I gave all that up." A thick bitterness coats her tongue. "Do what everyone else is doing. That's all you ever said to Lydia. Make friends. Fit in. But I didn't want her to be just like everyone else." The rims of her eyes ignite. "I wanted her to be exceptional."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), Lydia Lee, James Lee
Related Symbols: Doctors
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

The argument that began about James’ affair has escalated into a discussion of why both James and Marilyn feel dissatisfied with their life together. James has accused Marilyn of not truly understanding what it feels like to be socially marginalized, and Marilyn has replied that she experienced marginalization constantly as a female science student at Radcliffe. In this passage, she argues that this exclusion didn’t matter to her, because she was so fixated on her goal of becoming a doctor. Her words suggest that she blames James not only for ruining her own ambitions, but also for ruining Lydia’s. James’ pressure on Lydia to “fit in” directly contradicted Marilyn’s desire for her to stand out as an exceptional student and future doctor.

For the first time, James and Marilyn acknowledge that the pressures they put on Lydia pulled her in completely different directions. Although they do not say so explicitly here, the implication of this is that they are in some way responsible for Lydia’s feelings of sadness and alienation and, by extension, for her death. However, while Marilyn positions herself as an innocent party who simply wanted the best for Lydia, this does not, of course, represent the whole truth. In reality, both James and Marilyn put unjust and unwarranted pressure on Lydia and both of them made Lydia feel as if there was no way to be herself without disappointing them.

You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

Marilyn and James’ argument has come to a dramatic conclusion and Marilyn has ordered James to leave the house. After he goes, Marilyn sits and thinks about all the years Doris spent alone before her death. Suddenly, Marilyn feels a strong sense of identification with her mother’s isolation. Despite all the years of love, care, and work that both women put into their family life, both end up alienated from those closest to them.

Marilyn arguably exaggerates her own status as an innocent victim of her family’s desertion here; it was, after all, she who abandoned her family before her family abandoned her. On the other hand, Marilyn’s point about isolation speaks to more fundamental truths than just her own particular situation. Throughout the book, family life is shown to be more fragile than is commonly assumed, and Lydia’s death (and its consequences) highlight how easily family ties can be broken, cutting members of a family off from one another.

Chapter 11 Quotes

That long-ago day, sitting in this very spot on the dock, she had already begun to feel it: how hard it would be to inherit their parents' dreams. How suffocating to be so loved. She had felt Nath's hands on her shoulders and been almost grateful to fall forward, to let herself sink… Don't let me sink, she had thought as she reached for his hand, and he had promised not to when he took it. This moment, Lydia thought. This is where it all went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 273-274
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning about Jack’s love for Nath, Lydia reaches a kind of breaking point. That night, at 2am, she sneaks out to the lake. While sitting on the dock, she thinks about the day when Nath pushed her into the water, concluding that “this is where it all went wrong.” Lydia’s thoughts in this passage reveal a curious mix of perceptiveness and irrationality. On the one hand, Lydia has a sharp understanding of the way in which her parents’ attention has been “suffocating,” such that she has crumbled under the pressure of James and Marilyn’s love. On the other hand, her interpretation that the day in which Nath pushed her into the lake was the single moment “where it all went wrong” is arguably naïve; as the book shows, the problems in Lydia’s life originated decades before she was even born.

Lydia articulates two contradictory feelings about the prospect of “disappearing” into the lake; she feels relieved to disappear even as she also resolves to take Nath’s hand and let him pull her to the surface. These conflicting feelings provide an insight into why—in only a few minutes from this scene—Lydia jumps into the lake and drowns herself. Part of her hopes to “stay afloat” using the support of her brother, as well as her own determination, to survive. However, throughout her life the lake seems to have been pulling her toward it, beckoning her with the temptation to escape everyone’s attempts to control her life and to succumb to the mysterious power of the water.

Chapter 12 Quotes

What made something precious? Losing it and finding it. All those times he'd pretended to lose her. He sinks down on the carpet, dizzy with loss.

Then he feels small arms curling round his neck, the warmth of a small body leaning against him.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, James Lee, Hannah Lee
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

After driving aimlessly to Toledo, James turns around and heads home. Once there, he finds no sign of Marilyn or Nath, only Hannah sitting alone in the living room. The two of them play a game that James used to play with Lydia where he holds Hannah on his back and pretends that he can’t find her. In the midst of this game, James is overcome by the painful irony that he spent years playing that he had “lost” Lydia, only for that game to come horrifically true. His reflection about things becoming precious through being lost and found suggests that—even in the midst of the Lee’s pain at losing Lydia—new and positive things may flourish in her absence. This sense of hope is symbolized by Hannah’s arms around James’ neck.

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