An Abundance of Katherines

by

John Green

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An Abundance of Katherines: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lindsey, Colin, and Hassan have continued walking through the field, which turns abruptly into a graveyard. A six-foot obelisk marks the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Lindsey says that Colin probably knows the story already, but she describes the life of Franz Ferdinand anyway. Lindsey says Franz was lonely because he was “a total nerd,” who his family thought was a “liberal wuss.” He married an unsuitable match for love. It was a cute story, Lindsey remarks, until they were both shot dead in Sarajevo in 1914. The emperor, Franz’s uncle, had them buried outside Vienna and didn’t even attend the funeral. He did, however, use the assassination as justification to start World War I.
Lindsey’s derision and pity for Franz Ferdinand underscores that although the Archduke has left behind a legacy, he is not necessarily to be admired or emulated. Although Colin and Hassan have been intending the whole time to visit the Archduke’s grave, the fact that they walk into the cemetery after driving all this time in Satan’s Hearse gives an anticlimactic end to the half-joking funeral procession. Colin’s journey to what he might think of in vague terms as his own funeral has led him to a promising beginning in Gutshot.
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Colin looks at the obelisk and reflects on what might have been for the Archduke if he hadn’t been so much like Colin. “In the end,” Colin reflects, “the Archduke had two problems: no one gave a shit about him (at least not till his corpse started a war), and one day he got a piece taken out of his middle.” Colin determines that he will fill his own hole and do something to remain special, making people care about him. He will do so by using his past to inform the future, impress Katherine XIX, and “make the world safer for Dumpees everywhere.”
Colin demonstrates some growth in his determination that he will take control of his future. He seems to understand that unlike the Archduke, the hole in his gut is metaphorical: Colin is still alive and has the opportunity to live out a future of which the Archduke was deprived.
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Hassan asks how this rural town in Tennessee got the Archduke. Lindsey says the town bought him around 1921 for thirty-five hundred dollars. Colin mentions that thirty-five hundred dollars in 1921 amounts to far more in modern currency and would require a lot of eleven-dollar tours to turn a profit. Lindsey rolls her eyes and says that the town can figure these things out well enough with calculators, but Colin insists that he was not trying to impress anyone.
Lindsey makes it clear that although Colin’s intelligence is impressive, he will not impress her by acting condescending. She thus encourages him to find ways to relate to people (and especially ways to flirt) that do not involve inflating his importance by showing off his smarts.
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Lindsey suddenly notices some of her friends from school trudging over the slope. When the newcomers introduce themselves, Colin speaks bad fake French while Hassan pretends to translate for him. A muscular boy Lindsey stares at turns out to be Colin as well, and Hassan whispers to Colin Singleton that this new Colin’s name is “The Other Colin.” In Hassan’s introductions, Chase becomes “Jeans Are Too Tight,” and Fulton becomes “Short One Chewing Tobacco.” The girl, Katrina, is “incredibly hot—in that popular-girl-with-bleached-teeth-and-anorexia kind of way, which was Colin’s least favorite way of being hot.” Upon learning her name, Colin thinks, “close, but no cigar.”
Colin and Hassan are both excited to pretend to be people they are not in front of the newcomers. While their performance is a joke, it also demonstrates that Colin and Hassan are in a new place where they might reinvent themselves in whatever manner they please. There is tension between their excitement to remake themselves and their insistence upon their own original identities. They are threatened by the idea that The Other Colin could usurp Colin’s right to the name.
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When Colin says the word “hemorrhoid” in French, Hassan cannot resist telling Katrina that he said her face was beautiful like a hemorrhoid. Lindsey bursts out laughing and finally insists that Colin and Hassan drop the act. Everyone laughs. The Other Colin (TOC) tells Lindsey that someone named Hollis would like Colin and Hassan. Colin watches Lindsey fake pout to get TOC to kiss her on the forehead and remembers many times when he has been the fake pouter.
The presence of Lindsey, with whom Colin and Hassan have already interacted, destabilizes the notion that Colin and Hassan can entirely remake themselves. Colin seems jealous of TOC because he has both his name and Lindsey’s affection. This suggests an interest on Colin’s part in change and transformation.
