Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng Analysis
A single strand of DNA is about two nanometers. For reference, a single hair strand is 40,000 times wider. Despite the fact that a single strand of DNA is thin and small and cannot be seen with eye view, it is a vital and significant part of what template makes up the human body. DNA is pivotal to humans growth, reproduction, and health. It is a crucial part of a much larger system. Hannah is the DNA strand in the Lee family. The novel Everything I Never Told You written by Celeste Ng, describes the moving story of family, secrets, and belonging. The Lee family is a Chinese American family living in the 1970s in a small town of Ohio. Lydia is clearly the favorite child of Marylin and James Lee and they are determined that she fulfill the dreams they had wanted to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found lifeless in the town lake, the fake balancing act that kept the family together is destroyed, causing them to realize they don’t know the true identity of Lydia nor the rest of the family. The novel uncovers the ways families struggle to understand and love each other. In the Lee family, Hannah is the DNA strand. Hannah plays a significant role in the novel, despite the fact that her family forgets that she exists, the fact that she isn’t mentioned much in the novel, and the fact that she doesn’t fully understand the events that happen around her. Instead of participating in conversations, Hannah rather listens and watches. For an exceptionally quiet character, Hannah is the moral center of the novel because of her ability to maintain silence, her ability to see beneath “masks”, and her ability to know and keep secrets of her family and their pasts.
Silence is something that only Hannah can maintain in the Lee family, making her the moral center of the novel. Hannah is the youngest child and the moment she was born she was forgotten about. She rarely speaks during the text and is practically invisible to her parents. She is quiet because Lydia absorbs her parent’s attention because her big sister’s needs are always more important than hers. Hannah often feels unimportant and unwanted, therefore she learns to cope with silence. Ng states “What about Hannah? They set up her nursery in the bedroom in the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed-- as when Marylin, laying four plates for dinner one night, did not realize her omission until Hannah reached the table. Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change)” (Ng 161). Hannah, right from birth, lived in the attic, where things and people didn’t matter. As she grew older, the family began to forget more and more about her existence. To fulfill her family’s needs, Hannah stayed out of her family’s sight and mind, therefore she hid under the table, in closets, sofas, or tablecloths. She is forced to learn that the only person that will always be there for her, is herself. While the whole family is uncomfortable with the silence after Lydia’s death, Hannah learns to adapt to it, because she had been surrounded by it her whole life. Ng remarks, “Hannah’s body knows all the secrets of silence” (Ng 103). Hannah’s ability to maintain silence is the reason she remains alive, and not dead like Lydia. Hannah wants to be noticed and loved by the family, but to Lydia, her family had suffocating expectations of her. If Hannah were in the spotlight of the family’s attention, it could potentially mean losing herself completely. Life is better being in the shadows and silenced in the Lee family. Hannah is able to contain silence and is comfortable with it because she has been shadowed her whole life, and if it weren’t for that, she would have ended up as Lydia did.
Hannah is able to see beneath “masks” and depict the true thoughts and feelings of her family and others, making her the moral center of the novel. Hannah only being in 5th grade, is highly perceptive and understands things, that characters themselves can’t. She has the ability to see beneath false appearances. During the novel, every character is wearing some sort of mask to cover up their own secrets. For Lydia, she wears the mask of perfection. It seems she only ever worries about school, getting good grades and becoming a doctor, when in reality she is lonely and wants anything but to live her mother’s dream. Nath wears a mask of denial. He believes that Jack is responsible for Lydia’s death and focuses on hurting Jack, rather than caring about the people around him. James and Marylin Lee both wear the mask of the past. Neither of them uncover their past with their family, however through the novel, readers are able to learn about the secrets that lie within them. Jack wears the mask of gender identity. He has a reputation for taking the virginity of teenage girls, yet he uses that as a cover for his real love for Nath. Hannah is the only character in the novel, that can see beneath Jack’s mask. She realizes the love he has for Nath, years before any other character can realize it. Ng writes, “It happened so quickly that if she were a different person, Hannah might have wondered if she’d imagined it. No one else saw. Nath still turned away; Lydia has her eyes shut now against the sun. But the moment flashed lightning-bright to Hannah… She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful quiet love that didn’t care and went on anyway. It was too familiar to be surprising” (Ng 211). No one else saw it. But Hannah did. She felt this sexual tension that Jack sent off to Nath. She recognized the love from the gentleness and calmness of his touch. As a character, she is so special, because she protects Jack from Nath, and makes sure that Jack is comfortable in his own skin. Hannah may be a shadow of her family, but she is able to perceive ideas, thoughts, and opinions that no one else can in the novel.
Hannah is the moral center of the novel because she is able to know and keep the secrets of her family and their pasts. She spends so much time hiding, that she’s able to find out things that are supposed to be kept from her. The novel is based on secrets and the struggle of families understanding and loving one another. Hannah is the novel’s secret keeper. She is omniscient in the sense that she knows almost everything about James, Marylin, Lydia, Nath, and Jack. Hannah was born last, meaning so many secrets are still covered, yet she still knows more secrets than any other character. Ng states “For there is more, much more: how she and her mother had curled up together on Lydia’s bed and cried and cried all afternoon, holding each other so close that their tears mixed, until her mother had fallen asleep. And how, half an hour ago, her brother had arrived in a police car, rumpled and groggy and stinking to high heaven but strangely serene, and had gone straight up to his room and into bed. Hannah, peeking from behind the curtain, had seen Officer Fiske at the wheel, and late that night, Marilyn’s car will quietly reappear in the driveway, washed, keys set neatly on the driver seat. It can wait, she decides. She is used to keeping people secrets” (Ng 278). Hannah has so much to tell her father, about how she and her mother had just cried in Lydia’s room, or how Nath was driven home in a police car after being extremely drunk, or how Marylin’s car would reappear later that night, but she decides that there are more important things to tell him. The idea, that Hannah, a 10 or 11-year-old has to witness her mother unwell, her brother drunk, her sister dead, and her father gone, all by herself shows the responsibility and reliability she has. She would rather sacrifice herself, just to feel some real love from her family. Instead of telling her father about all the awful things surrounding her, she shows him the footprint on the ceiling from Lydia. Instead of sobbing and worrying about the past, Hannah wants to be loved and feel joy.
Hannah has the ability to maintain silence, she has the ability to see beneath “masks” and has the ability to know and keep the secrets of her family and their pasts, therefore she is significantly the moral center of the novel. Hannah right from birth was shadowed in her attic, where things and people didn’t matter. She learned to contain silence from birth because her whole life she was forgotten. If it weren’t for her ability to maintain silence, she would have had more attention from her parents, and potentially would have ended up dead like Lydia. She is highly perceptive and knows far more than any other character in the novel. She can see the real feelings and emotions of people, even though their fake smiles and laughs. Hannah knows the most secrets of her family and their pasts but still remains to keep them to herself. She puts herself before anyone because her needs have never been important to anyone. Hannah has far to come to be an ideal or perfect daughter, sister, or character, but she still remains the most logical and knowledgeable in the novel. All Hannah ever wanted was for the family to be happy and perceived as happy, so if that meant being shadowed, which in this case it was, Hannah would gladly sacrifice that. Hannah is not selfish and wants the best for everyone. Like a single DNA strand, just 40 nanometers wide, Hannah plays a vital role in not only her family but the novel as a whole. Without Hannah, the novel would not be complete.