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Privilege And Racism In E Lockhart’s We Were Liars

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To look closely at We Were Liars is to acknowledge the fact that the ‘reveal’ at the end of it somewhat dismisses the studies Lockhart does into other themes. As other reviewers have stated, and I agree, most of the themes are of no consequence. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

It’s the case that whilst the various themes, for example (white) privilege and racism, seem to and do lose their importance at the end of the book, where before their progress had been steady, Lockhart uses them to set the stage. She uses themes as a catalyst rather than as complete threads so that once you reach the end it may seem as though she’s dispatched them; what the reader has to do is shimmy their thoughts around and consider what privilege and prejudice lead to. It’s harder than it sounds.

Race is what shakes things up, what causes the perfection to start breaking down. Whilst holidays were taken by a group of people, all one colour and ethnicity, everything continued as it always had; it’s the arrival of two people of a different ethnicity, in this case Indian, that causes the first tremor. These people, Gat and his uncle, could have been any colour – what matters is that they are not white Americans. (They are quite likely not as wealthy, either.) Lockhart uses this episode to show the general prejudice of the family.

And we can indeed liken Gat’s arrival to a small tremor. The arrival is the start of a quake, the burning house the quake itself, a rupture. Most obviously we see the dislike of the adults for him, in particular granddad who says Gat will ‘hurt his head’ if he’s not careful. We see the disconnect between the family and their staff as Gat mentions those who look after the island to Cadence, who doesn’t even know their names. We can assume some of the staff are white but here we’ve race and class – Lockhart focuses on two who, from their names, we suppose are Mexican, placing privilege and race together.

Lockhart looks to classical literature to aid her work, inserting the idea of Heathcliff into Gat’s narrative. Not only does this give the average reader (most people know the basics of Wuthering Heights and if not can look it up) a lot of information about people’s views of Gat just in that one name, it also brings into the book all the discussions that have we have about racism in Brontë’s book, resulting in a broader picture and study in just a word. Lockhart’s general look at racism, plus the name ‘Heathcliff’ says a great deal more than the general look on its own. And whilst Gat is Indian and Heathcliff considered by us to be a gypsy, the references match well enough otherwise. Gat is the interloper, the child on a rich estate who appears to be gaining the love of the heiress.

There is the symbolism of Gat the mouse:

If you want to live where people are not afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.

The mouse doesn’t fit the human family and so he must leave, wants to leave. Gat doesn’t leave but his thoughts differ from the family and certainly they wish he would go.

It’s Gat who gets the teens thinking about the overbearing rules and the ‘be normal at all times’ factor of their life. Here he is, Heathcliff rebelling, as predicted by granddad; only unlike Heathcliff, Gat isn’t the only one and his statements are for the good. He does indeed mess up the family but in a good way – he forces them to consider reality where they push it behind them.

Cadence and Gat’s fledgling relationship is where the ‘whites only’ really rears its head. Because it’s not that they’re too young or unsuited and it’s not to do with money, it’s all down to colour. It’s every story where race is an issue for the society an interracial couple lives in.

Have you read We Were Liars? What did you think of the themes?


Laurie C

November 13, 2015, 12:18 pm

I listened to We Were Liars in the audiobook edition quite a while ago now, but definitely agree that it does seem as though the exploration of these themes gets overwhelmed by the way the book ends.

Tracy Terry

November 13, 2015, 5:44 pm

Not a book … or author for that matter … that springs to mind but thank you for such a thought provoking post.



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