Everything I Never Told You: Analysis of Symbolism

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1337 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Words: 1337|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Water Symbolism in "Everything I Never Told You"
  3. Conclusion


Water, with its myriad forms and dynamic nature, holds immense power within our world. It possesses the capability to nurture life or to extinguish it, serving as the bedrock of our planet and an essential element in human existence. Among the natural wonders of our world, water, encompassing vast oceans, winding rivers, and tranquil lakes, while also descending from the skies as precipitation, stands out as enigmatic, unpredictable, and paradoxical. Thus, it's unsurprising that this seemingly simple substance is laden with symbolism, both in reality and in the realms of literature. Water symbolism embodies two contrasting images: one portraying water as a vital force for life, renewing and cleansing both physically and spiritually, while the other highlights its perilous potential, capable of engulfing life in its excesses and erasing all traces in moments of devastation.

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Water Symbolism in "Everything I Never Told You"

Celeste Ng's poignant novel, "Everything I Never Told You," delves into the complexities of human existence, weaving a narrative around a Chinese American family in the 1970s. Within this narrative, symbols of rain, lakes, and other water elements serve as poignant metaphors, illustrating themes of both death and rebirth, whether literal or metaphorical. The heart-wrenching tragedy of Lydia Lee's mysterious drowning in a nearby lake serves as the pivotal event, shattering the facade of familial harmony and forcing the Lee family to confront their flaws and rebuild their lives anew. Ng masterfully employs water imagery, depicting it as both a restorative force and a destructive energy, offering profound insights into the cyclical nature of human existence.

Ng illustrates moments of positive transformation in her characters through water symbolism, signifying a renewal of spirit or a rebirth following internal conflicts. Lydia Lee's aversion to swimming symbolizes her stagnant state, her refusal to embrace growth or change. In literature, submersion in water often signifies baptism and the emergence of a new self. Conversely, when Nath finds himself submerged in the lake during a confrontation with Jack, his acceptance of his situation and his decision to let himself float to the surface symbolize a profound shift in his character. Freed from the shackles of anger and confusion, Nath emerges from the water with renewed conviction, determined to move forward and nurture his relationship with his youngest sister, Hannah.

Likewise, a pivotal moment occurs when Lydia's mother, Marilyn, revisits her childhood home to settle her recently deceased mother's affairs. Standing in the rain on her journey back, Marilyn undergoes a profound transformation, recognizing the need for change in her own life. Contemplating her mother's legacy of domesticity, Marilyn vows to break free from the constraints of traditional gender roles. Stripped bare by the rain, she sheds not only her clothes but also her old complacency, embracing a newfound sense of purpose and determination. This symbolic rebirth marks the beginning of Marilyn's quest for professional fulfillment in a male-dominated field, or alternatively, her aspiration for Lydia to fulfill this role. Ironically, Marilyn's fervent pursuit of her reborn identity inadvertently contributes to Lydia's tragic fate, leading her to confront the darker aspects of water symbolism.

Despite its potential for renewal, water can also inflict sudden and irreversible harm. Each literary drowning serves as a poignant metaphor, highlighting characters' inner turmoil and ultimate failure. Lydia, trapped in a web of familial expectations and self-doubt, realizes too late the suffocating weight of her fabricated identity. Consumed by fear and uncertainty, she succumbs to the depths of despair, finding solace only in the oblivion of the lake's embrace. In her final moments, Lydia confronts the consequences of her deception, plunging into the darkness of the water to escape the suffocating grip of her false existence.

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"Everything I Never Told You" masterfully explores the dual nature of water, epitomized by the tumultuous journey of the Lee family. As a cleansing force, water symbolizes transformation and redemption, yet its unforgiving depths also represent the harsh realities of life and loss. Through rich imagery and symbolism, Ng navigates the complex interplay between human frailty and resilience, illustrating how water serves as both a source of sustenance and destruction in the lives of her characters. In this fluid dance of existence, water emerges as a potent symbol of survival and change, reflecting the enduring complexities of the human experience.


  1. Foster, Thomas C. “If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism.” How to Read Literature like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines. New York: Quill, 2003. Print.
  2. Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. New York: Penguin, 2014. Print.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Everything I Never Told You: Analysis of Symbolism. (2018, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
“Everything I Never Told You: Analysis of Symbolism.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2018,
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