Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: Important quotes with page
1. “Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing. ” (Prologue, Page 3) Greg is adamant from the very beginning to convince his readers that he has gleaned nothing from being friends with a girl who has cancer. We learn that Greg operates from a very specific set of rules, and once he befriends Rachel, those rules no longer apply. For Greg, that means life no longer makes sense.
2. “So there are a bunch of groups, all jockeying for control, and consequently all of them want to murder each other. And so the problem is that if you’re part of a group, everyone outside of that group wants to murder you. But here’s the thing. There’s a solution to that problem: Get access to every group. ” (Chapter 1, Page 8) Greg has found a way to battle the atrocities and potential landmines of high school life. Rather than identifying with one group and risking rejection of all other groups, Greg elects to stay neutral, thus allowing himself to float in and out of all groups. This method contributes to his ability to remain invisible for most of his high school career.
3. “Mom was asking me to resume a friendship that had no honest foundation and ended on screamingly awkward terms. How do you do that? You can’t. ” (Chapter 6, Page 44) Although Greg has much to learn about himself and how to maintain a friendship, here he shows surprising awareness of why a friendship with Rachel would be particularly difficult. His initial relationship with Rachel in Hebrew school was founded on a lie because he was only using Rachel to get to her more attractive best friend.
And instead of being direct with Rachel about wanting to end their relationship, Greg comes up with story after story as to why he cannot hang out with her. Eventually, Rachel tires of Greg’s excuses and moves on. When Greg rekindles a friendship with Rachel at his mother’s request, Rachel is at first hesitant until Greg offers up another lie. He tells her that he was in love with her in Hebrew school but thought she loved another, which is why he behaved so strangely. So, even though Greg shows some self-awareness, it is not enough to make him behave differently when establishing a friendship with Rachel.
4. “What you’re seeing here is just part of a larger pattern of Mom-Greg Life Interference. She was without a doubt the single biggest obstacle between me and the social life that I was trying to describe before: a social life without friends, enemies, or awkwardness. ” (Chapter 6, Page 47) Greg wants desperately to live in neutrality, which is the only way he sees himself surviving high school. His mom acts as the catalyst for pushing Greg out of his comfort zone and into risky behavior, such as finding ameaningful connection with another person.
5. “Incidentally, you may have noticed that all of our names begin with GR and are not at all Jewish-sounding. One night Mom had a little too much wine at dinner and confided to us all that, before we were born, and after she realized her children would have Dad’s also-not-Jewish last name, she decided she wanted all of us to be ‘surprise Jews. ’ Meaning, Jews with sneaky Anglo-Saxon names. ” (Chapter 7, Page 50) This quick background on Greg’s family mirrors his difficulty with finding a place for himself at school. Because Greg chooses to not identify with one specific social group, he has trouble identifying who he is at all. Being Jewish but not sounding Jewish is one example of Greg’s struggle with identity.
6. “I’m smart in some ways – pretty good vocabulary, solid at math – but I am definitely the stupidest smart person there is. ” (Chapter 8, Page 56) Greg is what some might call “book smart” rather than “street smart. ” He makes good grades, could probably even write a decent essay, but when it comes to matters of social skills and interacting with other humans, Greg would most certainly earn an F.
7. “This was unexpected. It had never happened before. Rachel had made me laugh. I mean, what she said wasn’t that funny, but I just really wasn’t expecting it, which is why instead of a normal laugh I made a sound like harf. Anyway, that’s when I knew I was in. ” (Chapter 8, Page 57) This is the first time we see Greg caught off-guard in a positive way. Rachel’s ability to make him laugh causes Greg to pause and reflect on how he feels, something he vehemently avoids in other situations up until this point.
8. “One of my few effective conversational tactics is to throw previous versions of myself under the bus. Twelve-year-old Greg was a jerk to you, you say? He was a jerk to everyone. And he had like thirty stuffed animals in his room! What a loser.” (Chapter 8, Pages 57-8)
Self-deprecation is another form of survival for Greg. He treats himself poorly before others have the chance to do so, which neutralizes potentially-damaging social interactions because Greg turns himself into the butt of the joke. It is a self-preservation tactic that keeps true personal connections at arm’s length.
9. “And, of course, she had cancer. What if she wanted to talk about death? That would be a disaster, right? Because I had somewhat extreme beliefs about death: There’s no afterlife, and nothing happens after you die, and it’s just the end of your consciousness forever. ” (Chapter 10, Page 68) Greg’s anxiety about his conversation with Rachel causes him to think about the worst possible scenarios. In a way, it makes him feel in control. If he can think of the worst possibilities and prepare a response, then he will never be surprised by any given circumstance. And if he is never surprised, he will never feel vulnerable, which makes Greg feel safe.
