Study Guide

This Is Where I Leave You Analysis

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Although the phrase "this is where I leave you" never appears directly in the text, it's an apt phrase for more than one of the novel's situations:

    • You could see it as Jen telling Judd that she's leaving him
    • You could even see it as Judd telling her the same thing. 
    • You could see it as Mort leaving the family and forcing them to manage their problems by themselves. 
    • You could even say that it's Tracy talking to Phillip, or Wade talking to Jen, or Wendy talking to Horry, or...

    The point is that This Is Where I Leave You is about people at crossroads in their lives. Each of these characters is faced with the loss—on some level—of someone close to them. Their challenge is to pick up the pieces and learn how to live on their own.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    With the shiva over, Judd is forced to face reality—a reality that's different than it was a week ago. He's learned a lot in just seven days, and there have been some major changes in his personal life. Jen, pregnant with Judd's daughter, is no longer in a relationship with Wade. Judd has rekindled his relationship with his high school flame, Penny.

    The novel closes with Judd in the front seat of Phillip's Porsche, mulling his options. There are three places he's thinking about heading: Jen's home, Penny's house, or Maine.

    Let's look at the what each of these choices means for Judd:

    • Jen - If Judd decides to go straight to Jen's home, it represents their reconciliation. In many ways, this would signal growing maturity within Judd. Even if they don't work out as a couple, a solid relationship with Jen would be good for their daughter.
    • Penny - Let's be honest—Judd probably won't end up with Penny. He thinks she's cute and he's fond of her or whatever, but he never seems to completely fall for her. In fact, because Penny is associated with young love, Judd's decision to return to Penny could be seen as a step backwards.
    • Maine - This is a reference to the opening chapters of the novel. After learning about Jen's affair, Judd sits alone in his car, trying to figure out what to do next. He imagines driving to Maine to "find a small seaside town, rent a little house, and start over" (3.85). For Judd, Maine represents a fresh start.

    Ultimately, Judd sets the GPS to Maine and decides to figure things out in the morning.

    Sure, you could say that he's just putting off his choice for another day—and you'd be right. On the other hand, you could also say that Judd's choice shows that he's learned to embrace his own lack of control. That doesn't mean that he's not going to end up with Jen. It just means that, if he does, it'll be for the right reasons.

  • Setting

    The Foxman Home: Past, Present, and Future

    This Is Where I Leave You centers on the Foxman family home, both literally and metaphorically. The family is confined to the home for seven whole days, forced to reckon with its father's death in the house he helped build. So it's not surprising that you can learn a lot about the Foxmans by looking at the way their home is described.

    Past

    The Foxman home was Mort's pride and joy. He had been an electrician before founding the Foxman sporting goods business, and working on the house connected him to his working-class roots.

    Given this, it makes sense that Mort "was obsessive about maintaining the house" (5.2). Judd describes how his dad spent his time "fishing lines through the walls, splicing and rewiring, creating a dense maze of circuitry" (11.2).

    There's just one problem: despite his extensive knowledge, the house's electricity still isn't exactly what you'd call up to code. Even to this day, it's unreliable, leaving his family a nice little reminder after his death—as they stand freezing in the shower.

    The shoddy but heartfelt electricity provides a fitting metaphor for the way that Mort raised his children—in his desire to do things on his own, he didn't provide his children the emotional connections they needed to grow up. (Nice try, tho.)

    Present

    The house changes dramatically during and after Mort's death. Hillary was "consumed with Dad's slow death" and lets the house fall into a state of disrepair. Ironically, her distraction makes her forget to cancel the pool service, so the pool still "glistens with blue water" (5.2).

    Again, it's easy to see how this image—of a pristine pool in the midst of an unkempt yard—is a fitting metaphor for how the Foxmans repress their grief. Everything looks great from a certain angle, but shift your gaze just a few feet and there be dragons. Or weeds. Or something.

    Then, of course, there's the matter of the shiva, which further transforms the home from its original state. As Boner explains, all of the mirrors are covered so that the family can't focus on their physical appearance. Likewise, their living room is practically turned into a community center, with well-wishers coming in and out while the family sits in the low-set shiva chairs. If they weren't already forced to face Mort's death before, this ritualized setup makes it unavoidable.

