Study Guide

What I Saw and How I Lied Morality and Ethics

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Morality and Ethics

"I never thought about it before. But after you a fight a war, you figure the world is going to get a little more fair, don't you?" (16.23)

Now that she's growing older, Evie is starting to notice the bad things happening in the world around her. She can't turn a blind eye to the segregated water fountains; something inside of her tells her that it's all wrong.

Ugly. Once in the schoolyard Herbie Connell threw a rock and it hit me in the back. This felt like that, ugly hitting me in the back. (19.40)

Even though Evie doesn't fully understand why the hotel manager is kicking the Graysons out, she knows that it feels terrible. It may be policy to turn Jewish business away, but that doesn't mean that it's not ugly and wrong.

I sat there, thinking about a warehouse full of stuff. Like that missing wall, when you could see into a farmhouse, tables and chairs and an empty cup. And all that stuff belonged to families. […] And then suddenly, for some reason, I thought of Margie stepping on the back of Ruthie Kalman's shoe. (20.58-59)

Evie is starting to piece it all together. The stuff that Joe and Peter have stolen makes her feel uncomfortable in the same way that Margie's treatment of Ruthie Kalman does. It all comes back to this idea of right and wrong…

"The thing is," Peter said, "over there, it was easy. We didn't think too much about it, we just saw our chance and took it. But lately I'm thinking crazy stuff. I'm thinking, there's a curse on that money. Maybe somebody has to pay." (20.60)

Peter had no qualms about stealing the money when he was over in Europe, but now he's starting to feel bad about it—unlike Joe. He wants to do something or give it back, but Joe will never agree to that.

He kept his hand on the base of my spine. "Inside you, right here, along your backbone…," and he ran his finger down it again, making me shiver, "…you've got something. Like the needle of a compass. You know the right way to go." (20.75)

Evie has a kind of purity that lets her know what's wrong and what's right—without any other influences (greed, selfishness, prejudice) clouding her judgment. That's what draws Peter to her.

I'd wanted to learn what love was like, but this wasn't what I'd felt with Peter. It was cheap and stupid and stayed with you. It was animal and mineral, it was a bad taste and a terrible feeling. (23.41)

Getting sexual with Wally isn't like getting sexual with Peter at all. Evie realizes that she doesn't want to be loose with her morals with just anyone; she wants to do it out of love.

What did loyalty mean? Loyalty to the family, to the church, to the neighborhood, to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Why did loyalty stop there? Why didn't it keep on going? It didn't seem to take a spin around the whole world, that was for sure. (32.74)

So her parents think that they have to stick together and be loyal as a family now that they're under investigation. But where was that loyalty when Bev cheated on Joe and betrayed Evie's crush?

I'd answered every question, I'd thrown mud at a good boy's reputation, I'd lied, I'd been called a whore. But it was that one man's wave of contempt that finally made the tears come. (33.129)

Evie's willing to do anything for her parents—her reputation means nothing. But even so, when she sees Peter's father, the person who is most affected by his death, she feels the full weight of what she's done, and major guilt ensues.

"All the way back home, on the drive, I was thinking about penicillin," I said. […] "It was an accident. Out of this mess, this contamination, comes…"

"Deliverance," Mrs. Grayson murmured.

"Deliverance," I said. (35.90-92)

Even though Evie could easily leave the money where it is and allow Joe to buy them a big dream house, she knows that she has to set things right.

What did I owe Peter? I knew the answer now. Something bigger than the truth. A little bit of justice—not for him, but for people he didn't even know. (35.100)

In the end, Evie realizes that she doesn't just owe Peter justice—that's only a small part of it. She owes everyone who is touched by this whole debacle justice, and so she starts at the beginning, with the people whose money Joe and Peter stole. If she fixes things from the source, maybe everything else will fall into place.

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