“She’s Come Undone” is one of the most successful novels written by Wally Lamb. The book often provokes controversial feelings of readers. On the one hand it is considered to be too depressing. On the other hand, there are a lot of admirers who adore the dramatic character of the novel. Obviously such controversial characteristics of one and the same book indicate that the novel affects readers regardless whether they eventually like it or not. This is very important condition of the book success that is not easy to achieve.
As for Wally Lamb he has managed to achieve such a success and, at this respect, the great role has played the vividness of the main characters of the book. The main character Dolores is especially noteworthy because it is probably the most complicated character of the book, which creates such a dubious impression of readers about the book at large. This is why, it is necessary to analyse this character in order to understand how this woman can contribute to both positive and negative impression from the book that is achieved basically through a combination of negative public image of Dolores, who in certain episodes provokes sincere sympathy.
First of all, it is probably necessary to briefly dwell upon the name of the main character that is very symbolic and such a choice of the name seems to be made deliberately by the author. To put it more, precisely, Dolores may be interpreted as sorrow, grief or pain and all this may be found in the fate of this woman.
By, the way, it is noteworthy that the author has managed to depict the character so realistically that at first it seems as if the author is a woman but not a man. It means that Wally Lamb successfully reveals the entity of a woman in her character, he conveys her natural feelings and emotions, her sufferings and problems, which are traditionally hidden from men consciousness and perception. Naturally, such an important detail makes the novel even more interesting to read.
Nonetheless, returning to the name of the main character, it should be said that it prepares a reader for a specific mood of the novel and for the dramatic, or even tragic fate of the main character, for whom sorrow, grief and pain have become her second nature. Obviously, it may provoke certain emotions which are rather close to sympathy to the main character because, even before a reader gets more acquainted with Dolores’s life, he/she gets ready to some misfortunes that could occur to the main character and that would cause some pain or grief. At the same time, it may also provoke compassion to the main character that contributes to a significant degree of subjectivity in further perception of the character and this subjectivity would rather create some positive, sympathetic image, than negative and disgusting one.
However, the beginning of the novel creates rather negative impressions when the book opens with the phrase: “Mine is a story of craving; an unreliable account of lusts and troubles that began, somehow, in 1956 on the day our free television was delivered” (Lamb). Unfortunately, this was also a day when the first hardships in the life of Dolores Price have begun and, as it seems, would have never let her lead a normal and happy life. It is quite noteworthy that at this time, Dolores is only a four-year-old girl who cannot even clearly remember everything that happened that day. Later she even doubts whether it really happened or it is just her fantasy and there was no television delivered. Not surprisingly that in her adulthood she stubbornly recalls the delivery men as President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon. This fact also contributes to better and more sympathetic perception of the main character since it makes the image of Dolores rather naïve and as simple as an innocent child who beliefs in the most improbable things.
At the same time, it is very important to underline that such an early recall is rather an indicator of her later tragic life since the free television was one of the causes of further problems that have eventually become a part of Dolores’s life since that time on. Her father, Tony, is the hireling of Mrs Masicotte, an older, rich widow. Remarkably, the reader does not actually meet Mrs Masicotte in the book but her presence virtually influences the family life since Tony’s professional duties seem to be too personal that, especially affects her wife, especially when he receives such rewards as television set, a car, a swimming pool.
Such behaviour of Tony and the presents, naturally provoke the problems within the family in relations between the parents as well as in relations between the parents and Dolores. The situation is significantly deteriorated by the fact that her mother lost her son, who has been strangled by the umbilical cord during birth. As a result, the complete misunderstanding and distrust have become a part of the life of Dolores’s family.
Obviously the problems within the family directly affected Dolores who turned to be absolutely forgotten by her parents because of their personal problems. As a result, a reader feels sympathy to a little girl who is practically abandoned and attempts to enjoy the life in the circumstances, which are really dramatic and depressing.
Unfortunately, Dolores’s childhood ends too early and she has to enter adult life in a very early age firstly because of the problem within the family, which actually resulted in mental problems of her mother and subsequent of Bernice to a state hospital. As a result, Dolores has to move to her grandmother Thelma Holland. The life with the grandmother does not make her position any better. The problem is that Dolores turns to be isolated from her peers and surrounding people basically due to the negative image and, to a significant extent, extremist views, of her grandmother. She seems to be alone in this world: her mother is in the hospital, she does not have any real friends and the building up of normal relations with her grandmother seems to be also highly problematic.
