Life as We Knew It

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Life as We Knew It Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
July 11-13. The sky is getting grayer, the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are much cooler than the previous weeks’ heat waves. Miranda is adjusting to fasting. She says that as the day goes on, she stops being hungry. Peter stops by and approves their plans—especially the boiling of water before drinking. He suggests that Miranda stop swimming at Miller’s Pond because he’s scared people will be using it for bathing and wastewater, and it will become a breeding ground. She defies this and goes swimming one last time, hoping to see Dan, but he doesn’t show up. They also haven’t heard from Jonny or Hal. Matt stops running in order to conserve his energy and strength, and because he’s worried about the air quality of the ash cloud sky.
Things are held in suspense during this section—they’re full of anticipation, but none of the things being anticipated manifest: Dan’s not at the pond, none of them fall ill, no letters arrive from Jonny, etc. They’re all existing in a state of waiting to see how much worse things will become, and trying to anticipate what they should do to prepare. While Matt gives up running pre-emptively, Miranda insists on one last swim, despite Peter’s advice and the risk.
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July 14. Miranda accidentally lets Horton outside at night. Normally he is only allowed out during the day—but his behavior has been erratic since Jonny left and he’s also muddled by the daytime gray skies, so Miranda thinks he was just confused when he darted outside as she came in. She calls for him for an hour but he doesn’t return. She feels horrible.
Despite all of the bigger catastrophes they’re facing, Horton’s escape feels personal to Miranda, and she blames herself for letting him out, despite the fact that anyone could have.
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July 15-17. Despite Miranda, Matt, Laura, and Mrs. Nesbitt’s search efforts, Horton is still missing. Matt warns Miranda that it’s possible Horton has been killed for food. Miranda is worried about when Jonny returns home from camp and blames her. Laura and Miranda argue when Laura accuses Miranda of caring more about the cat than Jonny—whom they haven’t heard from in two weeks. Miranda responds that Jonny is fine and being well fed while the rest of them are starving. She says it’s clear which of her children Laura is betting on. In her diary she unpacks this thought further—she knows that Laura wouldn’t prioritize herself, but if she had to pick only one of her children to live, Miranda agonizes over who she would choose—and ultimately decides it would be Jonny, since Matt wouldn’t take the food, and Miranda, as a female, would having a harder time surviving alone. Miranda worries that she doesn’t contribute as much as Matt, since all she does is gather kindling, and wonders if she even deserves any of their remaining food.
Miranda realizes what a luxury it is to have a pet these days. The idea that someone else might see Horton as food horrifies her, and her preoccupation with the cat when they haven’t heard from her brother horrifies Laura. Miranda is very much a person concerned with what is immediately in front of her—Jonny, Hal, Sammi, and Megan cease to be present in her mind when they’re not present in her daily life. But Laura’s accusation hits Miranda hard, and makes her reconsider her standing in the family. She must now ask herself the callous and frightening question: which of the family members is most worthy of living? Miranda worries that her gender and her lack of helpfulness disqualify her, but the questions are left to resonate with the reader—who deserves to live and why? Can anyone really make such a decision?
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July 18-19. Miranda collapses in the woods while gathering kindling and searching for Horton. When she returns home, she and Laura argue when it’s revealed that Miranda had forgotten to eat. Laura insists that Miranda follow the established rules about meals and asks if Miranda thinks she enjoys watching her children starve. They do not patch up their argument, and Miranda realizes that the longer she goes with out eating, the less appealing the idea of food becomes.
Miranda’s singular preoccupation with finding Horton is her version of penance. She worries about Jonny’s reaction to the loss of his pet, but also feels guilty about her resentment toward him. Jonny hasn’t chosen this, and isn’t even aware that the others are sacrificing for him. Miranda is jealous of even his ignorance.
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July 20. Miranda realizes it’s the anniversary of the first time men walked on the moon. It’s a fact that she remembers from all her moon-themed assignments back in May. She wishes that the astronauts had blown it up.
While not rational, Miranda’s emotional response to this anniversary is certainly understandable, as her stress and desperation grows.
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July 21. Miranda is gathering kindling and imagining how perfect things could be where Hal lives, when Sammi comes to visit. She’s there to tell Miranda good-bye, because she’s leaving for Nashville with a guy she met. This idea of boy-crazy Sammi still being boy-crazy makes Miranda giggle, until Sammi elaborates that the guy, George, is forty. Sammi isn’t happy about the scenario, but George is well connected and gave her parents lots of supplies. Her mom is encouraging her to go with George because he can offer her protection and a better life. Sammi hopes that they split up once she reaches Nashville and she finds someone she likes better. Like Megan, Sammi points to Becky’s death as a motivator for her actions, saying “Life is short and you have to make the best of what time you have.” Miranda is upset and scared for Sammi.
