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Children use false emotional performance to attempt to please their parents, while a misreading
of emotions along with believing false emotional performance cause familial relationships to
deteriorate. Children perform in attempts to protect (or care for) their parents in attempts to
protect their families from dissolution. The way the emotions are read differs between the
characters, with Rosemary being acutely aware of body language and Lees paying attention
mainly to facial expressions.

How characters learn their emotions and performances

 Behaviors learned both inside the family vs. outside the family
o ‘James slid into his seat and the girl next to him asked, “What’s wrong with your
eyes?” It wasn’t until he heard the horror in the teacher’s voice – “Shirley
Byron!” – that he realized he was supposed to be embarrassed; the next time it
happened he had learned his lesson and turned red right away.’ (43)
 Later he flushes with happiness when he sees Lydia on the phone: similar
physical response but displaying different emotions – happiness as read by
Lydia vs. embarrassment as read by teacher and other students
o There has to be something about how the children develop this
 Mirror to James moment with Nath in pool?
o Monkey Girl sections
o Rosemary develops into silence – a performance of a lack of emotions caused by
family/monkey girl (Negative space of emotional performance)
o Rosemary as a child
 Rosemary learns in kindergarten: ‘How to read children’s face, which are
less guarded than grown-ups, though not as expressive as chimps’.’ (103)
o Father’s game with her and Fern
 ‘Our father passed his hand over his face. He used to play a game with
Fern and me where he did that. One pass down the face would reveal him
scowling. His hand back up would bring a smile. Down, scowl. Up, smile.
Down, Melpomene. Up, Thalia. Tragedy and comedy performed as facial
expressions.’ (89)
 This whole quote is about performing emotions and also how these
things are taught to children – this act shows Fern and Rosemary
what emotions look like but also how quickly/easily they can
How the families are structured – demonstrates the constraints within which each character
works (feeling rules)
o Family structure pushes children (mostly Lydia) in certain directions and she acts like
she enjoys in
 Marilyn’s disappearance a traumatic incidence that sets the groundwork for
the revised familial dynamic
 Lydia: ‘She [Lydia] would do everything her mother told her.
Everything her mother wanted.’ (137)
 Really summed up with Marilyn thinking about Lydia: ‘She would spend the
rest of her years guiding Lydia, sheltering her, the way you tended to a prize
rose: helping it grow, propping it with stakes, arching each stem toward
perfection.’ (147)
 Enforced through gifts
o Hannah becomes the ‘lost child’ and therefore takes on narrator’s role (however she
is not fully functioning as an objective third person narrator just is much more aware
than other characters – used as a narrative function?)
 Even before she is born, as Marilyn thinks about Lydia and helping her: ‘In
Marilyn’s belly, Hannah began to fidget and kick, but her mother could not
yet feel it.’ (147)
 Marilyn is already not attuned to Hannah’s feelings in utero because
she is so focused on Lydia
 ‘She [Hannah] had never dared sit so close to Nath before; he and Lydia and
their mother and father are too quick to shrug her off or shoo her away.’ (123)
o Lydia absorbing the pressure pushes the other kids toward silence – like Rosemary –
however for the Lees it is enforced because of the presence of another sibling, while
Rosemary is pushed to be silent because of the absence
o Family pushed Rosemary to be silent following Fern’s departure
 ‘Before, the more I talked the happier our parents seemed. After, they joined
the rest of the world in asking me to be quiet.’ (56)
 Rosemary reacts and changes her actions to her parent’s emotional
 Mother’s depression following Fern’s disappearance had a large impact on
Rosemary and Lowell
 “We [R+L] each carried that weight of Fern’s disappearance and our
mother’s collapse, and occasionally, for short periods, we carried it
together.’ (65)
 Rosemary and Lowell have each other, but the parents push them to
act in ways that they struggle with
o What about Lowell?
 Lowell chafes under these feeling rules and leaves
o Family works together to stifle certain contexts – it has become learned
 ‘It was a goddamn dance of avoidance conditioning.’ (19)
 With silence the children are not given space to present their emotions and instead stop
