Throughout Marilyn's life, she feels the pressure from Doris to renounce her medical school dreams and instead become a housewife. While at Radcliffe, Marilyn is subject to intense gender discrimination from her male colleagues at Harvard. However, when she falls in love with James, Marilyn's life takes an ironic twist. Instead of pursuing her career, she puts everything on hold when she becomes pregnant with Nath. Though she had initially dedicated herself to escaping from conventional expectations, as her life progresses Marilyn finds herself living out her mother's domestic fantasy and forgoing her dreams of being a doctor.
Self-Help Books (Verbal Irony)
In order to help Lydia fit in with her classmates, James buys her numerous self-help books. One evening, James wants to ask Lydia if she has learned anything from her readings. He begins telling Lydia that he wishes he had the book when he was her age, but instead he only blurts out, "I thought you'd like it." This is an example of a kind of unintentional verbal irony, as James says the opposite of what he is actually thinking. Though this may not be apparent to the characters in the moment, and James certainly doesn't intend the statement to be ironic, the reader is privy to this discrepancy between what he wants to express and what he actually says. Because James is unable to share his own childhood experiences with feeling like a social outcast, Lydia similarly feels unable to confide in her father.
Understanding Lydia (Verbal Irony)
As Marilyn cleans out Lydia's room after her daughter's unexpected death, she finds a pack of cigarettes and an open package of condoms. In this moment, she realizes that Lydia has hidden many parts of her life from her family. When James tells Marilyn that the local police have closed the case because they believe Lydia committed suicide, Marilyn protests, yelling, "You think I don't know my own daughter?" This is another instance of a kind of unintentional verbal irony, as the reader understands that Marilyn's statement, while seemingly indicating her familiarity with her daughter's life, in fact reflects her effort to deal with the fact that she did not know her very well at all.
Disappearances (Situational Irony)
When the police officer arrives at the Lees' house to investigate Lydia's disappearance, he notes that he has been to their house once before to assist with a "missing person case." The summer when Marilyn left to study in Toledo, the police came to investigate. Upon hearing about Lydia's disappearance, the police believe that, like Marilyn, she has merely run away from home. Because of the Lee family history, the authorities delay the criminal investigation. Later, when Marilyn discovers James's relationship with Louisa, he disappears to Toledo. These ironies further emphasize the theme of abandonment throughout the novel.
Everything I Never Told You Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Everything I Never Told You is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.