Life as We Knew It

Life as We Knew It Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
May 20. The electricity finally turns back on around 4 a.m. Their schools are closed, so Miranda and Jonny stay home with Laura, and their family cat, Horton, who has been acting strangely since the lunar collision.
While the return of electricity gives Miranda hope, Horton’s erratic behavior is making everyone stressed. His animal instincts indicate that things are not yet settled.
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The Evanses have an email from Matt, who tells them his college finals are trickier with the power failures to work around, and that he’ll be back home the following Wednesday. Jonny and Miranda each spend a half hour on the Internet. Miranda uses her time to look for information on figure skater Brandon Erlich—fans have been asking on his message boards, but no one knows his status. Miranda realizes she might have overstated the slight connection between her and Brandon (she used to train with his former coach), because people keep asking her for news, which she doesn’t have.
Their complaints about the power outages interfering with things like exams or Internet access underscore how little the Evanses have been impacted by the moon collision so far. Miranda sees fanboard discussion about whether or not Brandon and certain fans are dead—but she’s still self-focused on whether or not she’s oversold her connection with the skater, not on the tragedy of the many deaths themselves.
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Miranda, Jonny, and Laura spend most of the day putting away their supplies. With the electricity on and the sun shining, even Laura feels like maybe she over-reacted and the supplies won’t end up being necessary. The journal entry ends abruptly mid-sentence with Miranda recording that the lights are flickering and her wish that the electricity would stay on.
It feels easier to hope for things to return to normal when the sun is out and the lights are on, versus the outages and storms of yesterday. The journal ending mid-sentence, however, proves that Laura and Miranda’s hope was misplaced—things are not ‘fixed’ or back to normal.
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May 21. The president—who Laura thinks is an idiot—comes on TV to announce a national day of mourning for Monday, to reiterate the disasters that have occurred so far, to warn people to prepare for worse, and to say that all offshore oil wells and tankers have been destroyed. Laura tells Jonny and Miranda that this may mean shortages for gas and oil heat. Miranda finds this ridiculous, since it’s only May and winter is a long way off.
Miranda demonstrates her shortsighted perspective in this scene by assuming all the problems with obtaining and delivery oil and heating gas will be fixed by winter. Laura’s continued mocking of the president’s ineptness feels cheerful and familiar—even though it belies the increased danger of an incompetent leader during times of crisis.
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The governor also comes on TV and gives updates: the schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday. Gas is limited, he says, so only get more when your vehicle is below a quarter tank. He also says that he doesn’t know when the power outages will stop. After the news, Jonny is upset that the governor didn’t indicate whether the state sports teams were safe. Miranda wishes Matt were home and thinks things will be better when he arrives.
Jonny’s reaction to the governor’s news demonstrates his own insular interests. Rather than consider the bigger picture of gas shortages and unreliable electricity, he’s upset about the sports players he idolizes. Miranda, ironically, demonstrates her own idolatry by assuming things will be better when Matt returns home.
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May 22. Sick of being stuck at home and since their fridge and freezer are emptied due to unreliable electricity, Jonny, Miranda, and Laura attempt to go to McDonalds. They discover that the price of gas has risen to $7 a gallon and all of the fast food restaurants are closed. Finally they find a local pizza place that is open. While waiting in line, they exchange news and rumors with the other customers. Among these are rumors that there will be no electricity all summer, that the moon will crash into the earth by Christmas, and that the school board has voted not to open the schools the following year.
Commodities have changed—now the idea of getting out of the house to get fast food is a special treat, but one that proves unobtainable. At the pizza place, gossip and even socialization are commodities—Miranda and her family have rarely had the chance to exchange news with others since the moon event. And even though they recognize that much of what’s being spread is disinformation, it feels better than nothing.
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Laura finds an open bakery and buys days-old cake, cookies, and bread. They eat this with their pizza, but Laura cautions Miranda and Jonny not to expect fresh food “until things get back to normal,” and says she wishes she trusted the president to handle this crisis. Mrs. Nesbitt compares their immediate future to food shortages and rations during World War II, but reassures them they’ll be fine and “We’ll rise to the occasion.” As she’s saying this, the power goes out. But instead of taking it as an ominous sign, they laugh and play Monopoly until the sun sets.
Miranda feels comforted by Mrs. Nesbitt’s historical perspective. By comparing what they’re going through to what has happened in the past and complimenting them on having risen to the occasion, Mrs. Nesbitt buoys Miranda’s spirits. The irony of her hopeful speech ending with the lights going out is an example of the gallows humor that Miranda frequently uses to deflect her feelings.
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May 23. It’s the national day of mourning. The radios broadcast all sorts of prayers—and news of the continued deaths. While they haven’t given a number of the dead, they report that the floods have continued and people continue to drown. Laura reassures Jonny and Miranda that they are inland and safe.