Miranda and Megan have always teased Sammi for being “boy crazy,” and Miranda defaults to this mindset when Sammi presents her plan for leaving. She fails to notice that Sammi is unhappy about this plan until she states it. Like Megan, Sammi’s reaction to the moon’s collision is an exaggerated version of the person she was before. Megan has taken religion to an extreme, and Sammi is doing the same with seeking validation from males. The major difference is that Megan’s religious fervor may kill her, while Sammi is hoping that George will help her survive.
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July 22. Miranda is excited and relieved to reveal that Horton has come home. They wake up to find him yowling at the door. Laura is also relieved to find five letters from Jonny waiting at the post office, saying that he’s fine and having fun. They celebrate by having Mrs. Nesbitt over for supper, which is extra festive with a can of peaches and a jar of apple juice. After supper, it’s cool enough that they build a fire in the woodstove and Mrs. Nesbitt tells stories about what things were like after World War II and during the Depression. Horton hops from lap to lap and Miranda feels hopeful that if her family sticks together, they’ll survive.
It’s a day of answers—where Laura and Miranda realize that all of their anxiety was unfounded, because both Horton and Jonny are fine. Their celebration is simple, but Miranda is increasingly learning to appreciate the simple things. Hearing about the hardships Mrs. Nesbitt had to endure during the Depression helps Miranda gain perspective about what is happening now.
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July 25-27. Miranda continues to dream about Becky being a gatekeeper for food and she continues to fanaticize that Springfield, where Hal and Lisa live, is a sort of heaven on earth that hasn’t been impacted by the moon’s collision. So when Laura pulls Miranda aside to tell her plans have changed—that Miranda and Jonny won’t be going to Springfield after all—Miranda wants to throw a tantrum. Instead she listens as Laura explains that since Lisa wants to be with her own parents when the baby is born, Hal and Lisa will be stopping to visit them in Pennsylvania before traveling west. Miranda lets go of her idealized version of Springfield and takes a moment to consider how she would feel if she were the one pregnant. She knows she’d want to be with Laura, and so accepts the change of plans.
Instead of a month with her father, Miranda will only have a few days’ visit. The Miranda who opened the book would’ve been devastated by this news, but now she quickly does the calculations on how this will impact their food supply. She also puts herself in Lisa’s perspective and feels real sympathy for what Lisa must be feeling to be pregnant in such uncertain times. Miranda is starting to show a real maturity in the way she reacts to disappointing news.
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July 29. Hal and Lisa will be picking up Jonny from camp and arriving the next day. Laura doesn’t want Hal to worry about his children, so she declares that while he and Lisa are visiting, they will all eat three meals a day. Miranda is excited about the idea of more food, but wonders if Laura is really doing this to hide the truth from Jonny, who doesn’t know they cut back their food intake while he’s been gone. Miranda analyzes Laura’s motives for not sending Matt off on his own, or encouraging Miranda to find a guy to protect her like Sammi had—because both of these plans would ensure more food for Jonny until he was old enough to care for himself. Miranda decides that Laura loves them too much to send them away, but that doesn’t solve the problem of the dwindling supplies in their pantry.
It’s a sign of Miranda’s broadening perspective that she evaluates the cost of eating three meals a day and Laura’s motives behind the suggestion rather than just enjoy the windfall. Miranda is starting to think beyond the current moment and is grasping the long-term ramifications and hardships they’ll be facing. As she considers these, she also factors in whether it would have benefited any of them to have disbanded and gone their own ways—but her conclusion, as always, prioritizes family.
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July 30. Jonny, Hal, and Lisa arrive. There is much mutual scrutiny as everyone tries to deduce how everyone else has suffered. Miranda decides that her dad is only slightly thinner, but much grayer and more wrinkled. She can’t tell if Lisa should look more pregnant than she is, but says she looks healthy. While Miranda is excited to see her dad, she’s much more excited by the boxes of food and supplies he’s brought. He says he got them from the college where he worked, and Matt is especially excited to see that he’s brought saws. Hal says that while he’s there, he’s going to help Matt collect firewood.
While it’s been established that Miranda very much loves and wants to please her father, his value at this moment comes not from his presence, but from the supplies he’s brought with him. Despite being their father, Hal hasn’t contributed much to their well-being since the moon collision. The paternal tasks have all fallen on Matt. For the few days he’s visiting, he’s going to have a chance to try and help ensure they survive once he leaves again.
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Laura gives Lisa all the baby items she’d bought in the store in May. Back then, Miranda had thought that Lisa would reject the cheap clothing, but instead she bursts into tears and cannot stop thanking Laura. They stay up admiring each piece of baby clothing and then Miranda stays up later to write about it. She feels “rich with batteries”—even though she knows that all of these new supplies won’t last forever.