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Colin hopes to work on the Theorem in the car. Hassan says he needs some Gatorade before he can get back on the road with Colin. Lindsey says they can all go back to the store, and her voice reminds Colin of K-19. TOC kisses Lindsey and says he can’t go back to the store because Hollis is there, and he and Chase skipped out on work.
Colin’s redoubled interest in the Theorem hints at his jealousy in front of Lindsey and TOC and suggests that he wants to get control over his emotions by escaping the situation. The Theorem is only an excuse to do so.
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Hollis, who is at the store when they arrive, turns out to be Lindsey’s mother. Hollis recognizes Colin as the winner of the game show KranialKidz. Colin is shocked that she watched the show because no one watched it. Hollis is star struck and insists on cooking dinner for Colin and Hassan.
Once again, people in Gutshot surprise and impress Colin and Hassan by demonstrating that they are not as cut off from the rest of the world as they might seem. Although this is a minor instance of surprise, it demonstrates to Colin that people don’t always behave in ways that can be mathematically accounted for in a theorem.
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On the way back to Hollis and Lindsey’s house, Hollis leads the way in a pink pickup truck with Hassan while Colin drives the Hearse with Lindsey to give him directions. Lindsey admires Colin’s skill with languages. In German, Lindsey says her mother thinks Colin is good for her. Hollis wants Lindsey to become a doctor, but Lindsey says she doesn’t need a doctor’s money. She needs her life, which she likes as-is in Gutshot. Lindsey points out the textile factory that has been the main source of jobs in Gutshot since her great grandfather started the plant in 1917.
Lindsey again surprises Colin with her smarts by speaking German. The fact that Lindsey is in many ways very similar to Colin makes it striking that she does not have the same ambitions for the future. Similar to the way Colin has insisted on slowing down his academic momentum to take a road trip, Lindsey rebels against her mother by insisting on appreciating what she has.
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Lindsey makes Colin swear not to laugh when she tells him what the plant makes: mainly tampons. Colin doesn’t laugh but rather reflects that tampons are “a little bit like grizzly bears: he was aware of their existence, but he’d never seen one in the wild, and didn’t really care to.” Colin follows Hollis’s pink truck up a hill to a huge, pink house. Inside, Hollis tells Colin and Hassan to make themselves at home while she and Lindsey fix dinner. Colin notices a photo of Hollis with a girl who looks like Lindsey, except that she looks more goth. When Lindsey comes to ask if he and Hassan like green beans, Colin asks if the photo is of her sister. Lindsey tells him that it’s her in eighth grade. Hassan tries to change the subject back to green beans, and Lindsey disappears back into the kitchen.
Everything about Hollis and Lindsey, from the pink house to the pink truck to the tampon factory, emblematizes a kind of confident feminine power. Colin, despite ostensibly being very experienced with women, is apparently intimidated by what he considers to be the mysteries surrounding them. It appears that Colin understands them more than he might think because Lindsey, just like him, has struggled to construct an image of her identity that she wishes to project to the rest of the world. Colin is beginning to realize that his struggle to be himself is not unique to him. Even the girls who seem so mysterious and unattainable experience similar struggles.
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Colin wanders around until he finds a room with an imposing desk that looks like “the kind of place where a president might sign a bill into law.” Colin begins writing notes about the Theorem and devises a bell curve to represent the distribution of people along the scale from Dumper to Dumpee. He places himself at the left end of the bell curve, as an extreme Dumpee. As he tries to find an equation to represent his simplest romance with the Katherine I, he begins to sweat with exertion but feels even more confident that he can use his extensive dumping experience to come up with the formula he seeks. Once he does, “she” will see him again as a genius.
Colin specifically seeks out a place to work that will make him feel more important to the fate of the world than he is. By feeling important, he can counteract the feeling that, as a Dumpee, he does not matter to anyone. It is important to note that Colin does not specify that “she” is Katherine XIX. The she could be any of the Katherines, demonstrating once again that Colin is in love with the idea of a girlfriend rather than any specific person. By leaving open the identity of the “she,” the narrator also leaves from for Colin to pursue a romantic partner besides a Katherine.
