She's Come UndoneShe's Come Undone: Self-discovery
Throughout She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb emphasizes the importance of self-discovery to one's life. Dolores has several epiphanies throughout the course of the novel, including her realization that all of her failed relationships are not solely her fault. She learns she is worth loving and is capable of surviving on her own. With each discovery about herself, Dolores learns to love herself a little more and blame herself a little less.
Dolores' first realization is a sub-conscious one. Right before she tries to commit suicide she telephones her mother's childhood friend Geneva (Lamb 249). This is a cry for help and is her first step towards recovery.
Dolores' next discovery comes after a long period of therapy, paid for by Geneva. Dolores' therapist, Dr. Shaw, attempts to rewrite her childhood from the time she was in the womb on. He takes on the role of her mother (268). As her negative childhood memories are replaced by positive ones, Dolores gains a new sense of self-esteem and confidence. She loses all of her extra weight (269). Dolores funnels her energy into creative pursuits like Etch-A-Sketching rather than self-destructive behavior. Eventually she is able to leave Dr. Shaw's care and go into the real world to provide for herself (283).
Perhaps Dolores leaves the care of Dr. Shaw too soon. Shortly after getting her own apartment she begins dating Dante. Ashamed of her past, she creates a fictional life story for herself. She lives a lie the whole time she is living with Dante. She writes to her grandmother and falsely describes her marriage. When she catches Dante sleeping with one of his students, she finally wakes up. She realizes that no man is worth the pain of losing her identity, and she also realizes that her identity cannot be defined by the man she is with. After her grandmother's death she finally reveals her true self to Dante. In frustration and anger she tells him all of the events of her past, from her weight problems to her rape to her time spent in a mental institution. She feels completely free for the first time.
Dolores' final stage of self-discovery comes with her relationship with Thayer. She realizes that he is what she has truly wanted for her entire life. It is the first time she has found luck and happiness in love. It is only with Thayer's help that she finally realizes her dream of seeing a whale. For her, the beauty of the whale embodies her mother, grandmother, and baby daughter. It is something private that only she can understand. She says she feels "christened," and she is finally complete (465).
Dolores' retreat into herself and subsequent reemergence into life bring new understanding into life's complexities (Blodgett 118). Perhaps it is Dolores who describes her journey best when she says "Undone...Jack Speight the man who raped her undid me, then I almost undid myself. But I've undone some of the bad, too, some of the damage. With help. With luck and love..." (460).