“I, um, I have this problem. I broke up with my boyfriend, you see. And I'm pretty upset about it, so I wanted to talk to my best friend...The thing is, they're both you.”
This quote reveals the heart of Chris and Emily's problem in the story: they have grown up so close to one another that they do not have an outside support system. In the case of this temporary break-up, the result is not awful; Emily confides her feelings to Chris, he feels compelled to comfort her, and they return to their relationship largely unchanged. However, when Emily gets pregnant and does not want to reveal this to Chris or to her parents, her lack of an outside support system of friends and peers causes her to feel as if she has no other options but suicide.
“Do you know what it's like to love someone so much, that you can't see yourself without picturing her? Or what it's like to touch someone, and feel like you've come home? What we had wasn't about sex, or about being with someone just to show off what you've got, the way it was for other kids our age. We were, well, meant to be together. Some people spend their whole lives looking for that one person. I was lucky enough to have her all along.”
It is said throughout the novel that Chris and Emily's relationship is much more mature than is usual for a couple of their age. Though Chris often must be either tough or quiet when talking to his peers, fellow prisoners, and even his father, there are some moments where he is allowed to talk openly and vividly about his relationship with Emily. Picoult demonstrates in these moments that young people can have incredibly deep and meaningful relationships, and this quote is particularly heartbreaking as Chris underscores the fact that he still feels lucky, even after Emily's death, that he got to experience true love.
“She was all the things I wasn't. And I was all the things she wasn't. She could paint circles around anyone; I couldn't even draw a straight line. She was never into sports; I've always been. Her hand, it fit mine.”
Besides allowing them to grow up perhaps more emotionally close than was healthy, the Harte and Gold parents also create an atmosphere in which their children have roles to play within their families and in relation to one another. This is demonstrated through the fact that the reader hears praise about the children during a conversation between the parents before ever actually meeting the characters. It is also shown in this quote, which may seem benign, but shows how the parents molded the children into thinking they should complement one another rather than widely explore their identities. Furthermore, the teens never seem to question whether these differences in interests mean they shouldn't be together, instead accepting the parents' stories that they belonged together.
“You know, the mind is a remarkable thing. Just because you can't see the wound doesn't mean it isn't hurting. It scars all the time, but it heals.”
A major theme in The Pact, naturally, is grief. Not only does Picoult show many different ways of dealing with grief, but she shows how it can be a complex and dynamic process. Here, the insightful psychiatrist Dr. Feinstein tells Chris that minds can scar over just like bodies, continuing on and healing in various ways on the outside, without returning completely to normal.
"She once told me that she could see herself now, and she could also see the kind of life she wanted to have—kids, husband, suburbs, you know—but she couldn't figure out how to get from point A to point B.”
Emily's pregnancy is the primary reason she begins to feel trapped in her life, without options or steps to take to achieve the adult life she desires. However, she also reveals to the reader that it is not only the pregnancy that makes her feel trapped in this way, but her relationship with Chris as a whole, which she still cannot totally give herself up to emotionally, and the sexual abuse that she tries to suppress but that eats away at her self-identity and ability to form strong romantic and sexual relationships. When Chris quotes Emily in saying this, he does not yet know all of the complexities of Emily's situation at the time of her death—let alone those issues that prevent her from getting from her current state to the happy future he imagined for them together.
“There is no one truth. There’s only what happened, based on how you perceive it.”
Jordan McAfee's guiding principle as a lawyer seems to be that truth has no place in a courtroom. He made the switch to being a defense lawyer for this reason; he felt more called to poke holes in the supposed truth prosecutors present than create these stories himself. But he is surprised when, as it turns out, Chris's strategy of simply trying to present the truth is the one that wins the case. By contrasting Jordan's views, based on long experience, with the truth and the outcome of Chris's trial, Picoult allows room for self-reflection about the nature and utility of truth in life and law.
“Adults, light-years away from this, rolled their eyes and smirked and said, "this too shall pass"—as if adolescence was a disease like chicken pox, something everyone recalled as a mild nuisance, completely forgetting how painful it had been at the time.”
Before becoming an author, Picoult was a high school English teacher. Furthermore, she has three children of her own and did research talking intimately with their babysitters while writing The Pact, something she discusses in the extra sections at the end of the recent editions of the novel. This care for young people inspires Picoult to write books that showcase the complex emotions, relationships, and thoughts of adolescents and teens that adults often overlook, as displayed in this quote. In the case of Emily, this assurance that teenagers will grow out of any emotional issues they are grappling with mask the fact that Emily was sexually abused and prevent her parents from starting conversations or taking actions that might have saved her life.
“She had never been a pretty crier. She sobbed the way she did everything else—with passion and excess.”
In this quote, James, Chris's father, witnesses his wife sobbing alone in a room in their house in the middle of the night. James and Gus are juxtaposed in their responses to Emily's death and their son's incarceration; James is stoic and tries to pretend that nothing has happened while Gus is overcome with emotions ranging from intense sadness (as shown in this quote) to fierce protectiveness. In the face of such passion, so different from the way James allows himself to feel, he makes the decision not to comfort her but to escape back to their room and again pretend nothing significant has happened.
"To say there had been a loss was ludicrous; one lost a shoe or a set of keys. You did not suffer the death of a child and say there was a loss. There was a catastrophe. A devastation. A hell."
Picoult loves to play with words and imagery, and actually focuses on this idea of "losing" someone (a popular American euphemism for a person dying) in many of her books. After Emily's death, Melanie often seems to feel combative against people who mean her no harm, such as the man working at the funeral home and people who ask her for help at the library. Thus, this quote both exposes an interesting truth about the way we talk about death and show how poorly Melanie is able to interact with people in the immediate aftermath of Emily's death.
"There were mornings Chris woke up in a sweat, full to bursting with life, panting as if he’d run all the way up to the top of a cliff. There were days when he felt like he could not fit inside his own skin. There were nights when he was terrified of living up to the model of what he was turning out to be, needing more than anything to breathe in the drugging shampoo scent of Emily’s hair, and just as unwilling to admit it."
In The Pact, Picoult tries to capture some of the intense emotions experienced by teenagers. For Emily, this often comes in the form of despair and disgust due to increasing sexuality and responsibility in her teenage years. For Chris, life is so full of passion and energy that it is hard for him to slow things down and think clearly. This escalates especially in the weeks leading up to Emily's suicide, in which he so wishes he could slow down time or take a brief break to think about and discuss his and Emily's options.
The Pact Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Pact is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Sam coped with his failure by working harder than ever. He pushed himself, getting up early in the morning, studying at the library, and pouring over his work with the two girls from his class who'd also failed the test. Next time around, he...