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After an hour, Colin returns to the dining room, where everyone is seated for dinner. He notices that the Wells family already seems to love Hassan. Hassan, Colin reflects, is amazingly gifted with the ability to make people like him. At Hollis’s invitation, Hassan says grace. All he says is “Bismillah” because, as he says, “We are a terse people. Terse, and also hungry.” Everyone begins eating and is silent for a while. The narrator speculates that the Arabic made everyone uncomfortable. Only Hassan speaks, complimenting the food, until Colin finds something in his food that Lindsey and Hollis tell him is birdshot. Colin decides to mostly eat his green beans and rice.
Colin’s quest to reunite with his girlfriend by proving his genius has led him to isolate himself from company. His solution to his loneliness has thus backfired. While Hollis and Lindsey have surprised Colin and Hassan by being more interesting and inviting than they would have expected, their discomfort over Hassan’s Arabic and Colin’s discomfort over the food suggest that interacting with the Gutshot locals will still be somewhat of a cross-cultural encounter for Colin and Hassan and the Gutshot locals alike, requiring everyone to shift their perspective to an extent.
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After dinner, Hollis asks Colin how it felt to win KranialKidz because she recalls that he did not seem very excited. Colin says he felt bad for the kid who lost. Hassan chimes in that he was excited enough for the both of them. Colin grows quiet because KranialKidz reminds him of Katherine XIX. After a silence, Hollis speaks to say Colin and Hassan should work for her this summer in Gutshot on a project she’s starting.
Despite Colin’s obsession with distinguishing himself academically, he struggles to own his successes and dwells on areas in his life where he believes he has failed—namely, romance. Everyone manages to push through their minor discomfort over differences in language, prayer, and customs, demonstrating that Hollis’s offer to host Colin and Hassan for the summer will provide opportunity for growth on all sides.
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Colin tells Hollis that he’s not qualified to do any work because he always spends his summers at smart-kid camp and has developed no marketable skills. She says he just needs to be reasonably smart and not from Gutshot, and she will pay five hundred dollars a week in addition to providing free room and board. Colin silently consults with Hassan and then answers “okay” for them both. After all, he thinks, road trips have destinations, and Gutshot is as good a one as any. After all, it is the home of his first “Eureka” moment, Hollis makes him feel a little famous, Hassan could use the money, and it will be good work experience for them both.
Colin is realizing that his intense academic schedule has cut him off from many opportunities to learn other skills. His decision to stay in Gutshot is motivated in part by his desire to stay in the place where he feels he took his first step toward genius, but it also marks a small rebellion against his parents’ plans for his future. After all, he is admitting that he might make use of work experience one day.
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Colin consults Hassan in Arabic about his worry that the job will take up his time for working on the Theorem. Hassan asks in English if they can make sure Colin has time to doodle. Colin is affronted that Hassan calls his work “doodling,” and Hassan is offended when Lindsey says the Arabic exchange sounded like gibberish. He tells her, “We’re speaking the sacred language of the Qur’an, the language of the great calipha and Saladin, the most beautiful and intricate of all human tongues.” Lindsey says it sounds like “a raccoon clearing its throat” but also says Colin can have time to do his work as long as neither of them take her room.
Everyone in this scene demonstrates their limited understanding of each other’s perspective. Colin does not understand why Hassan cannot see the gravity of the work he is doing on the Theorem, and Lindsey does not understand why Hassan and Colin would want to speak in Arabic. The use of multiple languages emphasizes that all three characters need to learn to communicate with one another in order to get along better.
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A while later, Hollis decides they should all play Scrabble. Lindsey is aghast that Colin is a genius but has never played Scrabble. He insists he is not a genius, so she concedes to call him a “smartypants,” which he likes. They play Scrabble, and Colin beats everyone soundly.
