Before I Fall

by

Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sam is falling again, convinced that she is dreaming. Her alarm goes off, and she wakes up trembling and sweating once again. She steadies her breathing while she listens to the sounds of her family making breakfast and getting ready for their days. Sam reaches for her phone and checks the date—again, it is Friday, February 12th. Izzy pokes her head in the door and tells Sam to wake up—Sam asks Izzy to tell their mother that she’s sick.
The recurring dream Sam has, now for the second night in a row, seems to evoke that she is falling through time again, back to the start of the loop. Sure enough, when Sam opens her eyes, it is—for a third time—the morning of Friday, February 12th.
Themes
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Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Sam remembers being in the car and going off the road, but after that, she remembers nothing. She wonders if both of the accidents were real—and if perhaps she didn’t make it out of either of them alive. She wonders if she is in “the after-death equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day,” and whether she is actually dead. She asks her readers not to judge her for taking so long to catch on to what was happening to her—she was naïve, and she thought she would “live forever.”
Sam begins to consider in earnest what could be happening to her. One repetition of the day’s events was startling and disorienting, but two seems as if it’s trying to tell her something—or at least that there’s a pattern at work within the framework of the repetition. Sam fears she has died, and as she reckons with her mortality, she confronts both her naivete and her self-absorption.
Themes
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Sam’s mother appears in the doorway and urges her to get ready—Lindsay will arrive any minute. Sam protests that she can’t go into school, and her mother asks her if something happened that would make her not want to go in—Sam loves Cupid Day. Sam can’t confide in her mother, though, and answers her mother’s repeated questions about whether she fought with her friends or with Rob condescendingly. There is a thin, faded stripe of red nail polish just inside the doorway—freshman year, after a big fight with her mother, Sam drew the line and instructed her mother never to pass it. Now, Sam is a little sad that her mother has never since stepped foot inside her room.
Sam’s mother is skeptical of her daughter’s reluctance to go to school on her favorite day of the year, but Sam is either too frightened or embarrassed to communicate to her mother the truth of what is happening to her. Sam reflects on how fractured the relationship between her and her mother has become, and though she regrets it, she does not know how to even begin to fix it.
Themes
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Sam’s mother agrees to tell Lindsay that Sam will be going in late, and urges her to get a little more sleep. Sam’s mother leaves the room, and Sam turns over and reflects back on her final memories of the evening before beginning to sob, angry and frustrated. She remembers the last time she cried this hard—an afternoon in sixth grade when Rob Cokran told everybody that Sam was too big of a dork for him to go out with. Sam cries herself back to sleep, feeling completely alone.
Sam is miserable and lonely as she confronts the realization that she will have to live through February 12th a third time. She is unsure of what is happening to her, or what she is supposed to be doing—or how she can stop things from repeating again tomorrow a fourth time. At her lowest, most insecure moment, Sam is reminded of her humiliating past and feels even more isolated.
Themes
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Popularity, Status, and Social Capital Theme Icon
Cruelty and Loyalty in Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
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Sam begins to believe that perhaps she is lying somewhere in a coma—she is filled with hope at the thought that maybe if she isn’t dead yet, there could be a way to stop herself from dying. Sam’s mother drops her off at school late, and as Sam gets out of the car, she thinks about how there must be a reason for her being stuck in the time loop. As she says goodbye to her mother, she worries that this is the last time she’ll ever see her. Sam tells her mother she loves her, and as she walks into school, she vows to herself that there will be no accident tonight—she is going to bust out of the time loop for good.
Sam isn’t sure what is happening to her, but she has some theories. She knows there must be a way to end the loop and set things right, and though it pains her to think that she might never see her mother again, she doesn’t breathe a word of her thoughts, fears, or plans.
Themes
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Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Sam arrives late to chemistry class, and the events of the class repeat themselves—there is a pop quiz, she borrows a pen from Lauren Lornet, and at the end of class Lauren insists she keep the pen. Today, however, Sam tells Lauren that Lauren shouldn’t be so nice to her, because she herself is never nice to Lauren. Lauren blurts out that Sam doesn’t “have to” be nice to her. Their teacher reprimands them for talking, though, and the conversation goes no further.
Sam wants to test the boundaries of what she is able to do and change as she goes through the loop a third time. She changes her conversation with Lauren Lornet, urging Lauren not to idolize her. Though the conversation only changes in a small way, it will come to have a much bigger effect than Sam intended or foresaw. This also shows that Sam is becoming more self-aware and independent. She no longer mindlessly assents to the rules of popularity.