This section follows the pattern of Miranda recording a threat in her journal, then immediately recording someone reassuring her that it doesn’t apply to them. The fact that Miranda needs a record of these reassurances belies how shaken she is feeling.
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They receive an email from Matt that he’ll be home on Wednesday. Miranda can’t wait, but also recognizes that she’s got unrealistic expectations that things will go back to normal when he’s home. She wishes for school—but only because she wants school lunch.
Miranda is self aware enough to realize that she idolizes Matt and that he doesn’t have the power to improve or change their situation, but this doesn’t actually impact her desire for him to come home.
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May 24. Laura takes Jonny and Miranda to look for open stores. Miranda has noticed that Laura looks with pride at her stocked pantry, and since she has cash left, she seeks to add to it. But the grocery stores are closed or empty except for school supplies, pet toys, and mops. As they drive around, they see that electronics stores have been looted and boarded up and the sporting goods store has a sign that reads “NO MORE GUNS OR RIFLES.”
Laura’s desire to add to her stockpiles is both fueled by and at odds with the lack of supplies available to purchase. It’s clear from their drive how values have shifted—both by the items that remain (related to learning, pets, and cleaning—all now non-essentials) and what is gone: food and weapons.
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Laura ends up taking Jonny and Miranda to a dingy, rundown store where she buys them clothing that Miranda thinks is unfashionable and can’t ever imagine wearing. Laura buys out the store’s stock of gloves, socks, underwear, and long johns—while Miranda “practically dies of embarrassment.” On their way back to the car, Miranda makes a comment about the child’s mittens going to Lisa for her baby, and Laura then goes back in the store and stocks up on baby gear. Miranda thinks the gesture is sweet, but can’t imagine that Lisa will ever put the baby in such unfashionable clothing. She thinks it will be funny to watch her mom give Lisa all the baby stuff when they pick up Jonny from baseball camp and drop Miranda and Jonny off at Lisa and Hal’s for the month of August.
Laura’s need to hoard supplies has crossed a threshold where she’s buying compulsively—for instance, purchasing child-sized gloves without having an intended child. While Laura is buying essential items just in case the worst happens, Miranda is on the other end of spectrum, still believing she could never be expected to wear such unfashionable goods. When she makes jokes about wanting to see Lisa’s reactions to the ugly baby supplies or hoping her mom kept the receipt, Miranda is demonstrating how little she understands the danger to come.
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May 25. Miranda begins her journal entry by stating that Matt should’ve been home by now and she, Laura, and Jonny are feeling nervous—especially since it’s a clear night and the moon appears too big and bright. The electricity is working, so Jonny and Miranda have turned on all the lights in their house—they find this reassuring.
The need to turn on all their lights—much like a young child after a scary movie—is an indication of how nervous Jonny and Miranda are about Matt’s tardiness. In such uncertain times, anything not going as planned feels dangerous.
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There had been many students and teachers absent at the school that day, including Sammi. Miranda realizes that she hasn’t called Sammi or Megan over the long weekend, because everyone is too busy figuring out their own problems to take on anyone else’s. No one at school was talking much. Laura had instructed Jonny and Miranda not to talk about the goods they’ve stockpiled in their pantry. Miranda wondered if everyone else was being quiet for similar reasons. In an assembly, their principal, Mrs. Sanchez, announced that after-school activities, the prom, and senior trip were all cancelled, bus service would be stopping the next Tuesday, and that the kitchen would no longer be preparing hot lunches. The lack of lunches creates the biggest reaction—with it escalating to some students breaking windows and having to be removed by cops.
Miranda is beginning to realize that secrets are going to be as much a currency in this new normal as food and supplies. She now looks at her classmates and wonders what supplies they have. Miranda’s reactions to her friends reveal that she’s formed different priorities—which value life at home over friendships. At the school assembly, it becomes clear that her classmates have too. Their reaction to the loss of school lunches—which they had formerly ridiculed—is stronger than their reaction to the loss of prom, senior trip, sports, or other formerly beloved activities that now seem peripheral.
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At lunch Megan tells Miranda about how she’s been living in the church for the past week. Her eyes are bright and shiny in a way that reminds Miranda of the way Laura looks when she sees supplies. Megan excitedly describes how at Reverend Marshall’s encouragement, her church has been only sleeping 1-2 hours a night so they can keep praying. Miranda tries to reason with Megan, but Megan responds by telling Miranda that she’s damned unless she embraces religion. Miranda rejects this idea, partially because her family isn’t religious and she doesn’t want to be in heaven without them there.
Miranda’s comparison of Megan’s religious fervor with Laura’s attitude toward her supplies underscores that neither female has a healthy coping method for what has happened. They’ve taken good things to extremes, and are becoming obsessed. Though she doesn’t have the introspection to fully analyze it, Miranda reveals her own top priority with her reason for not wanting to go to heaven—Miranda’s fervor is directed at her family.