10. “Earl and I come from very different worlds, obviously. And it’s definitely insane that we even became friends in the first place. In some ways our friendship makes no sense at all. […] Some observers would conclude that our friendship is a triumph of Pittsburgh’s publicschool system, but I would tell you that instead it’s a testament to the power of video games. ” (Chapter 11, Page 77) On a surface level, Greg and Earl are complete opposites. But internally, they are both angry outcasts who have learned to deal with the world by disconnecting from it – through video games, through movies, and through not talking to anyone other than each other.
11. “By getting me to talk so much, Rachel was eventually going to get me to divulge sensitive information that would ultimately lead to my downfall. ” (Chapter 12, Page 90) Rachel does exactly what Greg fears most: she surprises him. She creates a situation that Greg could not imagine and therefore has not planned for. She makes him comfortable. And that comfort provides an opportunity for Greg to feel vulnerable, which leads him ever closer toward emotional maturity.
12. “She was eyeing Earl warily. I had the queasy feeling that she was mistrustful of him because he was black, although I also felt terrible for thinking that, because that would be accusing a girl of racism who is about to lose all her hair, and then probably die. ” (Chapter 18, Page 145)
When Rachel and Earl first meet, Greg’s anxiety forces him to admit concern about them accepting one another. But again, he only defines them by their shallowest features: their physical features. What Greg doesn’t understand until much later is that Rachel and Earl can be open with one another because they understand each other on a much deeper level: they recognize each other’s emotions, something Greg isn’t able to do at this point.
13. “I think mainly it confirmed my suspicion that if you’ve made a film, you can’t watch it with anyone you know, because their opinions are going to be biased and worthless. I mean, it was nice to make something that cracked someone else up. But would Rachel have thought the film was hilarious if Earl and I were total strangers? Doubtful. ” (Chapter 20, Page 155)
Greg’s films represent his innermost thoughts and feelings. They are the physical manifestations of his most vulnerable wants and desires: to be good and to be liked. He never wants to show his films to anyone in case they don’t like them. He sees it as better to be anonymous than risk being disliked. With Rachel, Greg is somewhat forced into showing them to her, and even when she responds favorably to them, he still doesn’t trust her response. He is so wrapped up in controlling other people’s reactions to him that he can’t even accept that his friend enjoys his films.
14. “Basically I was thinking, thank God for Earl. Because I don’t really have a moral compass and I need to rely on him for guidance, or else I might accidentally become like a hermit or a terrorist or something. ” (Chapter 21, Page 160) Greg’s reflections about the relationships in his life begin to deepen slightly. He can acknowledge that Earl’s life experience is greater than his own and he, therefore, looks to Earl for examples on how to behave in difficult situations.
15. “I was still freaking out – I was thinking, Madison knows that me and Earl make films, she’ll inevitably tell someone about it, and soon it’ll be this big weird secret thing that everyone knows – but it was also somehow be comforting to have further proof that Rachel understood how I felt about the film. ” (Chapter 22, Page 172) When Madison visits Rachel in the hospital, she catches her watching one of Greg and Earl’s films. Rachel immediately turns it off and tells Madison that she has sworn to never share any of their films because of Greg’s extreme commitment to his privacy.
If this had happened earlier in the book, his anxiety would have consumed him, leaving him unable to see any other outcome outside of social suicide. But because he has started to open up to Rachel and trust her with his films, Greg quickly shifts from panic to acknowledgment that someone out there understands him.
16. “Nothing is stupider and more ineffective than Excessive Modesty Mode. It is a mode in which you show that you’re modest by arguing with someone who is trying to compliment you. Essentially, you are going out of your way to try to convince someone that you’re a jerk. ” (Chapter 22, Page 173)
Greg is equally inept at accepting favorable criticism as he is negative feedback. He fears both and has constructed responses to both to maintain his neutrality. Here, we see the beginnings of Greg understanding how these calculated responses might not serve him well. This is another sign that Greg is emotionally maturing and moving out of the neutral zone.
17. “Then it was the end of visiting hours, and a nurse came in and told me I had to go, and if we’re being honest, I sort of regretted that, just because I felt like I had done a mediocre job of cheering Rachel up and wanted to keep going for a bit. But if this makes me seem like a good person, it shouldn’t. The reason was that cheering Rachel up was one of the things I had gotten really good at, and when you’re good at something, you want to do it all the time, because it makes you feel good. So if I wanted to hang out with Rachel, it was mostly for selfish reasons. ” (Chapter 23, Page 180) This way of thinking aligns closely with Excessive Modesty Mode. Greg is doing something good and feeling good about it. To want to feel good makes him feel guilty.
