Everything I Never Told You

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Harvard/Radcliffe Symbol Icon

James and Marilyn meet at Harvard, and Nath’s imminent enrollment there haunts the entire book. However, each of these characters has a very different relationship with the institution. Harvard represents James’ academic accomplishments—he completes both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees there—but it also represents his failures. As a graduate student, James has no friends and he isn’t awarded a tenure-track position in the history department even though he is the most qualified candidate. Although James is intellectually skilled, he fails to meet the social (and arguably racial) criteria demanded by the institution. As an undergraduate, Marilyn enrolls at Radcliffe, the women’s college housed within Harvard. Marilyn excels academically, yet fails to be taken seriously by her male classmates and professors. Furthermore, she is haunted by Doris’ hope that she marry a “Harvard man.” Marilyn insists to herself that she wasn’t there “to find a man” but “for something better.” However, despite her best efforts, Marilyn does marry a Harvard man (though not the kind Doris had in mind) and, in doing so, jeopardizes her own dreams of graduating from Radcliffe and continuing on to medical school. Although Marilyn tells herself that she will only take a few years off before returning to complete her degree, once she leaves Radcliffe, her dreams of becoming a doctor remain forever out of her reach.

To Nath, Harvard presents an opportunity to escape his family and achieve a kind of rebirth. Whereas in Middlewood Nath is socially alienated and burdened by the tensions within his family, he hopes that in college he will have the opportunity to remake himself as a more carefree, popular, and mature person. Attending Harvard also allows Nath to pursue his dream of studying outer space. At the same time, Lydia’s death casts a dark shadow over what would otherwise be a joyous, liberating moment. Rather than being able to focus on the excitement of going to college like any normal 18-year-old, Nath must deal with feelings of shock, guilt, and grief, even as he looks forward to moving into the next stage of his life.

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Harvard/Radcliffe Symbol Timeline in Everything I Never Told You

The timeline below shows where the symbol Harvard/Radcliffe appears in Everything I Never Told You. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...course they are teaching don’t know much about geography, and James responds, “Well, this isn’t Harvard.” Louisa reassures him that he shouldn’t blame himself and that he is not wasting his... (full context)
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...the last time saw Lydia. He’d just come back from a four-day campus visit to Harvard, where he’d been thrilled by his first taste of college life. On returning home, he’d... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...to “blend in”—both of which turned out to be impossible. In Marilyn’s first year at Radcliffe in 1955, a professor asks why she wants to take physics, and Marilyn explains it... (full context)
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...eighty miles from Charlottesville and has never left her hometown. When Marilyn is admitted to Radcliffe, Doris tells her daughter how proud she is and assures her that she will meet... (full context)
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...Marilyn is embarrassed, and she thinks of her insistence that she did not come to Radcliffe to find a “Harvard man” but rather “for something better.” However, the next day Marilyn... (full context)
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...years, yet fails to make any friends. He hopes his social life will improve at Harvard, but it does not; after 7 years as an undergraduate and then graduate student, James... (full context)
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In the spring, James waits to hear if he will be hired into Harvard’s history department. The head of the department has hinted that James is at the top... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...focus, Marilyn asks if he needs a research assistant, explaining that she studied chemistry at Radcliffe and hopes to go to medical school. Tom is surprised, but says that as long... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...time Lydia responds with an enthusiastic “yes.” Meanwhile, the world around them changes; Yale and Harvard admit women, and support for the Equal Rights Amendment gathers momentum. Marilyn fantasizes about seeing... (full context)
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...Lydia has been hiding a letter informing Nath that he has been admitted to the Harvard Class of 1981. Nath has been checking the mail every day; focusing on his own... (full context)
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...a science-focused university like MIT or Caltech, he knows that James will only approve of Harvard. Nath dreams of “leaving everyone behind,” including Lydia. At 15, Lydia wears lipstick to school... (full context)
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...Wolffs. Jack points to the seal, saying it looks like Nath will be headed to Harvard. Nath counters that it might be a rejection, and Jack shrugs and leaves. Nath opens... (full context)
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...ends up forced to become a housewife. Everyone forgets about Nath and his letter from Harvard. After dinner, Lydia says congratulations to Nath, adding: “I knew you’d get in.” But Nath... (full context)
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...room. Nath feels a hint of pity for his sister. Now that the news about Harvard has sunk in, it finally feels real that he will leave Lydia alone with their... (full context)
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...and Nath obliges, telling James that he needs him to sign some forms for the Harvard campus visit. Nath explains that it will take place in April and that he’ll have... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...Marilyn wanted, and gets out her schoolbooks. Later that evening, Lydia sees another letter from Harvard has arrived; she rips it in half, and in that moment Nath walks in. He... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...taunted to her face. Marilyn describes times when she was mocked in the laboratory at Radcliffe, but adds that she didn’t care because she knew she wanted to be a doctor.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...he also mentally organizes his belongings, picking what he will take when he enrolls at Harvard later in the year. The Lees do not travel; they once went to Gettysburg and... (full context)
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That evening, Lydia calls Nath’s host at Harvard; when someone picks up the phone, she can hear the sounds of a party in... (full context)
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...asks about Nath, wondering if Lydia has missed him and whether he’ll come back from Harvard for the holidays. Lydia only replies “who cares,” and opens the glove compartment to retrieve... (full context)
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...much time left” before exams begin. At dinner, Nath talks excitedly about his visit to Harvard and James occasionally joins in with nostalgic remarks about Cambridge. Lydia, meanwhile, barely notices the... (full context)
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...as she kicks, just like Nath told her. She plans to ask Nath all about Harvard the next day. She tells herself “it will be alright” and jumps into the water. (full context)