If she wanted, she could make a big show of saying hello to Connell in school. See you this afternoon, she could say, in front of everyone. Undoubtedly it would put him in an awkward position, which is the kind of thing she usually seems to enjoy. But she has never done it.
These lines, narrated from Marianne’s perspective in the first chapter, highlight the secrecy that surrounds Marianne and Connell’s relationship. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house, and Connell’s trips to pick her up from work give Marianne and Connell opportunities to talk. Since Marianne is the least popular girl in school, Connell avoids talking to her in public. He is concerned that their association could hurt his social status. Marianne detests most of her classmates and doesn’t talk to them. Her willingness to pretend that she and Connell don’t speak indicates that she respects his position, but she must also acknowledge that Connell is embarrassed of her. These lines show that Marianne realizes she has power over Connell. Though she has spent most of her life feeling inconsequential, she is now in a unique position to affect the social status of the most popular boy in school. Her decision to remain quiet, however, will allow Marianne and Connell’s relationship to grow in secrecy.
She comes to sit down with him and he touches her cheek. He has a terrible sense all of a sudden that he could hit her face, very hard even, and she would just sit there and let him. The idea frightens him so badly that he pulls his chair back and stands up.
These lines, narrated from Connell’s perspective, occur in the April 2012 chapter after a conversation with Peggy in which she has asked Connell if he would like to have a threesome with her and Marianne. During this conversation, the intensity of Connell’s relationship with Marianne overwhelms him. He values their connection so much that he cannot imagine bringing another person into it. He is embarrassed by the thought and feels awkward. At the same time, he also worries about the power and influence he has over Marianne. She prioritizes him over her own well-being. Connell suddenly realizes that he could do anything to her and she would forgive him. These lines are not meant to indicate that Connell wants to or ever would hurt Marianne. Instead, he is shocked by the fact that she will sacrifice her own desires for him, and he does not know how to process that information. The revelation leads to the first of many panic attacks Connell will experience. These lines also foreshadow Marianne’s future sadistic relationships with men. Here, Connell senses her desire to be physically abused.
You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.
These lines, narrated from Marianne’s perspective in the last chapter, are the final lines of the novel. These words are significant because they highlight Marianne’s growth—specifically, how much Marianne has grown alongside Connell. The story is about two people growing up together and growing in important ways. Connell and Marianne’s relationship first developed when they were only seventeen, and they have experienced many important milestones. Connell has helped Marianne overcome the loneliness and self-loathing that resulted from her cold and abusive childhood. As a result, Marianne no longer feels unworthy of love. Marianne has helped Connell through self-doubt and depression, and she ultimately set him on the path to become a writer. Taking the step toward an English degree with Marianne’s support allowed Connell to envision other possibilities for his future. Marianne now trusts Connell’s love for her, and it is this trust that gives her the confidence to encourage him to pursue his dreams. She is now nudging him to broaden his horizons even though she will be lonely without him. These last lines illustrate that Marianne will always be a constant in Connell’s life, and that Connell can trust in her unwavering devotion to him.