Everything I Never Told You

Water/Swimming/the Lake Symbol Analysis

Water/Swimming/the Lake Symbol Icon

Undoubtedly the most important symbol in the book is the lake in which Lydia drowns. Located at the end of the Lees’ street, the lake represents mystery—everything the characters cannot know and everything they do not tell each other. In many ways, the lake is a sinister presence; it is both the site and cause of Lydia’s death, and the description of Lydia’s water-logged body in the autopsy report makes the lake into something of a monstrous figure, something that not only kills Lydia but also grotesquely disfigures her. At the same time, the Lee children are all drawn to the lake; it seems to hold a strange power over them, pulling them toward it at critical moments in their lives. Shortly before Lydia’s death, she identifies the time when Nath pushed her into the lake as the moment in which everything in her life started going “wrong.” She decides that she will be able to fix everything as long as she can jump in the lake again and swim back to shore. This desire evokes the Christian tradition of baptism in which believers are “born again” and symbolically washed free of sin by being submerged in water. However, Lydia’s decision to jump is highly risky and irrational; it is the middle of the night, she is alone, and she cannot swim.

Swimming is also symbolically significant in the novel. Both James and Nath are strong swimmers, and when Nath is young James fantasizes that he will grow up to be a popular star of the high school swim team. However, rather than leading to popularity, swimming ends up reemphasizing Nath’s marginalization. When James takes Nath to the Y, the other children abandon Nath in the middle of a game of Marco Polo and shout racist insults at him. The experience of being in water often reminds characters of their own isolation—this happens when Nath swims at the Y, when he pushes Lydia into the lake, and when Hannah pushes him into the lake at the end of the novel. There is also a connection between this isolation and the metaphorical concept of “drowning.” Shortly before her death, Lydia reflects that Nath has been “keeping her afloat.” When he goes to Harvard, she worries that she will permanently “sink” under the pressure of her parents’ suffocating attention and expectations. In reality, this fear leads Lydia to drown in the literal sense.

Water/Swimming/the Lake Quotes in Everything I Never Told You

The Everything I Never Told You quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water/Swimming/the Lake. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Everything I Never Told You published in 2015.
Chapter 4 Quotes

So part of him wanted to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different. Later, when Nath was too slight for the football team, too short for the basketball team, too clumsy for the baseball team, when he seemed to prefer reading and poring over his atlas and peering through his telescope to making friends, James would think back to this day in the swimming pool, this first disappointment in his son, this first

and most painful puncture in his fatherly dreams.

Related Characters: James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

The summer Lydia fell in the lake, the summer Marilyn went missing: all of them had tried to forget it. They did not talk about it; they never mentioned it. But it lingered, like a bad smell. It had suffused them so deeply it could never

wash out.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

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She followed him all the way to the lake and to the end of the little pier. The houses on the other side of the water looked like dollhouses, tiny and scaled-down and perfect. Inside, mothers were boiling eggs or baking cakes or making pot roasts, or maybe fathers were poking the coals in the barbecue,

turning the hot dogs with a fork so that the grill made perfect black lines all over. Those mothers had never gone far away and left their children behind. Those fathers had never slapped their children or kicked over the television or laughed at them.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake, Eggs
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 11 Quotes

That long-ago day, sitting in this very spot on the dock, she had already begun to feel it: how hard it would be to inherit their parents' dreams. How suffocating to be so loved. She had felt Nath's hands on her shoulders and been almost grateful to fall forward, to let herself sink… Don't let me sink, she had thought as she reached for his hand, and he had promised not to when he took it. This moment, Lydia thought. This is where it all went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 273-274
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Water/Swimming/the Lake Symbol Timeline in Everything I Never Told You

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water/Swimming/the Lake appears in Everything I Never Told You. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...Middlewood Lake is “really just a glorified pond.” The narrator corrects her, emphasizing that the lake is both large and deep. Marilyn keeps looking through the house but finds nothing, and... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...notices that the rowboat used by the community is sitting in the middle of the lake. At night, the police call to ask if Lydia has ever “played with” the boat.... (full context)
Chapter 3
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...On the way to the cemetery, Marilyn turns her head to avoid looking at the lake, and Nath and Hannah wonder if she will do this for the rest of her... (full context)
Chapter 4
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...is coming home. James takes Nath to the Y, leaving Lydia—who hasn’t yet learned to swim—with Mrs. Allen. James has been looking forward to spending time alone with his son and... (full context)
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
...Marco Polo, but that the children are quickly deserting him and getting out of the pool. Nath is still calling out “Marco” when an older girl shouts, “Chink can’t find China!”... (full context)
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...Marilyn comes home, James dismissively tells her that Nath was teased by kids at the pool and that he “needs to learn to take a joke”—intentionally omitting any mention of the... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...and starts driving away, telling herself she needs to “clear her head.” She circles the lake twice before driving through Middlewood to the hospital. She sits in the waiting room, watching... (full context)
Chapter 5
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
...and angry. She wants to ask Lydia what it was like to disappear into the lake. On what would have been her last day of school, Hannah lies awake before sneaking... (full context)
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
...happy” and “loved school.” She insists that Lydia would not have gone out on the lake by herself and urges the officer to look for the “psycho” who must have kidnapped... (full context)
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
Without verbally agreeing to do so, both Nath and Hannah head to the lake. Meanwhile, James circles the lake in his car, replaying Marilyn’s words in his mind and... (full context)
Chapter 6
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
...family rarely leaves the house, and one day Nath begs to be taken to the lake. James refuses, saying he doesn’t want to “play lifeguard” to Lydia, who can’t yet swim.... (full context)
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
...Lydia asks where he is going, before eventually following him. They walk out to the lake and Nath looks at the houses on the other side of the water, imagining that... (full context)
Chapter 8
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...Lydia, and that she, Marilyn, knows that Lydia would not have gone out on the lake alone. She accuses James of agreeing with the police and adds that if Lydia had... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...that this is mistaken. The previous summer, the three Lee children were all at the lake, and while Nath was swimming Jack appeared and sat next to Lydia. Walking toward them,... (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
...realizes that perhaps the pressure she put on Lydia was what forced her into the lake. A small girl walks in, and for a moment Marilyn believes it is Lydia; upon... (full context)
Chapter 11
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...for them to do together. On Sunday afternoon, Hannah suggests that they go to the lake, and Lydia suddenly notices that Hannah is wearing her silver locket. Hannah quietly confesses that... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...went wrong. At 2am, she is suddenly seized by the impulse to go to the lake. Sitting on the dock, she reflects that this is the closest she’s been to the... (full context)
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
The day Nath pushed her into the lake was also the day that Lydia first realized how “suffocating” it was to be loved... (full context)
Chapter 12
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon
Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...runs out after Jack. As he darts out of the front door and toward the lake, Hannah follows him, shouting that Jack is not to blame. Nath yells at Jack that... (full context)
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment Theme Icon
...the water, Nath thinks of Lydia, falling beneath the surface to the bottom of the lake. He wants to feel himself sinking, to experience firsthand what Lydia went through, but his... (full context)