Everything I Never Told You

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The Betty Crocker Cookbook Symbol Analysis

The Betty Crocker Cookbook Symbol Icon

Betty Crocker is, according to Marilyn, Doris’ “personal goddess,” and Doris treasures the red cookbook instructing housewives on how to create a happy home filled with elaborate meals and treats. When Marilyn goes to pack up her mother’s house after Doris’ death, she finds no trace of her mother among any of the photos or other belongings Doris left behind. The only thing that reminds Marilyn of her mother is the Betty Crocker cookbook, and thus she decides to keep it while throwing away everything else. However, the cookbook comes to haunt Marilyn, reminding her of how desperately—yet unsuccessfully—she tried to escape the false and restrictive role of a housewife. Marilyn feels cynical about the cookbook’s naïve promises of domestic happiness and harmony, given that her experience of familial life has been filled with disappointment, tension, and turmoil. When Marilyn runs away to Toledo, Lydia finds the cookbook and notices that it is stained with Marilyn’s tears. Lydia hides it so Marilyn will never have to see it again, and later Lydia claims that she lost it. After Lydia’s death, Marilyn realizes that Lydia’s claim to have lost the cookbook was a lie, and that in reality she was attempting to protect Marilyn from seeing it. It is this act that makes Marilyn realize how much Lydia both understood and loved her; ironically, therefore, the Betty Crocker cookbook is ultimately associated with an act of genuine love.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook Quotes in Everything I Never Told You

The Everything I Never Told You quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Betty Crocker Cookbook. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
). 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 4 Quotes

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.

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Chapter 6 Quotes

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.”

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The Betty Crocker Cookbook Symbol Timeline in Everything I Never Told You

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Betty Crocker Cookbook appears in Everything I Never Told You. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...James. Marilyn explains to James that Doris is a home ec teacher and that “ Betty Crocker is her personal goddess.” James has told Marilyn that his parents worked at a school,... (full context)
Chapter 4
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...of her mother. There is no evidence of Doris’ existence at all except her beloved Betty Crocker cookbook. Marilyn takes note of which passages her mother chose to underline, all of which... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...the road in West Virginia. She is haunted by the house’s empty rooms and the Betty Crocker cookbook on the seat next to her. She thinks of her own life and how... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...but she had assumed Janet was a secretary, not a doctor. Marilyn thinks of the Betty Crocker cookbook and asks herself how Janet has done it. She remembers that Janet doesn’t have... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...on a furnished apartment starting in two weeks’ time. Back in Middlewood, she rereads the Betty Crocker cookbook every night to remind herself of what she doesn’t want her life to be... (full context)
Chapter 6
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...is plagued by torturous nightmares. The only reminder of Marilyn in the house is the Betty Crocker cookbook, which Lydia reads “with the adoration of a devotee touching the Bible.” Two months... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...Upon finding out that her mother would be coming home, Lydia decided to hide the Betty Crocker cookbook, and now she tells Marilyn that she “lost it.” Marilyn puts her arm around... (full context)
Chapter 10
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...and all her science books. Once all the books are gone, Marilyn notices one more—the Betty Crocker cookbook. She realizes that after she came back from Toledo, Lydia’s claim to have “lost”... (full context)