The plot of Before I Fall plays out in a time loop that rewinds, resets, and replays each day. This loop repeats seven times in total, and although it often ends in death, pain, and suffering, the events of Friday, February 12th restart the next morning as if nothing has happened. The narrative of Before I Fall is designed to frustrate the reader just as deeply as it frustrates its protagonist, Samantha Kingston, who must repeat the same fateful day over and over again for a full “week” before she finally figures out the secret to breaking the time loop in which she has become stuck. Samantha is “reborn” each day, but retains her memories of the previous cycles of the loop, along with the different changes she has been able to make as the days have dragged on. Sam ultimately realizes that nothing will allow her to escape the cycle other than repentance for her cruelty through great personal sacrifice. Sam comes to understand that only through dying nobly, exchanging her life for that of another, can she be free from the painful and frustrating loop. Thus, Oliver ultimately uses this loop to argue that true redemption and rebirth cannot be won through small gestures or half-measures; rather, they require self-sacrifice and a total abandonment of everything one once knew.
As Samantha Kingston realizes with fear, confusion, and dread that she is locked in a time loop, and is being made to relive Friday, February 12th over and over again, she considers what approach she is meant to take to navigating the loop, and what outcome she might be able to secure. She is, of course, determined to save her own life and prevent herself from dying. Her first few days through the loop are marked by selfishness and even recklessness as she attempts to “trick” the loop and cheat death. By day four, Sam is frustrated, anxious, and angry. She lashes out and acts recklessly, excoriating her friends for their cruelty, trashing all of her Valogram roses, seducing her sleazy math teacher Mr. Daimler, and attempting to sleep with her boyfriend Rob Cokran at Kent McFuller’s party rather than face, once again, Juliet Sykes’ meltdown and subsequent humiliation. By day five, Sam is, for the first time, relieved to be awake on February 12th, grateful that none of her reckless actions from the previous day stuck. Day five represents a change in Sam, as she begins to realize fully what is happening to her, and consider what it is that she still wants out of her life. She begins to think about how she can effect meaningful change rather than just making desperate attempts to subvert fate or escape the loop, and she begins to view the loop as an opportunity to seek renewal and redemption.
By the time Samantha wakes up on the seventh day of the time loop’s repetition—what will be its final day—she feels “wonderful” and peaceful rather than full of dread, fear, or confusion. “I am falling,” she says, describing her first waking moments that day, “tumbling through the air, but this time the darkness is alive around me, full of beating things, and I realize that I’m not surrounded by dark but have only had my eyes closed all this time. I open them, feeling silly…” As soon as Sam wakes up, she knows that “it was never about saving [her own] life”—not, at least, in the way that she thought it was. After watching Juliet desperately attempt to end her life—and succeed at it—six nights in a row, Sam understands at last what has to happen. Sam lives day seven as righteously as she can. She is kind to her family and showers her friends with compliments, declarations of love, and reassurances that she will always be there for them, while simultaneously attempting to lessen the extent of their cruelty towards Juliet Sykes and all the other students they see as outcasts. That night, after Juliet’s outburst at the party, Sam follows her into the woods, and when she realizes that begging Juliet not to run out into the road won’t work, she flings herself in the path of an oncoming truck, sacrificing herself so that Juliet can live. As Sam’s life fades, she sees a “halo” of white hair above her, and hears a voice asking: “Why did you save me?” to which Sam replies, “No. The opposite,” before falling once again and for the last time. In other words, Sam has been “saved” by Juliet in the sense that Juliet has shown Sam that she needs to atone for her cruelties in order to escape the purgatorial time loop in which she has found herself. Sam believes she would have remained in the loop forever had she not recognized that the only way toward renewal and rebirth was to forget herself, abandon fear, and discover meaning in helping others.
Samantha’s journey through the time loop is a journey toward rebirth, renewal, and redemption, though at the beginning of the loop she does not understand this. As the days pass by, Sam examines her actions deeply, and comes to understand that she can use the loop as a chance to better herself, be good to the people she loves, and hopefully inspire change in the friends and classmates she knows could be doing better for both themselves and their fellow students. On the seventh day—a symbolic number, and the Biblical day of rest—Samantha at last decides to fully devote herself not to the salvation of her own earthly life, but to the salvation of her soul. She knows that the loop has, through all its twists and turns, led her toward a deeper understanding of herself and the community around her, and accepts that the path toward redemption requires her to march bravely into the unknown, abandon her ego and her desires for worldly goods, and devote herself to the betterment of others and the salvation of someone in need.
Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption ThemeTracker
Rebirth, Renewal, and Redemption Quotes in Before I Fall
I read once that you get déjà vu when the two halves of your brain process things at different speeds: the right half a few seconds before the left, or vice versa. Science is probably my worst subject, so I didn’t understand the whole post, but that would explain the weird double feeling that it leaves you with, like the world is splitting in half—or you are. That’s the way I feel, at least: like there’s a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which.
Here’s one of the things I learned that morning: if you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. It’s like that old riddle about a tree falling in the forest, and whether it makes a sound if there’s no one around to hear it. You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That’s how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to bust out of orbit, to spin out to a place where no one can touch you. To lose yourself—to get lost.
“It’s not my fault I can’t be like you, okay? I don’t get up in the morning thinking the world is one big shiny, happy place, okay? That’s just not how I work. I don’t think I can be fixed.” I meant to say, I don’t think “it” can be fixed, but it comes out wrong, and suddenly I’m on the verge of crying. […] There’s a moment of silence that seems to last forever. Then Kent rests his hand on my elbow just for a second, [and] just that one little touch gives me the chills.
“I was going to tell you that you look beautiful with your hair down. That’s all I was going to say.” Kent’s voice is steady and low. He moves around me to the head of the stairs, pausing just at the top. When he turns back to me he looks sad, even though he’s smiling the tiniest bit. “You don’t need to be fixed, Sam.” He says the words, but it’s like I don’t even hear them; it’s like they go through my whole body at the same time, like I’m absorbing them from the air. […] I’m a nonperson, a shadow, a ghost. Even before the accident I’m not sure that I was a whole person—that’s what I’m realizing now. And I’m not sure where the damage begins.
“I thought Cupid Day was one of your favorites.”
“It is. Or, I mean, it was.” I sit up on my elbows. “I don’t know, it’s kind of stupid, if you think about it.”
[My mom] raises her eyebrows.
I start rattling on, not really thinking about what I want to say before I say it. “The whole point is just to show other people how many friends you have. But everybody knows how many friends everybody else has. And it’s not like you actually get more friends this way or, I don’t know, get closer to the friends you do have.”
My mom smiles a tiny bit. “Well, you’re lucky to have very good friends, and to know it. I’m sure the roses are very meaningful to some people.”
“I’m just saying, the whole thing is kind of sleazy.”
“This doesn’t sound like the Samantha Kingston I know.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’m changing.” I don’t mean those words either, until I hear them. Then I think that they might be true, and I feel a flicker of hope. Maybe there’s still a chance for me, after all. Maybe I have to change.
It amazes me how easy it is for things to change, how easy it is to start off down the same road you always take and wind up somewhere new. Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a breakup. It’s never occurred to me before; I’ve never been able to see it. And it makes me feel, weirdly, like maybe all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different. Maybe Lindsay and I are best friends and he hate each other, both. Maybe I’m only one math class away from being a slut like Anna Cartullo. Maybe I am like her, deep down. Maybe we all are: just one lunch period away from eating alone in the bathroom. I wonder if it’s ever really possible to know the truth about someone else, or if the best we can do is just stumble into each other, heads down, hoping to avoid collision.
Maybe the whole point is I have to prove that I'm a good person. Maybe I have to prove that I deserve to move on. Maybe Juliet Sykes is the only thing between me and an eternity of chocolate fountains and perfect love and guys who always call when they say they will and banana sundaes that
actually help you burn calories. Maybe she's my ticket out.
