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.
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Theme Icon

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 their own ideas about her life onto her. Marilyn thought her daughter was an enthusiastic budding scientist, James thought she had a close group of girlfriends, and Nath thought she had a sexual relationship with Jack—all of which turn out to be untrue. Yet was Lydia’s secrecy and dishonesty the root cause of these misunderstandings, or was the problem actually the strength with which her family members believed in their own convictions?

Lydia’s secrecy, dishonesty, and silence are hardly unique in the book. Each character withholds and distorts the truth in different ways, and, to some extent, this is presented as being an inevitable part of family life. However, Lydia’s death (along with other events, such as Marilyn’s disappearance and James’ affair) show that lack of honesty can have a devastating impact on family life. The title of the book evokes the feeling of regret that arises when the desire to be honest comes too late. The “I” and “you” in the phrase “everything I never told you” could describe several different combinations of characters; Doris and Marilyn, Jack and Nath, Lydia and her family. In each case, characters chose to withhold or misrepresent their true feelings in a way that ultimately drove them apart.

Each of the Lee children is particularly inclined to conceal the truth; this seems to be due to the combination of the intense expectations their parents place upon them and the general sense of alienation they have from the town in which they live. Marilyn gives Lydia a series of diaries in which to write her secrets. However, after Lydia’s death Marilyn opens the diaries and finds them blank, a fact that suggests that Lydia might have anticipated this violation of her privacy. The blank pages of Lydia’s diary mirror the silence of her younger sister, Hannah. Hannah is an exceptionally quiet child who mostly watches others rather than participating in conversation. (Indeed, she is so silent that sometimes her family forgets that she exists.) Meanwhile, even Nath, who—at least in comparison to his sisters—is fairly confident and vocal, has difficulty expressing his feelings. He and Lydia never discuss the time when Lydia almost drowned in the lake because it is “too big to talk about.” When telling his guidance counsellor that he wants to study outer space, Nath “whispered, as if telling her a dirty secret.” Overall, the children are suffocated by their inability to honestly communicate with others. After James and Marilyn discuss his affair and James drives away, the narrator notes that “silence settles over the house like ash.” Silence is thus associated with destruction, ruin, and death.

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Secrets, Lies, and Silence 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 Secrets, Lies, and Silence.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Newcomers to the school district assumed Mrs. Walker was a widow. Her mother herself never mentioned it. She still powdered her nose after cooking and before eating she still put on lipstick before coming downstairs to make breakfast. So they called it keeping house for a reason, Marilyn thought. Sometimes it did run away.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Marilyn, unaware that her youngest is listening so closely, so longingly, blots her eyes and replaces the diaries on the shelf and makes herself a promise. She will figure out what happened to Lydia. She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Page Number: 76
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:

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

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:

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 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:

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: