Study Guide

She's Come Undone Memories and the Past

By Wally Lamb

Memories and the Past

In one of my earliest memories, my mother and I are on the front porch […] watching two delivery men carry our brand-new television set up the steps. (1.1)

This memory is full of foreshadowing. Television will eventually become a defining force in Dolores's life.

I located my mother in the bottom row of the brown-tinted portraits of the Class of 1944. […] She looked more like an old-fashioned me than she did my mother. (3.83)

At this age, Dolores doesn't quite see the similarities between herself and her mother at her age, but she'll eventually start to crave more information about her family's past.

[Ma] was seventeen, standing on Grandma's front porch with her friend Geneva. (9.90)

Unlike Dolores's best friend, Geneva actually is a BFF. Even though she only really knew Dolores's mom when they were younger, she eventually returns to help Dolores out in the present. That's a true blue friend for you.

"I was just thinking," [Grandma] finally said. "about Bernice. About how she always loved a trip. She and Eddie both, but Bernice especially." (10.27)

Grandma probably wouldn't have gone on her trip if she didn't reminisce about how much her daughter loved them. The past empowers her here.

I imagined Dottie unkissing me. Me traveling backward up the interstate in that Greyhound bus… Ma jumping back to the safety of her tollbooth. Arthur Music's truck speeding away from us in reverse. (14.204)

Dolores starts trying to change the past through her memories, but dwelling on the past like that doesn't help her at all.

[Geneva] talked about Ma and Daddy's wedding, how my parents had been so crazy about each other, how Ma had prayed to get pregnant. She talked on and on. (16.248)

Learning this about her Ma helps us realize how similar she and Dolores are. Dolores was crazy about Dante, and she super wanted to get pregnant. Like her Ma, she is human and flawed.

"Whatever this has to do with my mother, I'd just as soon we keep her out of it," I said. "My mother was a saint!" (17.134)

Is Dolores reading the same book we are? Her mother may have been a decent person (especially considering all the other scumbags in this story), but she was hardly a saint. Dolores is rewriting the past here.

"I'll say one more thing, Dolores Elizabeth, and then, as far as I'm concerned, the subject is closed. I've buried a husband and two children—a nineteen-year-old son and a daughter who was only thirty-eight…" She paused, clearing her throat twice, and I suddenly realized she was crying. (21.93)

Going into the past isn't always a happy skip down memory freakin' lane. Grandma absolutely does not want to sit around and talk about the good ol' days, because they remind her of the bad ol' present.

"High school is like a sickness. Trust me, the fever breaks. Then you get over it." (21.169)

Dolores is trying to use her past to offer advice to a high school girl in the present, but this bit of unsolicited reassurance makes her just look like a crazy person in a public bathroom.

"Can I tell you something? You should try sitting closer to the rest of us. You miss a lot by sitting apart like that. It sets up barriers." (27.84)

Dolores has become little miss amateur psychologist again, using her past to correct the present… but she's doing it by offering advice to others. At least Thayer takes it a little better than the high school girl in the bathroom.