In calling Colin a “smartypants,” Lindsey gives Colin a way to identify himself that he has been missing. He still wants to be a genius, but having the label “smartypants” in the meantime decreases the urgency of marking his genius.
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In the evening, Colin calls his parents and tells them he is in Gutshot but does not tell them he is staying with the Wellses. He then stays up late working on the Theorem at the empty-drawered desk in the room he has taken as his bedroom. Colin reflects that he has always liked desks with empty drawers.
Colin’s decision not to tell his parents everything about his whereabouts shows that he has taken on a sense of responsibility and ownership over his own life, separate from their approval.
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Just as Colin is wondering whether he lacks the math skills for the Theorem, Lindsey comes in wearing pajamas. She bites her thumb nervously, which Colin tells her he does also. Lindsey says she only does it in private. She then tells him she is there to tell him about the photo Colin found earlier “so you don’t think I’m an absolute asshole” because she has been lying awake worrying that he and Hassan think poorly of her for it.
Lindsey comes into the room self-consciously just as Colin is doubting his own ability to live up to his plans for himself. Colin and Lindsey share a sense of self-doubt. Lindsey’s decision to come speak to Colin instead of Hassan demonstrates that she feels a sense of connection to him. She also feels comfortable enough around him already that she bites her thumb, which she says she only does in private.
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Lindsey tells Colin that she used to be ugly and got picked on a lot. Colin tries to connect what Lindsey is saying to his memories of Katherine I, and she tells him that the first rule of stories is no interrupting. She goes on to tell him that in eighth grade, she had Hollis help her re-make her image to be “all alternative” and “half-emo and half-goth and half-punk and half-nerd chic.” She was different, and she and her peers hated each other for a year. Then, in high school, she decided to embody the image of a cool kid and became one. But, she clarifies, she’s “not an asshole to people,” and didn’t sell her soul to become popular.
Lindsey professes to be able to make anyone think of her what she wants them to think of her, but she nonetheless worries about what Colin will think of her for remaking her image to be more popular. She seems to think simultaneously that Colin will be able to see through her image and that he will not be able to see through it to who she truly is. Despite her professed difficulty with self-expression, Lindsey is entirely confident in her understanding of how to tell a story.
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Colin says he wouldn’t judge Lindsey if she had sold her soul because “not having friends sucks.” He wonders aloud if his desire to be famous is, as Hassan has insinuated, really a desire to be popular. He begins to tell her about a class trip to the zoo when he had to pee, but he veers off on a tangent about overhydration. Lindsey says it’s weird to watch his brain work. Colin reflects inwardly that he is not very good at telling linear stories. He recommences speaking, saying, “I came relatively close to having a lion bite off my penis. And […] shit like that never happens to popular people.” Lindsey says that would be a good story if he knew how to tell it, and that she thinks he’s cool and wants him to think she’s cool, “and that’s all popular is.”
Colin is beginning to see that his loneliness might not be entirely due to his romantic failure but that his endless quest to distinguish himself from his peers might have resulted in his lack of positive friendships. Nonetheless, he still blames his loneliness for random misfortunes in his life. Lindsey, whom Colin recognizes is a better storyteller than he is, begins to suggest to him that there might be other stories in which his unpopularity is not deterministic and in which he might actually be popular after all.
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In a section subtitled, “The End (of the Beginning),” Colin recalls how after his first kiss with Katherine I, he kept trying to translate Ovid but couldn’t focus. After three minutes, Katherine said she was breaking up with him. He went back to Ovid silently until her parents took her home. Their short relationship, Colin thinks, “was the [Katherine Phenomenon] in its most unadulterated form. It was the immutable tango between the Dumper and the Dumpee: the coming and the seeing and the conquering and the returning home.”
Despite Lindsey’s suggestion that Colin might tell alternate stories about himself, Colin remains trapped in a narrative that leaves him forever destined to be dumped by Katherines. Colin remembers reading Ovid during his first relationship and breakup, suggesting that he associates it with great literature. He fails to see that even if the Dumper-Dumpee relationship is a trope, he might, as Lindsey states, tell a fresh story.
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