Study Guide

Dolores Price in She's Come Undone

By Wally Lamb

Dolores Price

The Price of Pain

Dolores Price's life is the epic-est of epic Lifetime movies. (Seriously, Lifetime—y'all should get on it.) Born in 1952 (1.2), our leading lady becomes addicted to food and television, but what she really craves is attention. Her dad leaves her; her mom dies; she's raped; her Grandma dies; her first husband convinces her to get an abortion, then he cheats on her.

No wonder she's desperate for love, right? With all that on her plate (metaphorically speaking), anyone would come undone like Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall. But Dolores, who doesn't even need all the king's horses and all the king's men (just about seven years of psychotherapy), manages to put herself back together. You go, girl.

While Dolores too readily places the blame for the state of her life onto other people (except when she actually should blame someone else, like with her rapist), her mother does bear a huge part of the blame here. After all, she named her Dolores, which means "Our Lady of Sorrow" (5.38), so she pretty much set her kid up for a lifetime of misery.

Vandal Scandal

Despite going through so much pain, Dolores can be hard to like. She's so desperate for attention that she lashes out for it, many times in destructive ways. We see her vandalize things, like when she "scribble[s] on all the faces in the expensive storybooks" (1.39) at Mrs. Masciotte's house, or burns hotel bedspreads with cigarettes on Cape Cod. At one point, she kills Dottie's fish on purpose, which makes us worry she's on the path toward becoming a serial killer.

She realizes how destructive she is, though, saying, "I killed off whatever people loved" (16.26). However, she remains out of control and doesn't do anything about it for years.

She isn't just destructive, either—Dolores is outright mean to people, too, calling her mom "Pretty, I guess. […] Pretty ugly" (2.200, 2.202), and being mean to everyone at school. Honestly, it's no surprise she doesn't have any friends. We wouldn't want to hang out with her either.

She waffles between phases of swearing like a sailor (maybe one searching for a big ol' whale) with periods of not swearing and being shocked by swearing. She hates when people use the f-word (not fat, the four-letter one)… except when she's going through phases of using it herself. "'Foul language is part of your armor of defense,' Dr. Shaw was always fond of pointing out" (21.151). Conversely, we suppose being appalled by other people's usage of it is, too—both work as ways to keep space between herself and other people.

Finally, Dolores starts vandalizing herself. She burns herself with her hair iron, says things like, "they'll find me in a pool of blood" (3.84), and eats an entire side of raw beef instead of going to her high-school graduation. The more she cries for help, the more people seem to not listen, and the desperation grows inside of her. So as much as Dolores contributes to her own misery, the people around her also completely fail to intervene time and again.

Super-Size Her

Desperation isn't the only thing growing for Dolores—her waistline expands faster than China's population. "Mine is a story of craving" (1.89), she says at the end of Chapter 1, and she's not kidding.

Her addiction to food starts after she's raped by Jack Speight as a teenager. Her mom doesn't take her to get counseling or even call the police; instead she buys Dolores junk food, basically telling Dolores through her actions to shut up and deal with her pain. So Dolores just holes up in front of the TV and stuffs her face, trying to fill the gaping hole inside herself with Cheetos and chocolate.

She's not happy spending her time this way, and she's not happy being fat. As her body expands, then, so does her unhappiness. This is only compounded by the fact that Dolores hides behind her fat like a shield. "It wasn't me. It was the fat girl" (9.76), she says as an excuse after she tells her dad to "go f*** yourself" (9.75). But Dolores isn't a nice thin girl trapped inside a mean big girl's body—this is her. She's mean before she gains weight, but as her insecurity grows with her body, she comes to treat her size as a form of permission to be more cruel.

In other words, physically and emotionally, Dolores creates space between herself and those around her. And then, instead of trying to work on herself, she refuses to, at best treating her body as a sort of alter-ego and, at worst, just blaming whomever is closest.

Coming Un-Undone

Dolores spends four years as an inpatient at Gracewood Institute, a private mental hospital, where she loses most of her weight. There, she learns some valuable life skills from Dr. Shaw, which enable her to finally live on her own. We track Dolores's journey more under the character pages for Dr. Shaw and Dante, her first husband. Yes, we know Dolores would hate us to talk about anyone other than her, but that's just how it's going to be, so click on over.