Why #15 is the Breakthrough Chapter in Delirium (Kylie S., Sunny W., Ainslinn D.)

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, follows the life of Lena Haloway as she prepares to be cured from Amor Deliria Nervosa, love. In the beginning of the novel, Lena is counting down the days until she is to be cured, however after meeting Alex things change. While this is not the action packed section of the novel, we argue that chapter fifteen is the critical point where Lena switches from being docile to being a risk-taker as she accepts her symptoms of Amor Deliria Nervosa.

Chapter fifteen of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium is a huge turning point for Lena. After experiencing her first party, and even a raid, Lena seems to have finally accepted, and even embraced, the disease of Amor Deliria Nervosa. A budding romance with Alex, an invalid, leads Lena to become a more rebellious and courageous character. Secret meetings at the beach turn into nights hidden away in the abandoned suburbs, which then leads Lena to a trip into the Wilds. While the thought of love is still a terrifying and bitter pill to swallow for Lena, due to her sympathizer mother’s suicide, in this chapter we see Lena step out of her comfort zone and not only experience love, but enjoy it.

An unexpected turn of love is expressed as Hana, Lena, and Alex meet in her uncle’s Stop-N-Save. The change in Lena’s plans to meet Alex creates friction for her. From this, the readers finds out that Lena desires romantic love, as Lena becomes worried rather than relieved to see Hana, as that meant that Alex may not be able to meet her. However, her friendship with Hana ends up stronger as when Alex arrives later and Hana gets to know everything. Hana’s loyalty shows her love for Lena as she accepts Lena’s illegal actions with Alex, however, Lena does not express this same love as she is “looking for a convincing explanation” as to why Alex is in the backroom too (Oliver 249). This is a critical point in the novel as Lena realizes that Hana’s devotion is not out of pity for her, which she assumed earlier as Hana became her friend due to location (desks in the second grade, but out of love. It also shows Lena’s migration from docility as she tells Hana about her and Alex, despite the apparent consequences.

Lena lying to Carol in this chapter is significant as beforehand Lena “could never understand how Hana could lie so often and so easily” (Oliver, 148). When Lena lies to Carol, she thinks “it’s easier to lie when I’m not staring in her eyes”. This shows her movement from being a one-sided character as she “force[s] [her]self to smile” at Carol, despite the pain she is in from the dog bite. By having Lena lie here about the raid night, Oliver exhibits another trait of both at-risk behaviour and Amor Deliria Nervosa as Lena’s lying becomes an everyday action from this point forward as she begins to spend all her time with Alex and Hana at 37 Brooks Street. This creates what Projansky calls a “crash-and-burn girl: a can-do girl who has it all – but who …  makes a mistake and therefore faces a spectacular descent into at-risk status” (which we see when Lena meets Brian Scharff) (Projansky, 4).

Although Lena left her house twice before in the novel, neither were reasons for herself. She went to the first party to prove Hana wrong, and immediately regretted her decision; she went to the second to warn Hana (and the others) that it was a raid night. In chapter fifteen, Lena asks Alex to meet her in the store’s backroom to make out as she “can’t stand it … five more hours to get through before I’m supposed to meet him” (Oliver 240). This is the first time Lena does something knowingly illegal that could get both her and Alex into trouble for her own pleasure. This is a sign of stage one Amor Deliria Nervosa, as she has “impaired reasoning skills”, and it is also at-risk behaviour as her disease is an “endemic to the community” she comes from (Oliver 147, Harris 25). Although Lena has exhibited other signs of Amor Deliria Nervosa, in this scene she fully comprehends the risks, but goes on anyway, showing her “troubled relationship [with] consumption” (making out) (Harris 27).

Lena’s acceptance of Amor Deliria Nervosa, is key to her development as a character. As discussed in lecture, Lena is not your typical Young Adult Heroine. Unlike Katniss Everdeen, Lena abides by and trusts in the laws laid out in society, specifically ‘The Book of Shh’, and has no interest in rebelling. This is until her love affair with Alex begins. Once Lena opens herself up to the ‘disease’ that is love, we also see her open her mind. She starts to question her society and the rules that govern it, and she no longer quells her curiosity, and instead pursues it. Breaking curfew, leaving Portland, and kissing a boy, are signs of a matured Lena, a version of herself who no longer strives for conformity. It is with this gradual increase of rebellion, that we Lena shift from protagonist to heroine in the novel.

Two Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Lena eventually submits to Amor Deliria Nervosa, rather than try to fight it off?

To what extent do you think (or not think) Lena is a “spectacular girl”?

Works Cited

Basu, Broad, and Hintz. “Introduction.” Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers. Routledge, 2013.

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. Harper, 2011. Print.

Projansky, Sarah. “Introduction.” Finding Alternative Girlhoods. New York University Press, 2014.

14 thoughts on “Why #15 is the Breakthrough Chapter in Delirium (Kylie S., Sunny W., Ainslinn D.)

