Lab Girl


Hope Jahren

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Themes and Colors
Life Cycles Theme Icon
Women and Science Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Demystification of Science Theme Icon
Mental Illness and Treatment Theme Icon
Science vs. Literature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lab Girl, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Life Cycles

In essence, Lab Girl is a coming-of-age story, following Hope Jahren’s intellectual and personal growth from her childhood in rural Minnesota to an adulthood spent in science labs in Hawaii. What is most notable about this memoir is that plants take center stage, as living beings that are just as important as humans. She uses the life cycle—both plant and human—to structure the book, and the different phases of the life of plants serve…

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Women and Science

Jahren struggles to integrate her roles as a woman and as a scientist, announcing at one point in her memoir that “the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known.” Criticizing the scientific sphere for its marginalization of women and lamenting the lack of female role models in her professional…

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Family and Friendship

Jahren’s studies and scientific research take her far from her home in rural Minnesota, and while she experiences long stretches of social isolation, she eventually creates her own—albeit nontraditional—family that is firmly rooted in her love of science. In this way, Lab Girl emphasizes the importance of chosen family, implying that a nontraditional family can be just as supportive and emotionally nourishing as a traditional one, if not more so.

Jahren’s childhood in…

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Demystification of Science

Jahren begins her memoir by directing herself to her readers, asking them to look at the world through the eyes of a scientist, and leads them through the process of observation and hypothesis, two central elements of the scientific method. By beginning the story of her path towards the highest echelons of the academic world with an assurance to each and every reader that “you are now a scientist,” Jahren immediately democratizes the profession…

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Mental Illness and Treatment

Jahren is honest and forthcoming about her mental illness, describing the effects of bipolar disorder with honesty and humor. This candid self-portrait of a highly educated and successful woman living with mental illness goes a long way towards ending the stigma surrounding mental health. This is particularly important in her field, where scientists are expected to be unemotional and clinical, separating their personal selves from their methodical, objective experiments While Jahren does not portray herself…

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Science vs. Literature

In Lab Girl, Jahren combats a traditional misconception about her field of study—that scientific thought is somehow separate from and in opposition to the study of literature. For her, science and literature are deeply connected, and scientists are every bit as enthralled by the written word as their counterparts in the humanities.

As an avid reader, Jahren mentions the influence that books have had on her daily life, and the connections she made between…

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