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After walking away from Megan, Miranda joins her swim teammates. They’re discussing the pool being closed because without electricity it can’t be filtered. After they run through several failed scenarios about where they could practice, Miranda suggests Miller’s Pond, and the team agrees to meet there the week after next. The journal entry ends abruptly when Miranda hears her brother, Matt, has arrived home from college.
Once again Pfeffer uses the formatting of Miranda’s diary endings to indicate a switch in the story’s trajectory. Miranda’s abrupt change from relating her lunchtime conversation with her teammates to announcing Matt’s arrival with short sentences and exclamation marks demonstrates her excitement.
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May 28. Miranda is relieved that Matt is home. Even though their situation isn’t changed, things seem better with him there to play baseball with Jonny and help Laura organize supplies. Miranda and Matt have not yet talked about the disaster, and she knows he doesn’t have any new information—but she feels like she’ll believe it more from his mouth.
Miranda doesn’t acknowledge it, but her parents’ divorce has forced Matt to take on a father-figure role in her family. The tasks he’s doing—playing sports with Jonny, assisting her mother in household organization, reassuring Miranda just by his presence—are all traditionally paternal.
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Attendance is up in school on Thursday. Matt works on Miranda and Jonny’s bikes so they’ll have a way to get to school once the buses stop. Peter stops by with a bag of apples—and since he and Laura can’t go anywhere on a date, they prepare apple crisp together and invite Mrs. Nesbitt to join them. The simple dinner of pasta and sauce with the apple crisp feels festive and Miranda wonders how long they can live like this. She vacillates between thinking things have got to return to normal and realizing she’s starting to forget what it’s like to be able to depend on electricity, the Internet, or stores.
While Miranda continues to state her desire for things to ‘return to normal,’ she’s simultaneously being normalized into the current state of affairs. This is demonstrated by how quickly she forgets things she used to take for granted, like electricity, going online, and shopping.
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Matt tells Miranda that this is a unique time in history when heroes will be made from the people who choose to live heroically. Miranda reflects that Matt’s always been her hero, and wonders if she could be one too, even though she’s still missing things like ice cream and swimming.
Miranda is too hard on herself, while still idealizing Matt. Her belief that she’s not heroic because she misses things like ice cream are examples of her own humanity—and a demonstration of how she denies Matt similar foibles.
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May 29-30. Electricity is becoming more and more sporadic. Whenever it comes on, Laura rushes to put in a load of laundry—but sometimes this means laundry gets done in 15-minute increments that span a whole day. Because of the lack of electric light, the Evanses are spending more time outside—but they leave the light in the living room window on, so that when electricity does work, they have a signal. They hear on the radio that the list of the known dead will be posted, so when the light comes on, Laura abandons the laundry and rushes to the Internet.
The ability to spend all day doing laundry in fifteen-minute increments is a sign of their new lifestyle. In the past Laura would’ve been working on her next novel—now, when she does have electricity and could be on her computer, she instead prioritizes things like watching news, or doing basic chores.
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In less than ten minutes, Laura has found the names of thirty people she knows who have died. These include most of her editors, some friends, and her second cousins. She’s relieved to find that Mrs. Nesbitt’s family isn’t on the list—and Miranda is relieved that Brandon Erlich doesn’t appear on it. Jonny finds that many baseball players are dead, presumed dead, or missing, and Matt looks up the status of classmates from his high school graduating class and finds that three are dead and many presumed missing. Miranda has more people she could look up—campmates and friends who had moved—but she doesn’t think it’s right to look up or mourn their deaths when she didn’t even think of them while they were alive.
Miranda watches everyone around her process the deaths of people they knew and cared about. She could join their grief by looking up some acquaintances, but instead chooses to respect her family’s losses and the lives of people she tangentially knew who may or may not have survived by not going through the motions of professing grief that’s less authentic. For someone who desperately wants to belong, this is a sign of maturity.
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Matt looks up each of their own names on the lists of the dead, but they don’t appear anywhere. Miranda ends her entry with “And that’s how we know we’re alive this Memorial Day.”
Once again Miranda uses humor to deflect from a bleak and uncomfortable truth.
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May 31. It rains on the first day that there’s no bus service, so Matt drives Miranda and Jonny to school while Laura stays home to work on her book. The schools are even emptier than before, with more than half the students absent. Jonny learns that standardized tests have been cancelled, and when Peter stops by that night, he shares a rumor that schools will be closing altogether in a week. He’s heard they’ll reopen in the fall when “things are back to normal.” Miranda clings to the hope that things will be back to normal by September.
In this section each character is coping differently: Laura is playacting at normalcy—writing a book that may never be completed because of lack of electricity and publishers who are dead—while Jonny is celebrating a change for the better—no tests—and Miranda is still hoping for ‘normal’s’ return.
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