Study Guide

The Danish Girl Identity

By David Ebershoff

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Part 1, Chapter 1
Greta Wegener

Just as Einar was about to beg them to leave the studio, to let him change out of the dress in peace, Greta said, her voice soft and careful and unfamiliar, "Why don't we call you Lili?" (1.67)

This is the "birth" of Lili, when Einar tries on Anna's dress. A lot of the credit for Lili's birth belongs to Greta because she names this aspect of Einar's identity. Without a name, his desire to become Lili may not have become as fully formed.

Chapter 2

When she was a little girl, she used to write over and over in her penmanship notebook, "Greta Greta Greta," deliberately leaving off the "Waud" as if to test what it would be like to be plain old Greta—something no one ever called her. (2.6)

Einar and Lili aren't (isn't?) the only character(s) with an identity crisis. Greta also wants to establish her own identity, independent of her family name. That's why she moves as far from California as possible. It's not quite changing genders, but it's still a long journey.

Chapter 3

A man confounded by a body that no longer worked for him. (3.1)

If you think this quote is about Einar and Lili, you're wrong—it's actually Einar thinking about his father, who is ill. But the same quote could apply to Einar as an adult. His gender confusion also places him in "a body that no longer work[s] for him."

Chapter 5

Not once before—and not even tonight with Henrik's hand sweating in his palm—did Einar ever consider himself abnormal, or off the mark. (5.68)

Perhaps describing Einar and Lili as an identity "crisis" is a poor choice of words. As we see here, at first, Einar is perfectly fine with who he is. His discomfort with his body grows as the book goes on.

Chapter 6

An hour later, when Einar emerged, it was as if Lili had never been there. Except for the scent of mint and milk, it was as if she didn't really exist at all. (6.21)

Lili is like Einar's superhero identity at first. Einar transforms into her like Clark Kent changes into Superman; in the blink of an eye, Lili is gone and Einar is back in her place.

Chapter 11

"Sometimes I feel a need to go find Lili." He'd come to think of it as a hunger. (11.35)

Continuing the superhero analogy, imagine if Bruce Wayne decided he was sick of being Bruce Wayne and just stayed Batman all the time. This is how Einar starts to feel when it comes to Lili. He wants to tilt the balance and be her the majority of the time.

Chapter 15

It was June, and a month had passed since Einar had decided, on the bench in the park, that his and Lili's lives would have to part. (15.2)

At the park in Paris Einar makes a crucial decision to completely do away with half his personality and move on only as Lili. He has to make this mental division first before he can go forward with the physical separation.

Part 3, Chapter 19

Einar sat back in his seat and watched his reflection in the window. As the evening moved in quickly, the reflection grew more shadowy and angled, so that by dusk he didn't recognized his face in the glass. Then the reflection disappeared, and outside lay nothing but the distant twinkle of a pork village, and Einar was sitting in the dark. (19.12)

This is wonderful imagery from the author, David Ebershoff, equating Einar's reflection with the identity of Einar. He is traveling to Dresden to undergo surgery and become Lili forever, so he—and us, the readers—slowly watch his reflection fade into darkness. Is that a bad sign?

Chapter 21
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe

"Elbe. Lili Elbe." (21.75)

Here is Lili's "Bond; James Bond" moment. It's also the moment when she becomes entirely Lili in her mind, marking the occasion by adding on a last name for the first time.

Chapter 27

Now she would go […] to prove to the world—no, not to the world but to herself—that indeed she was a woman, and that all her pervious life, the little man known as Einar, was simply nature's gravest mishap, corrected once and for all. (27.18)

This is a bittersweet quote near the end of the book. It's sad that Lili sees her past self as Einar as a mistake, but it's sweet that she realizes that she needs to prove to herself (instead of the world) that she is a woman. Who cares what the world thinks? Lili's identity is most important to herself.

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