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.
Secrets, Lies, and Silence ThemeTracker
Secrets, Lies, and Silence Quotes in Everything I Never Told You
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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."
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.