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When Marianne went home for Christmas, Alan called her pathetic and spat at her. Her mother dismissed Alan’s behavior as “a little sibling rivalry.” Now Marianne is with Jamie, Peggy and some other friends at her apartment. Connell calls to say that he has been mugged, has no money, and had to borrow a phone for the call. Marianne tells him to take a taxi to her place; she will pay for it. When Connell arrives bruised and bloodied, most of Marianne’s guests express concern and sympathy, then politely leave. Jamie is surprised that Marianne expects him to leave, too. When Connell and Marianne are alone, he urges her to find another boyfriend but then reveals that he is seeing someone—a girl named Helen, whom he loves. Marianne, to her embarrassment, begins to cry. Connell explains that Marianne’s breakup with him confused him, because when he mentioned leaving for the summer, he had hoped she would invite him to stay at her place. Marianne replies that he would have been welcome to stay with her.
In Helen’s presence, Connell feels comfortable around other people. Although she is a little condescending in the way she teases him for being a “culchie” (a country boy), Connell tells himself that his relationship with Helen is normal—not strange and separate from the rest of the world, like his relationship with Marianne. After Helen got to know Marianne, she described Marianne to Connell as self-absorbed and a little slutty. This bothered Connell, but he still believed he belonged with Helen, not Marianne.
In April, Connell and Marianne both won university scholarships. For Connell, the scholarship meant he could afford to travel, and so while Helen is in Chicago for the summer, Connell is touring Europe. He, his former roommate Niall, and Niall’s girlfriend are on a train to Trieste, to join Marianne, Jaime, and Peggy at a cottage that belongs to Marianne’s family. Connell and Marianne have been exchanging long, intense daily emails—about their vacation experiences, international events, and many other topics. Connell puts a great deal of effort into his emails. He enjoys the writing process and has been working on some stories, too, but he has not shown them to Marianne yet.
At dinner in Trieste, Jamie becomes unpleasant after a few drinks, eventually following Marianne into the kitchen to provoke an argument. Connell walks in just in time to see Jamie deliberately break a wine glass. When Connell quietly takes Marianne outside and comforts her, he notices how thin she has become. That night, she sleeps in his room and tells him about her brother’s physical abuse and her mother’s indifference. She wonders why she cannot be like normal people. They begin to have sex, but she pulls away. Connell is ashamed that he would have taken advantage of her at that moment.
These chapters emphasize how cruelty and abuse lead to feelings of unworthiness. As Christmas, Marianne’s mother and brother make extra efforts to reinforce the idea that she is not special. Later, Marianne reveals that Alan has suggested she commit suicide. Peggy’s efforts to enforce the closeness of their friendship are attempts to dominate Marianne’s life, and her forced proximity to Marianne opens the door for her jealous cruelty. By insisting that Marianne has failed the scholarship exams, Peggy is attempting to publicly humiliate her and diminish her worth. Her defenses of Jamie’s disgusting behavior are a means of ultimately convincing Marianne that she doesn’t deserve anyone better. Marianne is repulsed by Jamie and disrespects him for his violent dominance, lack of self-awareness, transparency, weakness, and ugliness. However, she believes the cruel things those around her say to her, and her lack of genuine love in her life causes her to feel unworthy of love and to desire abuse.
These chapters also continue to illustrate the disparity of social classes. Jamie automatically assumes that the person who mugged Connell was a drug addict. His statement reveals his entitlement as well as his condescending views of those in lower social classes. Jamie does not know what it is like to not have money, and he demonstrates that he is not capable of showing compassion for people who are desperate. However, Connell understands because he was raised in a working-class family. Jamie continues to flaunt his entitlement on vacation in Italy when he makes racist comments and cruel jokes at others’ expense. His behavior is a good indicator that he does not care about other people. Marianne and Connell’s different economic backgrounds come to the forefront when they are awarded scholarships. Financial stability means something different to both of them. Marianne has more than enough money, so the scholarship does not change her life. However, the scholarship presents Connell with many new possibilities and allows him to travel through Europe during the summer instead of working. Connell’s intellect has now afforded him some of the privileges that have previously been reserved for the wealthy in his worldview. In their conversation before the swearing-in ceremony, Marianne also exhibits growth when she realizes that she’s been crass not to consider how their socioeconomic differences might affect Connell.
At this stage of the story, Connell also begins to experience how distance from Marianne provides opportunities for growth. Though he has rejected her romantically, Connell now nurtures their friendship through email correspondence. In taking care to describe his travels, discuss world events, and dissect the nature of their friendship, Connell is exercising his writing skills, and he begins to journal and write stories. His emotional distance from Marianne also allows him to develop a healthy relationship with Helen, to whom he is able to express his love without hesitancy. He feels a sense of belonging and connectivity to the world around him. Connell finds compatibility in Helen’s general goodness and ability to exist without injury or pain. Though he somewhat dreads the physical distance of Marianne’s move to Sweden, he now understands that he has to let her go in order to stay grounded.