I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a book filled with themes but the two off the most prominent themes in the book are grief and identity. The loss of one character creates a lasting effect on every single character in the book. Her death affects the identities of many of the other characters in the story in different ways such as: no longer enjoying things they once loved, drastic personality change and leaving unfinished business behind.
Firstly, when a person is grieving the loss of a loved one, they often stop enjoying things that that once loved.
In the book both of the twins, Noah and Jude, experience this side of grief, making it a major part of their identities and of the novel. On Noah’s side this is shown when in the book in the hours following his mother’s sudden death he says “One by one, I empty each tube of paint into the laundry sink.
’ (Nelson, 337). Following the shocking death of his mother, the once prolific painter Noah empties all of his paints into the sink and from that moment on he decides he is no longer going to do art. This is a complete shift in identity for Noah because for the majority of the parts of the novel that we see Noah’s perspective, one off the only things he tends to think about is painting and art. He talks about how he is constantly painting in his mind and this is displayed in the little portraits that the titles in the middle of his storytelling which we get to see.
Art was a very family oriented thing for him and he mentions the trips to the art gallery that he, his mother and his sister would take often and likely after her death, art reminded him too much of the times that he and his mother had together when she was alive. The loss of art in his life forces Noah to reinvent himself. As for Jude, she too was a girl with many interests and hobbies such as jumping into the ocean from the cliffs near their house and surfing but following the death of her mother, her interests change drastically. The alteration of her interests is showcased perfectly in a quote from Noah that reads: “Jesus, Jude. How many diseases can you think you have in one night? And all those freaking obituaries you read – life from every county in California. (…) And maybe you could give that totally lame book a rest for a while, and, I don’t know, get out. Talk to someone besides our dead grandmother. Think about things besides dying.’ (Nelson, 145). Subsequent to the unexpected death of her mother, Jude drops all her interests and changes entirely to become someone who is obsessed with death and dead people. She spends her time reading obituaries and learning about countless rare diseases. Instead of surfing with her real friends, Jude talks to the ghost of her great-grandmother. The sudden obsession with deaths is Jude’s unique way off grieving the loss of her mom and this results in her losing the person she once was.
Secondly, Grief can cause a person to go through a drastic change in their personality. In the novel, Noah goes from a weird outcast to a normal popular kid after his mother’s death. This shift in personality can be witnessed through Jude’s point of view when she remarks on Noah’s new self “in addition to joining dangerous gangs and having parties, this Noah also goes out with girls, keeps his hair buzzed and tidy, hangs out at The Spot, watches sports with Dad.’ (Nelson, 145). When Noah’s character is introduced he has virtually no friends, is bullied, has long hair and doesn’t care about being weird but when his mother passes and he stops painting he is forced to reinvent himself and become the Noah that Jude talked about. He acts as if he wasn’t gay in order to fit in better with the popular crowd and he began to pull dangerous stunts that he would have never dared to even think off prior to his mother’s death. His grief shapes him into an unrecognizable person. On the other hand, in Jude’s case, she becomes the complete opposite of the new Noah. Jude sees her grandmother’s ghost and she becomes her only friend and she doesn’t care about her friends or boys anymore. Her disregard to boys, whom she was once crazy for is shown here: “To me, boys don’t smell like soap or shampoo or cut grass or sweat from soccer practice or suntan lotion or the ocean from hours spent in the green curl of a wave anymore, they smell like death’ (Nelson, 48). Jude goes from social butterfly to insane recluse after losing her mother. She clings to the only part of her dead mother and grandmother she has left, the Sweetwine Bible. She begins to follow all the superstitions and traditions that her Grandma wrote in the book as a way of keeping them alive. While Jude did enjoy hearing about the superstitions of The Sweetwine Bible before her mother’s death, it was diving into it completely that changed everything around her and lost her friends for her.
Finally, a grieving person often has unfinished business with the one that they lost. This leaves them full of unanswered questions which changes how they might think or act. Prior to her mother’s death, Jude and her mom are fighting often about everything from Jude’s clothing choices to who she’s hanging out with and their constant arguments were never fully resolved before her mother’s death. The lack of closure Jude had with her mom leads her to feel regret and she even begins to feel partially responsible for the death of her mother. In the book, Jude mentions the tattoo that she got mostly just to anger her mother but she got in the accident before she could ever see it. This leaves Jude upset and with issues unresolved as displayed when she says “How can people die when you’re in a fight with them? When you’re smack in the middle of hating them? When absolutely nothing between you has been worked out?’ (Nelson, 168). Without her mother being alive to clear up their issues, Jude is left to her own devices and comes to the conclusion that the things she and her mother fought about were part of the reason she died. When Jude comes up with this she gets rid of the things her mother didn’t like and becomes a different person. Jude begins to only dress in dark baggy clothing, cuts her once long hair short, wears no makeup and swears off of boys. The grief-stricken Jude convinces herself that this is how she should be. If her mother had not passed, the pair would’ve had the opportunity to make up but because of that sudden loss in her life, Jude’s grief takes over her mind. In the wake of their mother’s death, Noah blames Guillermo for breaking up their family and for his mother’s death and lies to him about his mother’s intentions before she died. Guillermo is led to believe that she was on her way to tell his father, Benjamin, to come back home when in reality she was on her way to talk to him about getting a divorce. You can feel Guillermo’s confusion an struggle through how Jude describes an artwork he had done. “No longer are the lovers entwined in each other’s arms. The male figure’s on his back now and it looks like the female figure’s wrenching herself out of him, climbing right out of his chest. It’s awful’ (Nelson, 157). Noah’s lies to Guillermo and Benjamin leads to both of them being confused and in pain following the death of his mother Diana. On Guillermo’s side, he was planning to propose to the woman he loved so deeply and to hear that prior to her death she was returning to another man instead of him while things were going so well for them. This causes him to be unable to properly grieve because he’s so hurt and confused but has no way to resolve these feelings because who he wants to ask is no longer alive. The pain Guillermo is in prompts him to stop teaching art to students and start to drink profusely whereas if he understood more about Diana’s passing he likely wouldn’t have been in the same amount of pain
I’ll Give You The Sun exceptionally describes the different ways that grief affects human beings. Whether It’s through lost interest things one once loved, drastic changes in personality or the havoc that unanswered questions can wreak on a person, Jandy Nelson showcases how grief can affect one’s identity perfectly.