The wind shrieks, and I suddenly realize that Juliet's only a half inch from the road, teetering on the thin line where the pavement begins, like she's balancing on a tightrope.
“Maybe you should come away from the road,” I say, but all the time in the back of my head, there’s an idea growing and swelling, a horrible, sickening realization, massing up and taking shape like clouds on the horizon. Someone calls my name again. And then, still in the distance, I hear the throaty wail of “Splinter” by Fallacy pumping from someone's car.
“Sam! Sam!” I recognize it as Kent's voice now.
Juliet turns to face me then. She’s smiling, but it's the saddest smile I’ve ever seen.
“Maybe next time,” she says. “But probably not.”
“Do you want any breakfast, Sam?” my mom asks. I never eat breakfast at home, but my mom still asks me every day—when she catches me before I duck out, anyway—and in that moment I realize how much I love the little everyday routines of my life: the fact that she always asks, the fact that I always say no because there’s a sesame bagel waiting for me in Lindsay’s car, the fact that we always listen to “No More Drama” as we pull into the parking lot. The fact that my mom always cooks spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday, and the fact that once a month my dad takes over the kitchen and makes his “special stew” which is just hot dog pieces and baked beans and lots of extra ketchup and molasses, and I would never admit to liking it, but it’s actually one of my favorite meals. The details that are my life’s special pattern, like how in handwoven rugs what really makes them unique are the tiny flaws in the stitching, little gaps and jumps and stutters that can never be reproduced. So many things become beautiful when you really look.
She wants me to tell her it’s okay. She needs me to tell her that. I can’t, though. Instead I say, quietly, “People would like you anyway, Lindz.” I don’t say, if you stopped pretending so much, but I know she understands. “We’d still love you no matter what.”
The last time I have the dream it goes like this: I am falling, tumbling through the air, but this time the darkness is alive around me, full of beating things, and I realize that I'm not surrounded by dark but have only had my eyes closed all this time. I open them, feeling silly, and at the same time a hundred thousand butterflies take off around me, so many of them in so many brilliant colors they are like a solid rainbow, temporarily obscuring the sun. But as they wing higher and higher they reveal a landscape below us, all green and gold and sun-drenched fields and pink-tinged clouds drifting underneath me, and the air around me is clear and blue and sweet smelling, and I'm laughing, laughing, laughing as I spin through the air because, of course, I haven't been falling all this time.
I've been flying.
And when I wake up it's wonderful, like I've been carried quietly onto a calm, peaceful shore, and the dream, and its meaning, has broken over me like a wave and is ebbing away now, leaving me with a single, solid certainty. I know now.
In my head I've been saying good-bye to everything, all these places I’ve seen so often I start to ignore them: the deli on the hill with perfect chicken cutlets and the trinket store where I used to buy thread to make friendship bracelets and the Realtor’s and the dentist's and the little garden where Steve King put his tongue in my mouth in seventh grade, and I was so surprised I bit down. I can't stop thinking about how strange life is, about Kent and Juliet and even Alex and Anna and Bridget and Mr. Shaw and Ms. Winters—about how complex and connected everything is, all threaded together like some vast, invisible netting—and how sometimes you can think you're doing the right thing, but it's actually terrible and vice versa.
Floating images, moving in and out: bright green eyes and a field of sun-warmed grass, a mouth saying, Sam, Sam, Sam, making it sound like a song. Three faces blooming together like flowers on a single stem, names ebbing away from me, a single word: love. Red and white flashes, tree branches lit up like the vaulted ceiling of a church. And a face above mine, white and beautiful, eyes as large as the moon. You saved me. A hand on my cheek, cool and dry. Why did you save me? Words welling up on a tide: No. The opposite. Eyes the color of a dawn sky, a crown of blond hair, so bright and white and blinding I could swear it was a halo.