He hasn’t yet learned that feeling good by doing good is a natural byproduct of human behavior and nothing at all about which to feel guilty. It shows that even though he’s made strides in his self-awareness and emotional maturity, Greg still has a lot of growing up to do.
18. “…[H]onestly, I didn’t want to keep visiting her. It was stressful enough when she was in a good mood. Now that she was super-sick and pissed off all the time, it really stressed me out…But I knew I would feel even worse if I didn’t visit her. ” (Chapter 24, Page 193)
This is an example of a classic “stuck between a rock and a hard place” situation. Greg feels stressed no matter what he does, and that reveals that he simply hasn’t matured enough or had enough time away from the situation to reflect. He still needs too much control over an experience to feel comfortable experiencing it. Since he doesn’t know himself all that well and doesn’t have an expansive emotional toolkit to deal with hardship, Greg lives in a constant state of panic and anxiety, a breeding ground for stress as the first response to any event.
19. “I know it sounds idiotic, but sitting next to her, I suddenly saw the films the way I think she was seeing them – as this uncritical fan who actuallylikes all the stupid choices that we were making. ” (Chapter 25, Page 197) Greg’s ability to see the world from Rachel’s perspective is a huge stride toward emotional maturity. And that Greg sees his films in a new way means he sees himself in a new way, too.
20. “It’s not like I was sitting in a room, with tears running down my face clutching one of Rachel’s bedroom pillows and listening to harp music all the time. I wasn’t wandering any dewy meadows, ruefully meditating on the Happiness We Could Have Had…So I wasn’t sad. I was just exhausted. ” (Chapter 26, Pages 205-6) Greg’s definition of what it is to be sad is overly dramatic and expressive. He doesn’t understand that feeling sad looks different for everybody. It isn’t always openly crying; it can look like exhaustion as well.
21. “I had to agree with Earl: We couldn’t just do any film. There had to be at least some kind of connection to Rachel’s life. But what connection could that be? ” (Chapter 28, Page 219)
Another marker in Greg’s emotional growth is that he recognizes the need to connect their film’s story to something that is important to Rachel. This means Greg is going to have to rely on what he knows about Rachel, which requires empathy, something Greg has resisted for the duration of this story so far. He doesn’t want to feel his own feelings, let alone someone else’s, but he’ll have to in order to make a film for Rachel.
22. “This was possibly the death blow to the invisibility I had been cultivating throughout high school, and then gradually losing since becoming friends with Rachel. ” (Chapter 29, Pages 221-2) Greg’s connection to Rachel slowly unravels the anonymity Greg has created for himself to feel safe. He feels wobbly and unbalanced as he moves about the world connected to someone. He’s unsure how to perform in a world in which he is fully visible and fully at risk of being rejected or unlikeable.
23. “In essence, we were trying to put together a biography of a girl who hadn’t lived very long and hadn’t reallyhad that interesting of a life…And then taken as a whole, the documentary-of-Rachel’s-life idea was reallypainful, because we never came out and said it, but basically the message was: Now that your life is over, we can summarize it. ” (Chapter 30, Page 231) As Greg reflects on the film he’s making for Rachel, he starts to realize how she might receive his film, and worries it won’t be able to convey what he’s really trying to say. But until he is clear on what he wants to say to Rachel neither will the intent of his film be clear. He is beginning to grapple with the truth that Rachel is, in fact, going to die.
24. “…I hadn’t understood until I was sitting there actually watching her physicallydie, when it was too late to say or do anything. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to understand it even a little bit. This was a human being, dying. This was the only time there was going to be someone with those eyes and those ears and that way of breathing through her mouth and that way of building up right before a monster laugh with her eyebrows all raised and her nostrils flaring a little bit, this was the only time there was ever going to be that person, living in the world, and now that was almost over, and I couldn’t deal with it. ” (Chapter 39, Page 277)
Being able to think of the specifics of Rachel’s personality and behavior without framing it in context to how it affects him is a monumental shift for Greg. It is a level of selflessness he has not previously attained until Rachel’s death is imminent, and it is a necessary aspect of experiencing true friendship.
25. “Rachel the Film is not at all about Rachel. It’s about how little we know about Rachel. We were so ridiculously arrogant to try to make a film about her. ” (Chapter 39, Page 277) Only in retrospect is Greg able to see his failings when it comes to his relationship with Rachel. And, even then, he sees it only in the film representation of her. For so long, his films have defined him, but making Rachel’s film reveals to Greg that a movie can never really define a person, especially if you don’t take the time to get to know the person on a more intimately emotional level. To know someone and be known by someone, you must take that risk. Even if you fail miserably.