Quote 1

But Lydia, defying genetics, somehow has her mother’s blue eyes, and they know this is one more reason she is their mother’s favorite. And their father’s, too.

This quote from Chapter One occurs after a description of a racist encounter during which a woman pulls her eyelids sideways to mock the Lees' Chinese heritage. While Nath and Hannah look like their Chinese father, Lydia has inherited her white mother’s blue eyes. This unique feature that makes Lydia stand out, which is what Marilyn wants. In James’ mind, having blue eyes makes Lydia more capable of blending in with white, middle-class America. Due to his race, James has been alienated and has felt like an outsider all his life, so he favors Lydia because her blue eyes give him hope that she will fit in, unlike him. James projects his desire to be socially accepted onto Lydia, which conflicts with Marilyn’s desires for her to be exceptional.

Quote 2

Coming to her made him feel perfectly welcomed, perfectly at home, as he had never in his life felt before.

This quote touches on one of the novel’s key themes: the impact of isolation. Despite being born in America, James has always felt like an outcast. He sees Marilyn as the embodiment of the American identity, giving her immense appeal as a partner. James wants to blend in with white, middle-class America, and with Marilyn at his side, he feels a sense of belonging he hasn’t experienced before. He strives to be “normal” in a world that constantly reminds him of his differences, which leads him to pursue a relationship based on superficiality.

Quote 3

This time Nath, immersed in a library book, did not notice Lydia’s clenched fingers, the sudden red that rimmed her eyes. Dreaming of his future, he no longer heard all the things she did not say.

This passage in Chapter Seven illustrates a common perception among the characters: instead of a place of comfort, home is seen as restrictive and oppressive. Nath is desperate to leave home, where he feels ignored and unloved. Lydia realizes that with Nath’s acceptance at Harvard, she’ll remain trapped with her parents, with no respite from their smothering. While Nath was once attentive to her needs, he’s now focused on his own hopes and dreams, and has little time or energy to notice her wordless horror at his words. They both feel suffocated by their environment, and the prospect of Nath’s departure, and the end of his constant support, leaves Lydia bereft.