Little Fires Everywhere

by

Celeste Ng

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Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow Character Analysis

Left at an East Cleveland fire station as an infant, May Ling Chow becomes the center of a complex, emotional legal case surrounding the legality—and morality—of her transracial adoption by a white family, the McCulloughs, who live in Shaker Heights and who are good friends of the Richardson family. The McCulloughs rename May Ling “Mirabelle,” which means “wonderful beauty.” At the conclusion of the case, Mirabelle is placed in the custody of the McCulloughs, with the recommendation that her adoption be expedited. However, soon thereafter, Bebe Chow steals Mirabelle from the McCulloughs’ home in the middle of the night and returns with her to China.

Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow Quotes in Little Fires Everywhere

The Little Fires Everywhere quotes below are all either spoken by Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow or refer to Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow. 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:
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Little Fires Everywhere published in 2017.
Chapter 9 Quotes

Mia thought suddenly of those moments at the restaurant, after the dinner rush had ended and things were quiet, when Bebe sometimes rested her elbows on the counter and drifted away. Mia understood exactly where she drifted to. To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.

Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?

Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

For [Mrs. Richardson] it was simple: Bebe Chow had been a poor mother; Linda McCullough had been a good one. One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules, [Mr. Richardson] reflected, was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on.

Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow Character Timeline in Little Fires Everywhere

The timeline below shows where the character Mirabelle McCullough / May Ling Chow appears in Little Fires Everywhere. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...phone call from her mother after staying up late arguing with Serena Wong about “little Mirabelle McCullough” and “whether her new parents should’ve gotten custody or if she should’ve been given... (full context)
Chapter 9
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Mirabelle McCullough, the birthday girl, is in Mrs. McCullough’s arms—she and her husband are in the... (full context)
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...knock someone up, someone has to actually sleep with you.” Lexie gets a tour of May Ling ’s nursery, and begs to hold her again and again throughout the party. Moody tells... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
On Monday, when Mia arrives to prepare dinner, Lexie continues to gush about May Ling . She tells Mia the “mirac[ulous]” story of how the McCulloughs came to adopt May... (full context)
Chapter 10
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...the property—“You have no right to be here,” Mr. McCullough told her. Bebe could hear May Ling crying as the policemen pulled her away from the house. Bebe asks Mia what she... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...watches the news that evening but, the following morning, Mrs. McCullough answers the doorbell with May Ling on her hip only to find a news crew on her front steps. Mrs. McCullough... (full context)
Chapter 11
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...child—it is, many feel, a race issue. Though some feel that the McCulloughs are “rescuing” May Ling, other members of the public interviewed on the news—including Serena Wong’s mother — take issue... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Mrs. McCullough is deeply distressed. Bebe, for her part, is upset that her visits with May Ling must be at the library or in another public place while a social worker hovers... (full context)
Chapter 12
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...keep the baby. After raising the subject of a baby with Brian, talking first about May Ling and then about their own future babies, Brian shuts her down quickly, telling her that... (full context)
Chapter 16
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Richardson and Ed Lim, in telling the “slow, painfully intimate story” of Bebe’s abandonment of May Ling, turn each other’s arguments on their heads over and over again. They debate and detail... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
Ed Lim describes Bebe’s leaving May Ling as “tucking her daughter onto a safe ledge while she herself plummeted.” Mr. Richardson suggests... (full context)
Chapter 17
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...had gained weight and had thrown up on a visit with the social worker and May Ling —and then had suddenly seemed thinner a couple weeks later. Mrs. McCullough and Mrs. Richardson... (full context)
Chapter 18
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...the judge has made a decision, and the McCulloughs have won custody of May Ling—or Mirabelle, as she will now officially be known. Mrs. Richardson feels a “snake of disappointment—she had... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Mia’s house. Her visitation rights have been terminated and no further contact between Bebe and May Ling will be allowed. Full custody of May Ling has gone to the state, “with the... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...still at her kitchen table. Pearl retreats to her room, and Mia tells Bebe that May Ling will “always be [her] child.” Bebe leaves, saying nothing, and the narrator explains that later,... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...remind the press that “Bebe abandoned [her child]” and that the court’s decision to place “Mirabelle” with the McCulloughs “speaks volumes.” Mrs. Richardson arrives home later that evening, and right away... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Furthermore, she reveals that she has known all along that Mia told Bebe Chow about May Ling ’s whereabouts. As a final blow to Mia, she says that Pearl, if given the... (full context)
Chapter 19
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...on the curb across the street from the McCulloughs’ house. She imagines Linda McCullough bathing May Ling and putting her to bed as she waits “for the light in her daughter’s room... (full context)
Chapter 20
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...to reestablish custody are almost zero, and Mrs. McCullough will “tr[y] not to think about Mirabelle” while she feels “dizzy with love for this [new] child she has yet to meet.” (full context)