Lena and Alex sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. In any world, this rhyme is annoying enough to make you want to poke out your own eardrums. In the world of Delirium, however, it's more than irritating—it could very well be a death sentence. Lena lives in a world where the United States has outlawed love. They see it as the root of all evil. Suicide, greed, jealousy, crimes of passion, and so on are all caused by the complex concoctions of emotions we've boiled down into a simple four letter word: love. K-I-S-S-I-N-G? More like K-I-L-L-I-N-G.
The love cure has its benefits: reduced crime, population control. It's not such a bad thing after all.
The love cure infringes upon everyone's right to live their lives the way they want to—not only to choose a romantic partner, but to have feelings at all.
Fear is an emotion we've all experienced, and one we all want to get under control. Whether you spend your free time watching reality TV or listening to self-help videos from the 80s, you know that fear limits your ability to reach your true potential.
In Delirium, fear sure limits Lena. Maybe the government in this book would have made a productive society if they had outlawed fear instead of love. However, fear is how this government works.
It instills a fear of love, of companionship, of success into its people, which isolates them and makes them easier to control. It is only when she acknowledges her feeling of love—her relationship with Alex—and her ability to do things without falling over, that Lena finally starts to overcome her fear.
Lena is a product of her society, which teaches people to fear just about everything—from their own emotions to each other.
Lena is able to control her fear through her love with Alex. Keeping people apart is yet one more way the government keeps its people afraid.
If we told you the world was flat, you wouldn't believe us. Why not? It's not like you've circumnavigated the globe and witnessed the roundness of our planet for yourself. No, you learned this fact from people or institutions you trust: teachers, textbooks, the National Geographic Channel. But what if all of these things and people were working together to deceive you? In Delirium, the U.S. Government controls the news we see, the books we read, the shows we watch, even the music we listen to. And Lena has no reason not to believe in these sources. No wonder she finds it so easy to lie; she's lived in a world of lies her whole life.
Lena prides herself on being in control of her emotions, so anything that goes against her beliefs or makes her question them, she sees as a betrayal.
Lies are part of any dystopian society's secrets to success. For example, in Delirium, people are told that the Wilds are dangerous. If they were told the truth, no one would think the love cure was a good thing.
The DSM-V is the American Psychiatric Association's "bible," featuring a plethora of mental illnesses. Odds are you have at least one. We're not sure if the DSM-V exists in Delirium, but if it did, it would only be one page long. And that page would have on it: amor deliria nervosa (love). To the government in Lena's world, love is the cause of all our problems. Supposedly, it can be cured. But the brain, like love, is complicated, and the cure isn't foolproof. Plus, people have to wait until 18 to be cured anyway. So if love makes you crazy, well, everyone in Lena's world has been crazy at one point or another. At least all this madness makes Delirium a fun and interesting read.
Classifying love as a mental illness stigmatizes it, which makes people automatically more afraid of it.
People who are in love (or in lust) aren't mentally ill—they're normal humans. But the government tries to impose its own definition of normal by making these people feel like freaks.
There's a simple four-letter word for the impossibly complex combination of psychology and physiology that gets hearts racing, palms sweating, faces blushing, and more when two people are attracted to one another. Not love. Lust. It can be pretty difficult, if not impossible, to tell the two apart. In Delirium, Lena sure doesn't know the difference. In fact, the word "lust" isn't even used in the book. But the way Alex gets her motor revving before she even knows his last name tells us that it's not simply love that's driving everyone crazy: it's lust, too.
Lena doesn't seem to be able to differentiate between love and lust, probably because most teenagers (let alone adults) can't either.
Lena is more in lust with Alex than she is in love with him. She hasn't had any time to get to know him; what she's experiencing is simply physical attraction.
Utopian societies are supposed to be perfect. No crime. No difficult choices. Paradise, right? That's never how it works out. Utopian societies are always a dystopia to someone, and the someones in this case are the lower classes. Even if it weren't for the skyrocketing oil costs and rampant poverty, Lena would still have plenty to be dissatisfied about. Her whole life is decided for her, and so her life is completely devoid of surprises. All she has to look forward to is going to a boring school. Then having a boring job. Then having a boring husband. When Lena realizes that this complete lack of free will just isn't for her, she decides that something has to change.
The rules of Lena's society have basically taken satisfaction out of the equation. You do what the government tells you, and, well, they don't care if you like it or not. By being dissatisfied, Lena is questioning her society's rules without realizing she's doing so.
People won't try to change something if they're satisfied with it. Since satisfaction isn't a consideration for most people in Delirium, they blindly follow the government's rules.
If there's one good thing about some dystopian societies—and that's a big if—it's that the heavy lifting is done for you. Lena doesn't have to apply to colleges, go to job interviews, or even go on dates. Her education, career, and marriage are all decided for her in Delirium. This complete lack of free will is problematic for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that Lena ends up acting like a doormat. She feels like she can't do anything about what's happening to her because that's what she's been taught. In fact, she's so accustomed to doing what she's told, we wouldn't be surprised if she turned out to be a puppet. And a lame one, too, like Howdy Doody. Eventually, Lena's going to have to realize that if she wants to be happy, she must take charge of her own life.
Lena has been conditioned to do what she's told, so it's only natural that she lets people walk all over her.
Hana lives in the same city and goes to the same school as Lena, but she's a rebel—she seeks out boys and banned entertainment. So it's Lena's own nature that makes her passive, not her environment.
Some people go beyond looks when formulating a first impression. They try to understand what someone does and what they stand for. You know, their character. Lena is not one of those people. Not only is she a gullible teenage girl in America—a culture obsessed with looks—she's also a first-person narrator. And one of the most economical ways to describe people when they first appear on the page is by, you guessed it, their appearance. However, Lena goes a bit further than just objectively describing other characters. She often tells us whether she approves of their appearances or not. Even when it comes to herself, the answer is most often: not. This girl's a harsh critic. If shows like Fashion Police weren't banned in Lena's world, Joan Rivers would have a worthy successor in Lena.
Lena's so big on appearances because she's a teenage girl who, because of her totalitarian culture and/or her own predispositions, is really insecure. And she's never been around boys before, so of course they're a big deal for her.
Lena doesn't have much going for her in the way of character—she's selfish, she steals, she has no convictions, she changes her mind constantly—so evaluates people on something more superficial: their looks.
Betrayal comes in a variety of flavors, from mild—e.g., calling shotgun, and still being forced to sit in the back—to extra spicy—e.g., leaking government secrets and putting people in danger. Some people react to mild betrayals the same way they'd react to international treason: screaming, running, generally freaking the heck out. Lena is one of those people. To her, almost everything is a betrayal. At some point, she's betrayed by her best friend, her boyfriend, her mother, and her country. It all comes with the territory. By territory, we mean the totalitarian government that runs her society, and has been lying to its people for decades. It might as well be renamed the United States of Betrayal.
When you're born into a world of betrayal, you inevitably have chronic trust issues.
Lena is more betrayer than betrayed.