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.
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon

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, Lydia uses the baby oil and perfume to make herself more attractive, an indication of her approaching adulthood and developing sexuality. When Lydia first starts hanging out with Jack, he teases her about her innocence, calling her “Miss Lee,” pointing out that she doesn’t smoke, and asking if she has ever seen condoms before. Lydia attempts unsuccessfully to deny her innocence, suggesting that she sees it as a liability. At the same time, Jack’s reputation as someone who takes girls’ virginity—thereby ending their innocence—crumbles when he is around Lydia. He refuses to have sex with her and he admits that his sexual reputation is designed to obscure the fact that he is in love with Nath.

In the wake of Lydia’s death, Marilyn and Nath in particular cling to the idea that she is an innocent victim. While Nath obsesses over his conviction that Jack is somehow responsible for her death, Marilyn simply invents a phantom person or force who is guilty. Marilyn compares Lydia’s death to the case of a girl called Ginny Barron who was kidnapped, raped, and strangled, her body left on the side of the road. Marilyn’s discovery of the cigarettes and condoms in Lydia’s bag forces her to consider that her belief in her daughter’s innocence might be delusional. However, she ultimately dismisses this uncertainty: “‘Someone must have taken her out there. Lured her.’ Marilyn hesitates, the cigarettes and condoms surfacing in her mind, but anger muscles them aside and turns her voice shrill.”

The irony of Marilyn’s discovery of the cigarettes and condoms is that they also create a misleading picture of Lydia’s life. While Lydia does smoke with Jack, he treats her like a “gentleman” and refuses to have sex with her. Rather than a sinister predator, Jack is Lydia’s only real friend (and is himself a victim of homophobia and Nath’s misguided anger). This confusion of ideas about innocence points to larger issues in society’s understanding of the connection between innocence, victimhood, and blame. As the book shows, there is an immense pressure placed on teenage girls to be innocent and pure, as well as a paranoia about this purity being ruined by predatory men. In reality, however, there is no straightforward correlation between sexual purity and other forms of innocence. Lydia is a virgin, but she is responsible for her own death; the idea that she has fallen victim to a sinister predator is entirely fictional. Meanwhile, Jack’s sexual experiences belie his own victimhood as someone who is forced to keep his true romantic feelings secret and who is violently attacked by the boy he loves at the end of the book.

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Innocence vs. Guilt ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Innocence vs. Guilt appears in each chapter of Everything I Never Told You. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Innocence vs. Guilt Quotes in Everything I Never Told You

Below you will find the important quotes in Everything I Never Told You related to the theme of Innocence vs. Guilt.
Chapter 2 Quotes

It was as if America herself was taking him in. It was too much luck. He feared the day the universe would notice he wasn't supposed to have her and take her away. Or that she might suddenly realize her mistake and disappear from his life as suddenly as she had entered.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

When Nath had been born, then Lydia, Marilyn had not informed her mother, had not even sent a photograph. What was there to say? She and James had never discussed what her mother had said about their marriage that last day: it's not right. She had not ever wanted to think of it again. So when James came home that night, she said simply, "My mother died." Then she turned back to the stove and added, "And the lawn needs mowing," and he understood: they would not talk about it.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Three photo albums of Marilyn and not a single shot of her mother. As if

her mother had never been there. Was she sad? How could she miss her mother when her mother was nowhere to be found?

And then, in the kitchen, she discovered her mother's Betty Crocker cookbook, the spine cracking and mended, twice, with Scotch tape. On the first page of the cookie section, a deliberate line in the margin of the introduction, the kind she herself had made in college to mark an important

passage. It was no recipe. Always cookies in the cookie jar! the

paragraph read. Is there a happier symbol of a friendly house? That

was all. Her mother had felt the need to highlight this.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Related Symbols: The Betty Crocker Cookbook
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Chapter 5 Quotes

The story––as it emerges from the teachers and the kids at school––is so

obvious. Lydia's quietness, her lack of friends. Her recent sinking grades. And, in truth, the strangeness of her family. A family with no friends, a family of misfits. All this shines so brightly that, in the eyes of the police, Jack falls into shadow. A girl like that and a boy like him, who can have––does have––any girl he wants? It is impossible for them to imagine what Nath knows to be true, let alone what he himself imagines.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Up there––eighty-five miles high, ninety, ninety-five, the counter said––everything on earth would be invisible. Mothers who disappeared, fathers who didn't love you, kids who mocked you––everything would shrink to pinpoints and vanish. Up there: nothing but stars.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

NaOH became Nath, his small face wide-eyed and reproachful. One morning, consulting the periodic table, instead of helium she thought He and James's face floated up in her mind. Other days, the messages were more subtle: a typo in the textbook––"the common acids, egg. nitric, acetic . . ."—left her in tears, thinking of hard-boiled, sunnyside up, scrambled.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Eggs
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

It was a sign, Marilyn decided. For her it was too late. But it wasn't too late for Lydia. Marilyn would not be like her own mother, shunting her daughter toward husband and house, a life spent safely behind a deadbolt. She would help Lydia do everything she was capable of. She would spend the rest of her years guiding Lydia, sheltering her, the way you tended a prize rose: helping it grow, propping it with stakes, arching each stem toward perfection… She buried her nose in Lydia's hair and made silent promises. Never to tell her to sit up straight, to find a husband, to keep a house. Never to suggest that there were jobs or lives or worlds not meant for her; never to let her hear doctor and think only man. To encourage her, for the rest of her life, to do more than her mother had.

Related Symbols: The Betty Crocker Cookbook, Doctors
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

He must really hate Nath, Lydia thought. As much as Nath hates him. She imagined them in class together all these years: Nath sitting close to the front, notebook out, one hand rubbing the little furrow between his eyebrows, the way he did when he was thinking hard. Utterly focused, oblivious to everything else, the answer right there, sealed inside his mouth. And Jack?

Jack would be sprawled in the back corner, shirt untucked, one leg stretched into the aisle. So comfortable. So certain of himself. Not worried about what anyone thought. No wonder they couldn't stand each other.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

It happened so quickly that if she were a different person, Hannah might have wondered if she'd imagined it. No one else saw. Nath was still turned away; Lydia had her eyes shut now against the sun. But the moment flashed lightning-bright to Hannah. Years of yearning had made her sensitive, the way a starving dog twitches its nostrils at the faintest scent of food. She could not mistake it. She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn't care and went on anyway. It was too familiar to be surprising. Something deep inside her stretched out and curled around Jack like a shawl, but he didn't notice.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Nath Lee, Hannah Lee, Jack Wolff
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

"I am disappointed." Marilyn's head snaps up. "l thought you were different." What she means is: I thought you were better than other men. I thought you wanted better than that. But James, still thinking of Marilyn's mother, hears something else.

"You got tired of different, didn't you?" he says. "I'm too different. Your mother knew it right away. You think it's such a good thing, standing out. But look at you. Just look at you."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), James Lee (speaker), Doris Walker
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

“I didn't care. I knew what I wanted. I was going to be a doctor." She glares at James, as if he has contradicted her. “Then—fortunately—l came to my senses. I stopped trying to be different. I did just what all the other girls were

doing. I got married. I gave all that up." A thick bitterness coats her tongue. "Do what everyone else is doing. That's all you ever said to Lydia. Make friends. Fit in. But I didn't want her to be just like everyone else." The rims of her eyes ignite. "I wanted her to be exceptional."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), Lydia Lee, James Lee
Related Symbols: Doctors
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
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: