Study Guide

The Danish Girl Memory and the Past

By David Ebershoff

Memory and the Past

Part 1, Chapter 1

Something began to run through Einar's head, and it made him think of a fox chasing a fieldmouse: the thin red nose of the fox digging for the mouse through the folds of a pulse field. (1.32)

This is a nice vivid image of nature describing Einar's thoughts. But what's a pulse field? It's a field of beans which makes the metaphor even richer. Each memory is like a little bean.

Part 2, Chapter 13

She had given them to Greta, who hated amber, who gave them to Einar; and Einar—he recalled—gave them to a little girl named Lili. (13.18)

This is a subtle example of Einar's compartmentalization and disassociation. In his memories, it's like he is looking at himself in the third person, instead of through his own eyes.

Chapter 17

"Most of the time I just think her thoughts," he said. (17.51)

It is interesting that Lili and Einar have different thoughts even though they are the same person. What makes Lili's thoughts different than Einar's thoughts?

"Do you think of Einar when you are Lili?" Dr. McBride asked.

"Not at all."

"But you think of Lili when you are Einar?"

"Yes." (17.47-17.50)

Exploring this duality more, why is Einar's memory like a one-way street? Once he goes down Lili Avenue, he can't go back.

Chapter 20

Einar had been an artist, and she wondered if that feeling, the tight flutter just beneath the ribs, was what he experienced as the slick tip of his brush moved into the rough blank expanse of a new canvas. (20.115)

Again, we see Lili looking back at Einar's memories as if they belonged to a different person. Shouldn't Lili know how Einar felt at that time—you know, since she was Einar then?

Chapter 21

She thought of them all: Greta and Hans and then Carlisle, whose flat, persistent voice was good at sorting things out; she thought of frightened Einar, lost in his baggy suit, separated from the rest of them, somehow away—permanently away. (21.120)

Here we see the final result of Lili cutting Einar off for so long: He's separate and lost, even in his—now her own—memory. Einar isn't invited to the Lili party.

Part 4, Chapter 24

Of course they could no longer live as man and wife, now that they were both women and Einar lay in memory's coffin. (24.8)

"Memory's coffin" is a rich turn of phrase. Now Greta seems to be doing the same thing Lili does: locking her memories of Einar away in a little box, not to be forgotten, but to be buried.

Chapter 27

"I just can't take them with me," and she shuddered, for suddenly it felt as if everything around her belonged to someone else. (27.127)

This is one of the consequences of severing Einar's memories from her own: Lili is like a newborn now, without many memories. Not only is her stuff someone else's, so are her memories.

Greta would mention Lili to a friend, even to Anna, and Einar's face would pinch up, as if he had no idea who Lili was. (2.76)

Einar compartmentalizes his identity as Lili in his mind like a person might organize his or her closet: Dresses in one compartment, pants in another. Why does his mind work this way?

It didn't bother Lili, what she remembered and what she didn't. She knew that most of her life, her previous life, was like a book she had read as a small child: it was both familiar and forgotten. (25.6)

Lili is still like a small child in a way, a child who thinks she has been reincarnated from a past life and still retains memories of it.