In such a situation it is quite natural that the girl needs some compassion, warm feelings, some really close person. Not surprisingly that she asks Thelma simply to hold her: “The request seemed to startle her, but she obliged me. Her small body felt stiff and unnatural… I sobbed and shook against her. Her body wouldn’t relax” (Lamb). This episode seems to be quite symbolic and it is really difficult to fail to feel sympathy for an adolescent girl who attempts to find love and care but eventually fails and there is not a person in the world that could help her. The episode described above symbolise such a position of Dolores. Her feelings and desires are natural, she wants simply to be held but her grandmother, the closest person in the entire world at the moment, treats it as an obligation and her agreement seems to be rather forced and unnatural exactly like her body. Moreover, even when Dolores attempts to find consolation and love in Thelma embrace, her grandmother remains stiff and she would never relax that means that she would never really love Dolores what the lonely girl really needed at the moment. In such circumstances, readers can really feel sympathy for Dolores as it is not her guilt that her family is practically ruined, her grandmother is a cold and heartless woman that distanced the main character from other children, who could be her friends.
Nonetheless, there is a little hope that the life of Dolores will change for better when her mother returns from the hospital, but unfortunately this, probably the last, hope of the main character for happiness fails very soon. Bernice seems to be a kind of stranger but not a real loving mother who takes care about her child. At this respect, it is necessary to refer to a very important episode that provokes sympathy to the girl. Notably, it becomes absolutely obvious what a huge distance there is between the mother and the daughter when Bernice responds to Dolores’s onset of menstruation with “That’s great, Dolores. Thanks a lot. That’s just what I need right now” (Lamb). It means that the mother practically rejects Dolores in an extremely important period of her life. She did not help Dolores because she is too preoccupied wit her own affairs. And a gain the main character has to cope with her problems alone. The situation is deteriorated dramatically when Dolores, a thirteen-year-old girl is raped.
In such a situation, the girl naturally attempts to find out love and care not within her family, which was completely ruined after the death of her mother, but outside. For instance, when she studies in the Merton College, Dolores becomes the roommate Kippy, who has a boyfriend Dante. It seems that Dante really loves Kippy and Dolores seeks to find such a love and the boyfriend of her roommate becomes her obsession. In her obsession Dolores wickedly denigrates, she steals the letters and photos of Dante and she hopes that he would fall in love with her but her expectations fail and she still remains absolutely lonely. Paradoxically, but this episode also can make readers quite sympathetic with Dolores because, regardless the negative side of this episode of her life, such immoral actions, undertaken by Dolores may be justified by her desire to find real love, to find a person who could really understand her and take care about her. And the fact that her attempts fail only underlines the extent, to which the main character is naïve in her struggle for personal happiness.
All these failures in the personal life lead to her self-hating, which is also provoked by a new problem the main character faced, obesity. However, such a physical problem, which is viewed very sceptically by many, may also develop the feeling of sympathy to Dolores because food seems to be her only consolation that, in actuality, only deteriorates her life and creates new problems. At the same time, it is necessary to remember that Dolores is not guilty in all her problems. Her failures in personal life and physical problems are rather a result of an unhappy childhood and ruined family life but it is not her fault at all.
Remarkably, the older Dolores grow the less sympathy readers feel. However, this is only a superficial impression that could be formed only on the condition that the latter statement (i.e. the idea that the problems of Dolores are caused by her unhappy childhood and lack of support from the part of her family, which practically did not exist) is not taken into consideration. At the same time, her suicide attempt seems to be the last chance for Dolores to change her life somehow for better and it is rather the action undertaken by an absolutely disenchanted woman that sees no way out. In such a situation, readers can normally feel if not sympathy, than at least pity for Dolores who has totally messed up.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Wally Lamb, in his novel “She’s Come Undone” has managed to make readers view the book in absolutely different ways due to its main character. But what probably unites all readers is the sympathy they naturally feel in many parts of the novel, which may be not so obvious at fist lance, but easily found on deep reflections. Consequently, the author creates a very particular character, who despite all the problems she has faced in her life since her early childhood, remains quite sympathetic in the views of readers.
Beckerman, R. Wally Lamb. LA: McGraw Hill, 2003.
Lamb, Wally. She’s Come Undone. New York: New Publishers, 2002.
Lewis, L. Wally Lamb: Biography and Works. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Wolitzer, Hilma. “It’s a Miserable Life”. New York Times, Aug 23, 1992.
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