Make Your Home Among Strangers

by

Jennine Capó Crucet

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Make Your Home Among Strangers: Chapter 34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Though Lizet is dazed and physically and emotionally exhausted on her first day back at Rawlings, she still has a shift to work at the library. She sits behind the desk most of her shift, and simply waves through anybody who sets off the security sensor. After one very long set of beeps, Lizet looks up to see Ethan standing right in front of her, waving a special-collections text through the sensors to get her attention. Lizet hasn’t seen Ethan since their fight; since then, he’s gotten a haircut and acquired a Berkeley sweatshirt, both of which make him seem like he is already “on his way to being gone.”
Lizet has faced some seriously heavy things in the last several days, and returning to her old routine has a strange, uncanny feel. When she sees Ethan again, despite the sharp words they exchanged the last time they saw one another, Lizet feels hardly anything except the vague realization that he is on his way out of her life. She has clearly been traumatized to by what she experienced in Miami—or at last shaken up enough that she feels her own problems are insignificant by comparison.
Themes
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Lizet tells Ethan that he looks like a different person—she is having trouble keeping the emotion out of her voice. They point out that they’ve been avoiding each other, but Lizet is listless and disengaged whereas Ethan is his old, jokey self. When Ethan asks Lizet to focus and talk to him, Lizet tells him she’s exhausted as she’s just returned from a trip to Miami. Ethan points out that she isn’t wearing her ring, and asks if something happened back home. Lizet tells Ethan to go away.
Still, as the truth of Ethan’s immanent departure sneaks in, Lizet finds herself growing emotional. She doesn’t get too engaged, though, and instead remains aloof—perhaps as deliberate attempt to protect her own emotions, or perhaps as a consequence of the isolating sadness and trauma she encountered in Miami.
Themes
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Isolation Theme Icon
Instead of leaving, though, Ethan leans over Lizet’s desk and accuses her of being cruel to him. He has been trying to be respectful of her desire for space and kind to her all year, and all she’s done is try to make him feel like an “asshole.” When Lizet deflects and asks if Berkeley sent Ethan his sweatshirt, he clams up and tells her they are “done.” Lizet wishes she could tell Ethan everything—about Ariel, about her family, about Santa Barbara—but knows it is too late, and too much has happened between them.
Ethan and Lizet have had a serious breakdown in communication over the semester. Their flirty but anticlimactic relationship created an illusion of closeness, but in this passage, Lizet realizes that Ethan doesn’t know that much about her at all,—and probably never will—because of her own actions.
Themes
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As Ethan hovers on the other side of the desk, Lizet thinks about the first day they met, right here in this spot. Ethan drums once on the table before announcing that he’s going to go. Lizet is seized by a desire to grab his hand, but instead tells him he should indeed leave. As Ethan walks out through the door, Lizet tells him to “have a nice life,” but he does not turn around and answer her.
Lizet is suddenly nostalgic for the past. The first semester seemed so difficult in so many ways, but now, after having gone through so much more pain and strife, Lizet longs to return to the start of her time and Rawlings and do things the right way.
Themes
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In her next lab class, Lizet is surprised when Professor Kaufmann approaches her and asks her to stay after class. Lizet gets nervous, and struggles with handling her lab equipment properly all through class. After the session is over, Professor Kaufmann asks Lizet if she has her forms for the internship ready—she asks why she never mailed them in. Lizet confesses that she doesn’t have it, and asks Professor Kaufmann if she’s been watching the news and seen what’s happening in Miami. Kaufmann says that she has, and Lizet explains that she needs to be home in Miami this summer, as her mother is involved in the protests, and the whole thing has been tough on her family.
As Lizet readjusts to university life, she must face more people than just Ethan. Professor Kaufmann, too, is confused by Lizet’s cold behavior, and wants an explanation. Lizet tries to explain things to her—but as their conversation goes on, it becomes clear that Lizet’s world is just as foreign to Kaufmann as Kaufmann’s is to Lizet.
Themes
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Familial Duty and Betrayal Theme Icon
Professor Kaufmann blinks, and says she doesn’t understand—she wants to know what Lizet will be doing in Miami all summer. Lizet says she’ll be supporting her family. Kaufmann misinterprets this to mean that Lizet has found another lab opportunity with better funding, but Lizet explains she’ll be offering them “other kinds of support.” Kaufmann says it’s a shame that Lizet’s family won’t let her participate. Lizet says it’s nothing like that, she just feels obligated to be with her family—Kaufmann suggests Lizet explain the situation to them and see if they will support her going to Santa Barbara.
Professor Kaufmann has seen how gifted and committed Lizet is, and wants to reward her for her hard work. She doesn’t think that Lizet should have to put her own dreams on hold in order to attend to her family. Lizet admits that it’s more than external obligation—after what she’s witnessed, she herself feels internally motivated to help repair her family.
Themes
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Familial Duty and Betrayal Theme Icon
Lizet tries once and for all to get out of the internship, but Kaufmann insists Lizet keep an open mind, and continue to consider the offer. Lizet does not blame Kaufmann for her failure to understand Lizet’s situation—Kaufmann is living a “bigger life” than Lizet ever will. Lizet is sad that she deluded herself into thinking she could live that kind of life, too.
Lizet is awash in pity for herself, determined to pay what she sees as penance to her family to the detriment of her own interests, desires, and needs. She tells herself that she was never destined for the greatness she once desired, and will spend her whole life missing out on things.
Themes
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Familial Duty and Betrayal Theme Icon
Lizet hears from Ethan only once more that semester, towards the end, when he writes her an email to ask if she’s “OK.” Lizet does not reply, knowing she doesn’t deserve whatever goodbye Ethan wants to give to her. She feels “proud” of herself for releasing Ethan from his obligation to say farewell to her. In the last few weeks of the term, school feels like a job, a distraction Lizet must dispense with before she can return to Miami, where she is really needed. Lizet feels a sense of calm and relief in “recogniz[ing her] place,” and admitting that there is only so far she can rise above where she comes from.
As the semester winds down, Lizet continues isolating herself not just from the people around her but from the very idea that she can have a fulfilling life of her own. She has spent all year fighting so hard to prioritize school, but now, feeling entirely defeated, she feels it’s easier—or safer, perhaps—to tell herself that she will never be able to achieve the things she thought she would.
Themes
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Isolation Theme Icon
Immigration and Assimilation Theme Icon
Familial Duty and Betrayal Theme Icon