Lab Girl

by

Hope Jahren

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Minnesota Symbol Analysis

Minnesota Symbol Icon

In Lab Girl, the Minnesota of Hope Jahren’s childhood represented silence, emotional distance, and a sense of coldness from outside and within. While she does not question her parents’ love for her, she does not feel particularly close to them, especially her mother. As a child, Jahren was convinced that her mother was perpetually angry with her, though she never quite figured out what she had done to provoke this animosity. She notes that when she came in to her house from the freezing temperatures of a Minnesota winter, Jahren felt a different kind of cold within her family home. She does not mention her brothers by name, and notes that she hardly noticed them leave home for college, as they hardly spoke to one another in the first place. This cold family dynamic is specifically linked to her life in Minnesota, especially considering Jahren never mentions her parents visiting her once she left home. For her, Minnesota—and its Scandinavian heritage—is both a place and a feeling, to be contrasted with the warmth of her new homes in southern climates like California, Georgia, and Hawaii. In addition, Jahren links those southern spaces with a new sense of friendliness and affection, as she makes new friends and finds love away from the closed emotional atmosphere of her childhood.

Minnesota Quotes in Lab Girl

The Lab Girl quotes below all refer to the symbol of Minnesota. 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:
Life Cycles Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Knopf edition of Lab Girl published in 2016.
Part 1: Roots and Leaves Quotes

As much as I desperately wanted to be like my father, I knew that I was meant to be an extension of my indestructible mother: a do-over to make real the life that she deserved and should have had. I left high school a year early to take a scholarship at the University of Minnesota—the same school that my mother, father, and all of my brothers had attended.

Related Symbols: Minnesota
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

I started working in a research laboratory in order to save my own life. To save myself form the fear of having to drop out and from then being bodily foreclosed upon by some boy back home. From the small-town wedding and the children who would follow, who would have grown to hate me as I vented my frustrated ambitions on them.

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker)
Related Symbols: Minnesota, Labs
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

I was convinced that the trees were giving me a sign and that my future career was unraveling. I was panicking, picturing myself on the assembly line, trimming the jowls off of dismembered hog heads, one after the other, for six hours a day, just as the mother of my childhood friend had done for nearly twenty years.

Related Characters: Hope Jahren (speaker)
Related Symbols: Minnesota
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lab Girl LitChart as a printable PDF.
Lab Girl PDF

Minnesota Symbol Timeline in Lab Girl

The timeline below shows where the symbol Minnesota appears in Lab Girl. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Roots and Leaves
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...father walk home every night at 8 P.M. through the frozen landscape of small-town southern Minnesota, in complete silence. She notes that her family, like many Scandinavians, have developed the habit... (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Located 100 miles south of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jahren’s town is the home of the community college where her father would go on... (full context)
Women and Science Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and going on to study chemistry at the University of Minnesota. She found it difficult to attend college while working to pay her way, so she... (full context)
Women and Science Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Science vs. Literature Theme Icon
...the children were in school, she re-enrolled and took correspondence courses through the University of Minnesota, studying literature rather than science this time. Her mother’s studies became a staple of Jahren’s... (full context)
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
...undergraduate career, and more during school breaks, to supplement her scholarship to the University of Minnesota. One of her more memorable jobs was at the university hospital, where she began as... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...encouraged to obtain her Ph.D., and so the day after graduating from the University of Minnesota, she donated her winter clothes and hopped a plane to San Francisco, where she would... (full context)
Part 2: Wood and Knots
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
...route into California to avoid a major snowstorm, she refused. Boasting that she is from Minnesota, and therefore used to winter weather, Jahren insisted that they take the most direct route,... (full context)
Part 3: Flowers and Fruit
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...recalls the moment Clint hailed a taxi for her, which seemed sophisticated to the rural Minnesota girl within her. They fell in love with one another easily, and to Jahren it... (full context)