Themes
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By calculus, Sam is in a good mood—she has started to feel that everything is going to be okay. She flirts a little bit with Mr. Daimler, and after class, she knows that Kent will come up to her in the hallway. When he does, she talks to him with a little more kindness. Kent asks Sam why she flirts with Mr. Daimler—he tells her that Daimler is a “perv.” Kent invites Sam to his party, again, and again, Sam sees Rob down the hallway. She doesn’t feel like going to see Rob, and she extends her conversation with Kent, asking him where his house is, though she knows the answer. Kent reminds her that she used to play there all the time when they were little, and asks if she remembers the huge maple trees in the front yard.
Sam is feeling unmoored and uncertain today, haunted by memories of how Rob has treated her at the party at Kent’s two nights in a row and unsure of whether she should disregard this behavior with the start of a new day. Rather than confronting her fears and feelings, Sam chooses to use Kent as a means of distraction, not realizing that their conversation will flood her mind with memories of a simpler time and force her to confront who they each have become over the years.
Themes
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Popularity, Status, and Social Capital Theme Icon
Cruelty and Loyalty in Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Sam experiences a vivid memory of playing with maple seeds with Kent, adorning themselves with the pellets so that “everyone would know [they] were in love.” Sam snaps herself out of the reverie and tells Kent she doesn’t remember the trees. Kent asks if Sam will come to his party, and she tells him she doesn’t think she will. She heads toward the cafeteria, and Kent calls after her that he knows she’ll come in the end.
Though Sam experiences a tender and vivid memory of playing with Kent, whom she loved as a child and who loved her, too, she pretends not to recall the special friendship they shared as children, instead deciding to take her chances in the cafeteria with her cruel friends.
Themes
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In the cafeteria, Sam tells her friends that she can’t go out that night. She insists that she wants to stay in, the way they used to. When her friends ignore her wishes, she pleads with them, telling them she’s having trouble with Rob. Earlier, Sam had texted him that they needed to talk about tonight. Now, she looks at him across the cafeteria and realizes how little she actually knows Rob. Her friends protest that Sam is supposed to lose her virginity tonight—Sam shows them the rose Rob sent her, pointing out how lame it is that he won’t say the words “I love you.” Sam tells her friends that she is not going to have sex with Rob just to get him to say the words, and she surprises even herself with the stark admission.
On day three, Sam is beginning to question the social ties which bind her to certain people and keep her from others—Rob, in particular, is a source of concern for Sam. She doesn’t believe he actually loves her, and though there are things about Rob that Sam can convince herself she loves, ultimately she is not desperate enough to make things work that she is willing to give him a part of herself which he does not deserve.
Themes
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Rob comes up to the girls’ table and asks Sam what she wants to talk about. She tells him that she doesn’t want to talk about it here and now. He replies, sarcastically, that he will “wait” until she’s ready to talk and would never “pressure” her to have a conversation she wasn’t ready to have before turning and walking away.
Rob’s cruel wordplay is meant to pressure Sam further, and make her feel bad about her decision to wait so long to have sex with him.
Themes
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“Psychopath alert,” says LindsayJuliet Sykes has just walked into the cafeteria. Sam has been so focused on herself today that she forgot about Juliet entirely. As she watches Juliet float through the cafeteria, Sam wonders if Juliet is already planning the big scene she’ll make at the party tonight. Sam’s friends sing “Psycho Killer” and make fun of Juliet, and Sam interjects to ask Lindsay directly why she hates Juliet so much. Lindsay deflects the question, though, and Sam doesn’t pursue it any further. Ally asks despairingly whether their group is really going to stay in tonight. Everyone looks to Lindsay for the answer: she says that the party will probably be lame anyway, and that they can all do whatever Sam wants to do. Sam is elated and relieved.
Sam has always gone along willingly with Lindsay, Ally, and Elody’s cruel torturing of Juliet Sykes. Today, though, it occurs to Sam that there is no real reason—at least not one she can remember—for the torment. She tries to ask Lindsay, but when her inquiry is met with deflection, she does not push the issue for fear of setting Lindsay off. Sam is relieved when Lindsay takes her side, though, and so this passage demonstrates the ways in which Sam allows her fate to be determined, over and over again, by Lindsay’s whims.
Themes
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Lindsay and Sam cut class again and head to TCBY. Sam is happy that everything is working out the way she wants it to—she is sure that by eliminating the drive home from the party, Sam will be able to fix everything and “iron out” the “kink in time.” Lindsay and Sam get in a playful fight, throwing ice cream at one another, and on the way back to school they are both in great moods. Lindsay insists on having a cigarette behind the tennis courts, but is almost immediately spotted by Ms. Winters. Lindsay drops her cigarette and runs. Sam runs, too, though the two go in opposite directions. Sam enters the gym through a back door, which opens into a storage closet.
Sam wants desperately to fix whatever has gone wrong with time, but even as she makes plans for how she will change things, inadvertent variations are happening all around her. Her day takes a turn when she is nearly caught by Ms. Winters, and is forced to improvise, placing her in a new situation which she hadn’t encountered the previous days.
Themes
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One wall of the closet is windowed and looks into Mr. Shaw’s office. Suddenly, the office door opens, and Mr. Shaw walks in. Sam ducks and stays silent, hoping she won’t be caught. She hears the bell ring, but knows there is no way to sneak out and make it to class in time. Shaw’s office door opens again, and Sam thinks perhaps he is headed off to teach his own eighth period—instead, Ms. Winters walks in, lamenting that she couldn’t catch the smokers she spotted.
Sam now gets to be witness to something she hadn’t even known had happened on either of the previous February 12ths. This scene demonstrates the chaotic way we move through the world, unaware of all that is happening under our noses, and it represents the age-old question of whether a tree falling in the forest with no one around to see or hear it will make a sound.
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The two teachers lament the smoking epidemic on campus and discuss how rebellious and difficult teenagers are—then Sam hears the two of them kissing and moaning. Sam is disgusted, but after a few seconds the second bell rings, and she hears Ms. Winters proclaim that she is late for a meeting. She hears Mr. Shaw smack Ms. Winters on the butt as she goes, and Sam can barely contain her laughter. The room next to Sam goes dark—then the door opens and closes, and she knows that Shaw has left and she is in the clear.
Sam is amazed to find that two of her teachers are embroiled in the very same kinds of love affairs, secrets, and desire that she and her classmates are. The situation is both funny and repulsive to her, its uncanniness and humor both deeply palpable.
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Sam heads to her locker to grab her Spanish textbook, and is walking down the hall texting Elody, Ally, and Lindsay when she runs into Lauren Lornet and drops her phone on the ground. Sam tells Lauren to watch where she’s going, and scrambles to pick up her phone, afraid it’s busted, but Lauren grabs Sam by the arm. She begs Sam to tell the principal that she didn’t do anything wrong—Lauren confesses that she was called into the principal’s office and accused of cheating off Sam in chemistry. Lauren is desperate for Sam’s help, but Sam coolly tells Lauren that she can’t help her.
Sam’s slightly different conversation with Lauren Lornet this morning was brief and clipped—Sam was even trying to do a little bit of good by urging Lauren not to look up to her. However, the conversation has had ramifications which Sam could not have foreseen—caught off-guard and still numb to the needs of others, Sam refuses to get involved any further, even though Lauren’s predicament is Sam’s fault.
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Lauren begins to sob and tells Sam that she’s a bitch. The words—echoing Juliet’s—make Sam go cold. Lauren immediately apologizes to Sam and begs Sam not to be mad at her, but Sam cannot stand hearing poor Lauren Lornet groveling at her, and she runs full-speed down the hall away from her. She hides in the girls’ bathroom and tries to calm down. She can’t stop thinking about how she feels “caught up in some enormous web,” and that every move she makes affects someone else who is “wriggling around in the same net.” Sam doesn’t want any of it to be her problem anymore. She cuts Spanish and stays in the bathroom. She washes her face and reapplies her makeup; as she does, she thinks that she hardly recognizes herself.
In this passage, up against the desperate and hysterical Luaren Lornet, Sam realizes the interconnectedness of all things, and the ways in which things don’t literally repeat, but rather echo one another throughout different configurations of time. She understands that she and her friends and family are caught in a “web,” and that her actions may have consequences which she can’t imagine or foresee—the fear of this paralyzes Sam, causing her to question everything she knows and everything she does and plans to do.
Themes
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Lindsay, Elody, Ally, and Sam are all enjoying tuna rolls and movies on Ally’s giant couch. Sam can’t relax, though—it is past midnight, and she is waiting for something horrible to happen at 12:39 a.m.; she believes that despite her best efforts, the time loop will just reset itself. As the minutes tick by, the girls listen to music and joke with one another—soon, it is 12:38, and then 12:39, but nothing catastrophic happens, and Sam believes she has broken the loop.
Sam is relieved beyond measure in this passage, knowing that her actions and agency have affected fate and have allowed her to break out of the loop. Sam is with all her friends, safe inside, and is finally, for the first time, alive past 12:39 on Cupid Day.