    Future

    All of these factors come together to help the Foxmans reckon with Mort's death. They can't avoid their feelings (even if they'd like to) because their father's absence is around everywhere they look. The family has to learn to function without its dad and husband—and whether for better or worse, things are definitely going to change.

    Maybe they can start by hiring an electrician.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Tree Line (5)

    Put away those oxygen tanks, Shmoopers: Tropper uses easy-to-understand language that's going to keep you safely under the shade at tree line. Plus, he writes about family relationships—and we're all experts at that, right? Still, about those relationships: there are plenty of characters and relationships to keep track of, so keep a pencil handy to trace the Foxman family tree.

  • Sir Judd the Unreliable

    Oh good, it's you Judd. We're glad you came by—we have a few things we wanted to talk to you about.

    So we read your book, Judd. It's really good! You should really try your hand at stand-up-comedy! There's just one little thing: you're a bit of an unreliable narrator.

    Come on, Judd, don't storm off—let us explain. There's this concept in literature called the "unreliable narrator." Typically, an unreliable narrator is both telling the story and involved as a character. Sound familiar?

    As you might imagine, this double duty causes the narrator to skew the events of the novel a bit. Oh, nothing malicious—it's just that all of us view situations differently based on how they affect us.

    Let's give you a few examples. Your interactions with Jen paint her in a harshly negative light. And yes, we know that she cheated on you, but wouldn't you say that such a huge, life-changing event might cloud your judgment?

    Or think about how you bemoan the worldwide shortage of "happy, well-adjusted women" (43.92). Would anybody in the known universe describe you, Judd, as happy and well-adjusted?

    Again, Judd, we want you to know that we're not criticizing you for it. In fact, that's why we love your book so much! It's impossible to separate the events that are happening from the way that you're telling them—and we wouldn't have it any other way.

    All we're asking is that you understand where we're coming from. Just don't be mad at us—we know how you Foxman boys like to settle your disputes.

  • Dreams

    Judd has four dreams during the course of the novel, each of which deals with his predicament in its own special way. In fact, these dreams even have their own set of symbols to help us better understand Judd's midlife crisis.

    Let's take a look at these dreams in more detail:

    The Dreams

    • Dream 1 - Judd's first dream has been recurring since he broke up with Jen. In the dream, he's running down Route 120 when he suddenly realizes that he's wearing a prosthetic leg. Interestingly, Judd ends up running down Route 120 in real life later in the novel.
    • Dream 2 - Judd's next dream is a lot weirder. At first, he's having sex with Jen, although he still only has one leg. Suddenly the identities start to shift, as they sometimes do in dreams. Jen changes into Penny, who changes into Chelsea, while Judd transforms into Wade. The dream ends when a Rottweiler appears and runs toward Judd.
    • Dream 3 -The tenor of Judd's dreams changes slightly after Saturday night. Now, he's sitting in the garage while his dad fixes something at the work bench. It's Judd's prosthetic leg. He reattaches it to Judd's knee and it transforms into a real leg. Judd's father smiles at him lovingly before then dream ends.
    • Dream 4 - Judd's final dream comes the night after he runs down Route 120. This time he's sitting shiva butt naked. Both Jen and Penny are there. Judd sees his father in the back of the room, looking like he did when he was "much younger" and holding a baby (42.1). Judd tries to run to him, but he's not wearing his prosthesis and falls on his face. His dad leaves through the front door.

    The Interpretation

    Obviously, the key symbol here is Judd's amputated leg. At first, Judd feels like his other half (Jen) is missing like a phantom limb. However, something changes down the line and the symbol begins to shift. This change reflects Judd's realization that his father's death is weighing more heavily than he had previously thought.

    Judd doesn't feel like a man—that's why his father becomes a large presence in the dreams. You can see proof in the fact that only Mort is able to give Judd his "real leg again, hairless and pink, but whole and unharmed" (32.1). This indicates two things: that Judd will only find peace by reckoning with his father, and that he still has a chance at a fresh start.

    The final dream represents the torch getting passed to Judd. At that moment, he realizes that his dad didn't have all the answers. He didn't always know what he was doing. He didn't always make the right decision. But he always tried, no matter what inner turmoil he was going through. It's this example that inspires Judd to take responsibility for his life.