Eleanor & Park

by: Rainbow Rowell

Chapters 51–58

Eleanor

For the rest of the trip, she sits right next to Park. Her shirt is a mess, so Park gives her his T-shirt.

Summary: Chapter 54

Park

Eleanor tells Park not to wait for her or to come in with her.

Eleanor

Eleanor reassures herself that Uncle Geoff has invited her there.

Park

Park drives around the block and parks a few houses away from her uncle’s house.

Eleanor

Eleanor knows she has to say goodbye.

Park

Park tells Eleanor to call him and to write lots of letters.

Eleanor

Eleanor thinks that Park has saved her life.

Park

Eleanor and Park don’t know how to say goodbye to each other. Park keeps telling himself that he’ll see her again.

Eleanor

Every time Eleanor tries to pull away from Park, it hurts. Park mouths “I love you” to Eleanor, and they part.

Summary: Chapter 55

Park

Instead of taking the bus, Park now drives himself to school. He misses Eleanor terribly.

Eleanor

Eleanor’s uncle lets her stay with his family in Minnesota, and he makes her go to school for the last four weeks of the year. There isn’t much diversity there.

Park

Park keeps waiting for Eleanor to call him, but she doesn’t.

Eleanor

Eleanor is devastated when Park leaves. Eleanor writes her mom a letter, telling her everything and threatening to call the police.

Park

When Park walks by Eleanor’s old house, he notices that her mother and siblings aren’t living there anymore.

Eleanor

Eleanor thinks about dialing Park’s number, but doesn’t. When a new friend asks if she’s ever had a boyfriend, Eleanor says no, and says she’s never kissed anybody.

Park

Park keeps going back and looking at Eleanor’s old house.

Summary: Chapter 56

Eleanor

Eleanor doesn’t open Park’s packages and letters. She wants to write him, but can’t figure out what to say.

Park

Park has started smudging eyeliner over his whole eyes. Steve and Tina elope. Park keeps writing Eleanor letters, but instead of sending them to her, he keeps them in a box under his bed.

Summary: Chapter 57

Park

The story has caught up to the time period of the prologue. Park has stopped trying to bring Eleanor back, but he keeps going to her old house to look at it. Richie, who’s drunk, comes out and asks Park who he is. Park wants to kill Richie, but instead, he kicks the ground, and mud gets into Richie’s mouth.

Eleanor

Eleanor thinks about reading Park’s old letters, but doesn’t.

Summary: Chapter 58

Park

Park takes a girl named Cat to the prom. The next morning, he gets a postcard from Eleanor with three words on it.

Analysis

Like many young adult novels, the climax of Eleanor & Park features a character who runs away to begin a new stage of life. For example, in The Catcher in the Rye, which Eleanor gifts to Park, Holden Caulfield asserts his independence when he runs away to New York City. Park knows that Eleanor has to escape from Richie, because Richie has been physically and emotionally abusive to Eleanor for several years. Also, if Eleanor can escape from Richie, she hopes that she can give the rest of her family the courage to escape from him as well. Eleanor’s relationship with Park has helped give her the courage to believe that she is worthy of a better life.

Even though Park knows that driving Eleanor to Minnesota means that their relationship will come to an end, he also knows that Eleanor cannot continue to live with Richie, and so he does the noble thing and helps her to a better life. Park loves Eleanor so much that he is able to let her go. Park’s dad had been extremely angry at Park when Park began to wear eyeliner, because his dad wanted Park to demonstrate more traditionally masculine traits, and he had trouble understanding concepts of gender expression. However, Park’s dad finally respects Park as an adult when he sees how much Park cares about Eleanor and how much he wants to do the right thing. Throughout the book, driving the truck and knowing how to drive stick shift has been a symbol in the relationship between Park and his dad that represents the difference between being a boy and being a man. Park’s dad was frustrated by Park’s inability to drive stick shift, because Park’s dad equated driving a stick with being a real man. So when Park’s dad tells Park to take the truck to drive Eleanor to Minnesota, he is symbolically telling Park that now he considers Park to be a man. For the first time in the novel, Park finds himself able to drive the stick shift without trouble, showing that Park has grown up. In Eleanor’s hour of need, Park is able to step up to the plate and support her.

Throughout Eleanor & Park, Park says “I love you” several times to Eleanor, but Eleanor has never said these words back to him. Although Park never pressures Eleanor to say these words to him, the fact that she never says that she loves him is definitely noticeable in the dynamic of their relationship. When they’re together in person, Park and Eleanor don’t seem to experience this lopsided communication as a sign of lopsidedness in their relationship, since Eleanor can physically and emotionally demonstrate how much she cares for Park. However, once they separate, their communication becomes extremely fraught.

Park and Eleanor deal with the pain of separation very differently. Park wants to keep their communication as open as possible. At first, Park reaches out to Eleanor very frequently, sending her letters and mix tapes. He treats their separation as a temporary condition and tries to maintain the bond between them. But Eleanor finds herself unable to reach back out to Park. Eleanor deals with the anxiety of starting a new life and the pain of missing Park by shutting him completely out from her new life. Many people have deserted and betrayed Eleanor throughout her life, and so it is easier for her to insulate herself from emotional pain by pretending that her relationship with Park never existed. She even tells her new friends that she never had a boyfriend. On the one hand, Eleanor claims to herself that she thinks of Park as so much more than a boyfriend, so reducing him to this term feels false. However, Eleanor says that she has never kissed anybody, which is a lie. If she doesn’t mention Park in her new life, she can protect herself from a flood of emotions. Rather than allowing herself to be vulnerable to yet another rejection, Eleanor wants to protect herself from the outset.

The three words on Eleanor’s postcard to Park never appear in the book. But the last words that Park said to Eleanor were “I love you,” and she has been unable to say anything to him since he left. Most likely, the three words that she would feel like she needs to say to Park are “I love you,” since these are the words that she had not spoken to him throughout their relationship. The three words also suggest that Eleanor has finally healed enough to let Park back into her life. Whenever things went wrong with Park throughout the novel, Eleanor’s tendency had been to retreat and to isolate herself, since insulation and shutting down from the world was her primary mode of self-protection. Reaching out to Park is a major step for Eleanor, and it suggests that she is finally ready to live her life with confidence rather than in constant fear.