through silence or present false emotional performances
How emotions are read in the novels
o Marilyn reads James’ physicality to understand his emotions
 Marilyn: ‘He [James] was so happy, she thought; look at that little bounce
at the end of each step, look at how he tucked the blanket so carefully
around her feet.’ (145)
 Marilyn also has her physicality read in regards to emotions but this time
by a narrator (herself?)
 ‘She [Marilyn] smiled and thanked him for his time. It wasn’t a
true smile, and her dimples didn’t show.’ (27)
o Hannah is in an observational role – she allows readers a greater opportunity to
understand other character’s emotions
 Contrast to WAACBO – there is no character like this, we only get
Rosemary’s view which is often questions and outright stated as v
 Rosemary talking about music in the cafeteria at school: ‘but
honestly I don’t remember.’ (7)
 WAACBO often questions Rosemary’s memory and the story is
being told through her memories as a middle aged adult
o Most often facially
 ‘Confusion and pleasure and surprise mingle in Louisa’s face’ (216)
 ‘Lydia had looked more anxious than angry, the necklace dangling from
her fingers like a dead snake; she had sounded almost sad,’ (261)
 Louisa comment is mainly from a narrator’s perspective, while
Lydia comment is from Hannah – see how Hannah is similar to a
 ‘Then Jack’s face grew wary and pinched like it did with other people, like
it had been the first day they’d met. He grinned, but it looked more like a
grimace.’ (269)
 While Marilyn reads James’ physicality the majority of the characters use
facial displays to read emotions
o Rosemary reads physical markers of emotions in other – facial, body language,
 ‘It wasn’t the flashes of anger… His fury was my nostalgia. No, this was
something that looked less mad and more madness. It was subtle and
deniable; I could pretend not to see it, which is what I wanted very much
to do. But even after ten years empty of data, I knew Lowell. I knew his
body language as well as I once knew Fern’s.’ (226)
 Similar to Marilyn, but in a sense Marilyn is reading physicality relating to
actions – like tucking her in, which is a loving gesture already – while
Rosemary is reading body language less connected to specific actions
False performances of emotions and impacts (response to them)
o Lydia on the phone
 ‘At the sight of her [Lydia] on the phone, a lightness crossed his [James]
face, like clouds shifting after strong wind.’ (179)
 ‘Lydia, phone still pressed to her cheek, could hardly believe how easy it
had been to bring that bright flush of joy to her father.’ (179)
 Sees how easily she can please her father, she goes to great lengths to do
so – staying on the phone for hours.
 The reaction in James is the same
o James as a young professor
 ‘Only when they came together, in his tiny Cambridge apartment, did that
reserve drop, with a fierceness that made her catch her breath.’ (39)
 James changes his emotional performance due to the setting
o Rosemary’s mother talking about Dae-jung going to Berkeley. Parallels // James
 ‘My short-lived belief in our friendship was that intoxicating to her.’ (113)
o Rosemary focuses on silence – she wants to be isolated, to not have to
emotionally perform
 Rosemary’s silence is used here – it is not so much a false performance as
a lack of performance, silence creating a negative space of emotions
 ‘At dinner I adopted my usual strategy of saying nothing. …
Saying nothing was more amendable, and over time I’d see that it
was usually your best course of action.’ (126)
 Rosemary’s silence becomes a strategy like Solomon talking about
anger ‘becomes a continuous structure of one’s life’ (Solomon 17)
o The biggest parallel here is Lydia talking on the phone and
doing math/science work
 Rosemary self identifies as ‘an imposter’ (136)
 Stems from her goal of normality – seen through her freshman year
experiences where she erases her physical cues that are read as
abnormal (‘I’d finally erased all those little cues’ (132))
Misreading of emotions and impacts (response to them)
o Marilyn’s inability to understand Lydia contributed to her death and made
Marilyn largely unable to work out what happened to Lydia
 Marilyn: ‘Her Lydia, always smiling, always so eager to please?’ (119)
 Marilyn has bought into Lydia’s false emotions – her pleasure at
science, her popularity
o Rosemary does struggle with being isolated
 “Except now that I’d achieved it, normal suddenly didn’t sound so
desirable.’ (132)

Lost child: Beth Polson and Miller Newton, Not My Kid: A Family's Guide to Kids and Drugs,
Arbor Books / Kids of North Jersey Nurses, 1984,
 pp 86-90