Our seventeen-year-old narrator lives in a society where the government controls everything about citizens' lives: where they go to school, what career they have, who they marry. We're surprised they don't have designated bathroom breaks.
As a result of growing up in this uber-restrictive world, Lena is afraid of anything that deviates from the norm. She mentions being scared, frightened, or afraid over sixty times during the course of the book. That averages out to about once every seven pages. Not that we're counting.
She's obsessed with safety, believing that "The definition of happiness is security" (11.23). Because this is what her government has taught her to believe. Freedom? Choice? Free will? Her deep-seated fears make Lena value none of these things. All she thinks she wants is security, at any expense to her freedoms.
The Girl Who Was Afraid is nowhere near as catchy as The Girl on Fire, is it? Katniss Everdeen would kick Lena from here to Tuesday with her eyes closed, both hands tied behind her back, and Spanx that were three sizes too small.
And even though Lena thinks she completely gets over her fear, she really doesn't. She tells us, "I seem to have only hazy memories of the girl I was before [meeting Alex]—the girl who always did what she was told" (16.42). Sorry Lena, but you're still the girl who does what you're told. Only now, you do what Alex tells you to do, instead of what the government tells you to do.
Beneath Lena's protective shell of fear lies not a creamy caramel center, but a girl who is giggly, selfish, and incredibly insecure. She often tells us, "I'm just a girl—an in-between girl, five-two, nothing special" (9.21). Just a girl, eh? Not quite. Independent and sassy, she sure isn't.
Lena sees herself as completely average and unremarkable. While we doubt Lena has seen Carrie (it's probably been banned), she sure acts like someone's going to drop a bucket of pig's blood on her at any second.
She does change during the course of the book, however. With the help of Alex and his love, the fear starts to flake away. His telling her that she's beautiful alleviates many of her insecurities. And the selfishness… well, that actually gets worse.
Lena steals from her uncle's grocery store, makes her co-workers cover shifts for her so she can make out with Alex, and eventually stops caring if any harm befalls her friend. She says about her BFF, Hana, "Maybe it's selfish, but at that moment I can't even feel sorry for her, or for the trouble I've caused" (26.18). There's no "maybe" about it, Lena. It's super selfish.
But still, baby steps, right? And after all, the controlling atmosphere Lena lives in doesn't exactly do her emotional maturity any favors.
In Lena's world, love is not only illegal, it's a disease with a government-concocted cure. They call it amor deliria nervosa. Because of the fear surrounding the illness, it sends Lena into a panic every time she thinks she might be in love. The slightest tug on her heartstrings sends her into a tailspin.
It doesn't help that her mother named her after Mary Magdalene, who, according to Lena's Bible, "was nearly killed from love" (7.1). Thanks, Mom. Talk about tempting fate.
Despite how freaked out she gets, Lena's never actually in danger of getting killed from love. Killing herself, yes. But her family thinks they're protecting her from the "disease" when they restrain her in the end. And, given that she's railing on about suicide, they actually are protecting her from herself.
But back to the name. If Lena is Mary Magdalene, does that mean that Alex is her Jesus? She does see him as a savior, and she would do anything for him. Also, Alex seems to die in the end of Delirium. Do you think he will rise in the sequel?
Because Lena's environment is super structured, she has a few control issues. She loses her cool when Hana tells her about the parties she's been attending, thinking, "Out of control—that's what [the party] was, that's what I hated" (9.55).
She also wishes her life was like a DVR. Every time something goes wrong—she thinks she's said the wrong thing to Alex, she's afraid she's scared Alex away, she thinks Alex only likes her as a joke (okay maybe we should revise this to "every time she imagines something goes wrong with her and Alex")—she wishes she could rewind time and have a do over.
And Lena changes her mind about everything. She flip-flops more than a one-dollar sandal sale at Old Navy. One page she wants the cure. The next page it's the worst thing ever. Then something bad will happen to her—Alex looks at her funny—and she'll think the cure is the best thing since resealable Oreo packaging.
Lena's ever-changing mind is clearly symptomatic of growing up in a dystopia. Dystopias always try to convince you they're actually utopias. That's how dystopias sell themselves to their people: Everything is perfect, and you should be too!
The problem is, Lena isn't perfect. No one is. But she has a huge complex about that thinking she should be perfect. This complex causes her to feel constantly under pressure to "do the right thing" (whatever that is), rock bottom self-esteem, and regret.
As we've said, though, she's still young. She lives to see the end of the book, at least—sorry, Alex—and has a whole sequel or two to continue to develop. Do you think her character will continue to grow? How much personal and emotional growth is possible for a character when that character lives in a strictly government-controlled world?