Miranda is able to reflect on her superficial attitude toward the cheap baby clothing. So much has changed since Laura bought it at a run-down store, and Miranda recognizes how smart Laura’s instincts are—and how much she’s made them her own, as Miranda now guards her battery usage.
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July 31. Hal says they’re going to need enormous amounts of wood, and that it won’t be safe to keep it outside, so Laura decides they should empty the antique furniture out of the dining room, protect the floor, and store it in there. Miranda goes to collect kindling and despite being allowed three meals a day, accidentally skips brunch out of habit. Miranda enjoys having Hal and Lisa there and hearing about Jonny’s time at baseball camp and working on the farm. Miranda is grateful again that Horton was found safe, and briefly “all felt right with the world.”
The care Laura takes to protect her furniture and hardwood floor seems at odds with the survival task at hand. Despite this, it’s comforting that she does care about the floor—and thus foresees there being a future when the dining room could be used as a dining room again, not just a place to store essential wood so it won’t be stolen and they won’t freeze.
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August 1. The Evanses have a dinner party and invite Mrs. Nesbitt and Peter. Miranda delivers the invitations by bike while Hal, Jonny, and Matt work on chopping wood. Miranda learns that Peter has closed his doctor’s practice and is now working at the hospital, which still has electricity, is incredibly busy, and is guarded by armed security. Peter hasn’t left the hospital in a week and is delighted by the invitation.
Much like Laura having to give up the dining room in the house she’s so proud of, Peter has had to give up his personal doctor’s practice in order to work at the hospital. Both of these personal sacrifices serve the greater good and demonstrate a shifting in priorities.
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On her way out of the hospital, Miranda runs into Dan. He’s there visiting his mom, who has West Nile virus. Dan tells Miranda that he’s leaving—his parents swapped their car for a motorcycle, and they want him to set out on his own so that he has a chance of surviving. Dan tells Miranda that he’s liked her since before the asteroid’s strike, that he’d been trying to get up the nerve to ask her to prom, and how much their time at Miller’s Pond meant to him. They kiss good-bye and Miranda compares their situations—the pain of losing and leaving people you love like he’s experienced, versus her own experience of having to watch their day-to-day sufferings. She concludes that she’s lucky—but that doesn’t stop her from mourning the loss of prom and what could have been.
Miranda is upset by Dan’s leaving because it represents the loss of one of the few positive aspects of her life—but also because he represents a past and future that no longer exist: one with proms and where crushes don’t come with such life-or-death baggage. Her comparison of their positions is very typical of Miranda—she always seems to need to know where she ranks in comparison with others, and feels guilty for not having experienced personal loss, but also knows her own hardships aren’t insignificant.
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August 2. The dinner party is a success, filled with inventive cooking and good company. There’s bread from the last of the yeast, wine, meringues made from powdered egg whites, and pasta with jarred sauce and canned mushrooms. But as the meal comes to an end, Jonny asks, “Are we going to die?” and the mood changes. Lisa leaves the room when he asks about food running out and Hal follows her, leaving behind the core ‘family’ group that Jonny knows best. Peter says that all they can do is focus on each day and stay hopeful. Mrs. Nesbitt states that she won’t survive it, but Jonny is young and strong. Miranda asks if things could get worse, and Peter says that even then life will go on—in some form—and Matt brings up how insects are around from the dinosaur era. They share a cynical laugh about the idea of mosquitos outlasting humans.
Jonny is the youngest person at the party, but the only one brave enough to ask the hard questions. Lisa flees from even hearing them. The answers they give Jonny are respectful and honest—if not especially hopeful. The fact that Laura does not participate in this conversation is telling. She’s tried so hard to shield her children—and especially Jonny—from hard truths. And while she doesn’t lie to him, she also doesn’t offer anything to a discussion that quickly becomes darkly humorous.
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August 3. Hal announces that he and Lisa will be leaving the next day. Lisa hasn’t left her room since the upsetting dinner conversation the night before and is worried about her parents and getting settled before the baby arrives. Hal works with Matt all day to get more firewood, but after dinner he asks Miranda to talk. Hal tells her how proud he is of her, how right the decision to make her the baby’s godmother feels, and how much he loves her. Miranda stays sitting long after Hal goes up to bed, thinking through everything that has happened and everything that could happen.
Despite having been at her house for days, Miranda hasn’t gotten a chance to spend time with Hal. She doesn’t resent this because he’s more valuable to her as a gatherer of firewood than he is as a paternal figure. She has Matt to turn to for advice and doesn’t need him to fill this role. Despite that, it feels nice to hear him compliment her.
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August 4. Hal and Lisa leave in the early morning. Hal hugs them and promises to write, but they know they may never see him again. Lisa drives the car because Hal is crying too hard to see.
Just a week prior Miranda had been dreaming of Springfield as a land of plenty, and now she’s stoically saying good-bye to her father, perhaps forever. His short visit kills some of her lasts hopeful fantasies.
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