Themes
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Ally’s mom comes to the door and asks the girls to quiet down—it has been a long day for her, and she is going to bed. She bids the girls goodnight, and as she leaves, they all laugh and resume their fun. Sam laughs with them—she believes she has broken the loop at last. An hour later, the girls are all asleep in the living room—all except for Sam, who can’t get to sleep. She’s too exhilarated by having at last escaped the loop. As she tries to fall asleep, she thinks of which day she would actually choose to relive over and over again—she imagines the perfect day, and soon she is on the edge of sleep. Just then, Ally’s house phone rings, and all the girls jolt awake.
Sam resumes her evening with her friends and even goes back to being her old self, laughing and joking with Lindsay, Ally, and Elody until all four girls have worn themselves out. Sam is relieved to the point of bliss as she falls asleep, not questioning for even a second her success in having broken the loop and saved herself from a cruel fate.
Themes
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Sam hears footsteps upstairs—Ally’s mother is answering the phone. The girls wonder who is calling at two in the morning. They hear Ally’s mother’s concerned voice upstairs—Ally turns on the light, knowing that something is wrong. After a few minutes, Ally’s mother comes downstairs. The girls all ask her what has happened. She asks them if they all know Juliet Sykes, and they answer that they do. Ally’s mother tells them that she’s just gotten a call from the neighborhood busybody, who happens to live next door to the Sykes—Juliet Sykes has shot and killed herself. Ally’s mother kisses her daughter on the head and then leaves the girls alone. 
Sam and her friends are shocked and devastated by the realization that Juliet Sykes has killed herself—and in such a violent manner. Sam begins to feel the creeping dread of realization that perhaps she has not been as successful as she thought—perhaps there are other things at work in the loop than just her own death and desire for salvation.
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Elody wonders out loud if Juliet Sykes killed herself because of their rose and the cruel note attached to it. Lindsay scoffs at this, but Ally worries that that’s the reason, too. Lindsay shuts the girls up by telling them that Juliet is “better off this way.” Sam is in shock—both at Lindsay’s words and at the violent way in which Juliet Sykes took her own life. Elody wonders if they all should have been nicer to Juliet Sykes—Lindsay tells her to stop being a hypocrite, and then settles in on the couch to go back to sleep. Ally and Elody, disturbed by Lindsay’s words, decide to go sleep upstairs, leaving Lindsay and Sam in the living room.
Lindsay’s enormous and enduring cruelty toward Juliet, even after the news of Juliet’s suicide, seems to reveal that there is something deeper between her and the dead girl than just banal high school mockery. As all the girls but Lindsay wonder if they are the reason Juliet died, they are forced to confront that they didn’t care what happened to Juliet when she was alive—they are only regretful of their behavior now that she’s dead and there’s no way to redeem themselves.
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Sam, now doubly restless, gets up off of the sofa. She tells Lindsay that she is just going to the bathroom, but she makes her way through the halls of Ally’s house and heads down to the basement. Sam searches for Ally’s collection of all their school yearbooks, and sits down to flip through them. Normally Sam hates going through these—they fill her with bad memories of being bullied as a child—but there is something she can’t quite name which she feels she is looking for. As she flips through the pages, she sees that Juliet and Lindsay were pictured together, thick as thieves, in every yearbook through the fourth grade. In fifth grade, the year of the Girl Scout trip, the two are standing far apart.
Sam is pulled by something she doesn’t understand to the basement—perhaps it is fate, or just intuition, which leads her to the yearbooks, where she learns Lindsay’s big secret—she and Juliet were friends for years and years and years before Lindsay’s vendetta, whatever its root, against Juliet began.
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Sam is seized by a sudden need to get out of the basement as quickly as possible. As Sam makes her way back through the living room, she is afraid to encounter an apparition of the dead Juliet. Instead, she runs into Lindsay. Sam reveals what she has discovered; Lindsay retorts that she realized at a certain point that Juliet was “totally wacked,” as was her “whole family.” Sam notes that Lindsay is already using the past tense—she tells Lindsay sadly that Juliet is not anything anymore.
Sam is plagued by guilt, and feels that Lindsay should be feeling the same—she was, after all, her best friend, and perhaps has more to do with Juliet’s having been branded a “freak” than any of them knew. Lindsay, however, seems to feel no remorse or sadness, despite the fact that Juliet is gone forever.
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Sam returns to the couch—after a little while, Lindsay does, too. Sam lies down and tries to get to sleep, remembering a happy night from last year when she and Lindsay snuck out one night and simply drove, feeling alive and powerful, until Lindsay decided to play chicken with an oncoming vehicle—the other car swerved at the last minute, and Sam and Lindsay were safe. Sam feels her dreams pull her under—for a third time, she is falling through darkness.
Sam is dogged by half-dream, half-memories of getting into trouble with Lindsay, and of the feeling of something inevitable but dangerous approaching just as she is pulled into her dream of falling, portending yet another reset of February 12th.
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