Everything I Never Told You


Celeste Ng

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Everything I Never Told You, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Appearances vs. Disappearances

Following a convention of the thriller genre, the book opens with a disappearance: Lydia’s failure to come downstairs for breakfast, at which point her family discovers that she is missing from the house altogether. When Marilyn looks in Lydia’s bedroom, she notices that her daughter’s bed is “unslept in,” although everything else looks normal. The contrast between this normality and Lydia’s mysterious absence introduces a tension between appearances and reality: while everything might seem fine…

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Secrets, Lies, and Silence

After Lydia’s disappearance, her family realizes that they know much less about her life than they thought they did, and that Lydia had been lying to them and not expressing her true thoughts and desires for many years. This realization raises the question of how possible it is to truly know other people. Not only does the Lee family not realize that Lydia was being dishonest until after her death, but each of them projected…

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Innocence vs. Guilt

The concept of innocence plays an important role within the book, most importantly in the context of the question of whether Lydia is an “innocent” victim. There are several ways in which Lydia is associated with childish innocence; for example, she covers her body in baby oil at the lake and her perfume is called “Baby Soft.” However, there is a contradiction within this imagery: while the word “baby” denotes youth and purity…

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Loneliness, Exclusion, and Prejudice

Every major character in the book is excluded from the world around them and suffers from feelings of loneliness. The narrator describes the Lee family as “a family with no friends, a family of misfits.” To some extent, this family-wide social isolation is initially created by the personal isolation of both James and Marilyn. When the two meet at Harvard, both are socially marginalized as a result of prejudice—James because of his race…

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Expectations, Ambition, and Disappointment

When Marilyn and James meet, they are both at a promising stage of their careers. James is an accomplished graduate student who may be on the brink of being hired as an assistant professor at Harvard; Marilyn is excelling as a Radcliffe undergraduate destined for medical school. However, in the 16 years following their initial meeting, both of their ambitions unravel. James is not hired by Harvard, and, although he secures another teaching position…

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