  1. Really enjoyed your analysis of this chapter. In response to your second discussion question:

    What is a spectacular girl? Is she an innately extraordinary girl, or a girl who makes extraordinary choices? I would argue that a reader is drawn more to innately extraordinary girls as their natural abilities are immediately captivating. Unfortunately, the majority of these qualities have been traditionally labeled masculine, suggesting that the only way girls can achieve spectacular status is by taking on “masculine” characteristics. I think it’s telling that when discussing the novel in class many students seemed frustrated with Lena, a girl who operates extraordinarily as a traditionally feminine protagonist.

    I would argue that in a genre that features protagonists with limited choice, choice speaks louder than natural ability. While Katniss in Collins’s The Hunger Games is a naturally gifted hunter and provider, she initially has no desire to rebel against the Capitol and has little choice in her path to spearheading the rebellion. Lauren in Butler’s Parable of the Sower is remarkably discovering a religion that motivates her to leave her community before she is forced to, arguably never considering an alternative path. What makes Lena different is that she does not possess innate spectacular qualities that guide her choices. She is a self-proclaimed ordinary girl who chooses to do what her society defines as the most rebellious action possible. Hence, in response to your discussion question, yes – I believe that Lena is spectacular.


    1. I agree with this take on Lena as a spectacular character. It is easy to see characters like Lauren and Katniss as spectacular because they are set up to be that way. Both Lauren and Katniss know how to use weapons, they are natural-born leaders and can take charge when the situation warrants it (when Lauren left home with neighbours or when Katniss partnered with Peeta in the games). Both girls are portrayed as strong and brave, while Lena is portrayed as completely ordinary. While most people seemed to have an issue with this, I agree that she is spectacular based on the choices that she makes. As a completely ordinary girl with no forces driving her to do anything spectacular, she surprises everyone by doing the most rebellious thing that she can do. It is not surprising when Katniss or Lauren rebels, but Lena’s rebellion is more unexpected based on her character and personality traits. Everyone loves to hate on Lena because her act of rebellion was falling in love, but in the context of her world she has embodied a cause that is considered to be the most illegal and dangerous thing she could have done. Because the actions that led her to this were her own choices rather than a natural-born instinct to rebel, I too agree that Lena is spectacular.


  2. I really liked that you took a different approach to this assignment and opted to do a close reading! I remember this chapter standing out to me because of how vastly different Lena’s internal monologue was before this point. I also thought it was interesting how closely her risk-taking behaviour aligned to the way amor deliria nervosa is framed in The Book of Shhh. She seems as obsessed and impulsive as the Book describes love, although I suppose that isn’t unusual for love so much as dangerous in the world she’s in.

    I found your question about Lena’s spectacularness to be really interesting because of how her journey can align with traditional at-risk narratives. Through the lens of her family and the government, Lena was always a girl marked for trouble as a result of her class and the prevalence of the deliria in her family. She was able to briefly surpass her circumstance by receiving a high mark on her evaluation, but then she crashed and burnt by succumbing to the disease just in the way you two discuss. Your question made me wonder about what it would be like to view the lives of Angela Davis or Assata Shakur through the binary of can-do and at-risk. Whose resistance to society do we find surprising, and whose do we view as a self-fulfilling prophecy based on their minority status?

    If I consider Lena as a reader, though, I would say that Lena is spectacular both because of her choices and her past. Someone in class said that Hanna was only exceptional because she was best friends with Lena, who had known real parental love. I thought this point was brilliant because while I do agree with Adam that Lena’s choices are spectacular in her world, she also grew up spectacularly. (Or abominably, depending on your worldview.) Lena is not spectacularly skilled in the same way as Katniss, Lauren and Penelope. However, she does have a spectacular past that she eventually learns from by refining her understanding of her mother’s love and escaping to the Wilds as a result.


    1. You raise a really interesting point: whose resistance do we find surprising? I think this could be extended: whose resistance do we value? With someone like Angela Davis, her resistance likely isn’t surprising, but is it a valued as someone like Gloria Steinem?


      1. I think the two questions are interrelated. If I define how much value we give resistance based on how much attention it receives from the public and in the media, mainstream society tends to gravitate towards images of resistors who are more privileged because their acts of resistance are seen as more unusual. It is more surprising for someone like Gloria Steinem to speak out against patriarchy, not only as a white woman but also because she’s an aesthetically attractive white woman. Her status as a pretty white woman means her resistance is given more attention because she largely benefits from the way society is structured, and people would expect her to submit to that structure. I think it’s also easier to simplify the resistance of privileged women and package it into a neoliberal capitalist framework like “girl power” that is attractive to the mainstream. When the focus is solely on the plight of middle-class white women, it’s easier to obscure issues that are more systemic like racism and poverty.


  3. Kylie S, Sunny W and Ainslinn D, I’m going to address your first discussion question, “Why do you think Lena eventually submits to Amor Deliria Nervosa, rather than try to fight it off?” My answer to that question is simple; Love.
    There have been some discussions in class on wither or not we like Lena as a main character. We talked about her differences and similarities when comparing her to Katniss and Lauren. A main point I got out of those discussion was that what makes Katniss and Lauren stand out as main characters were their traits that made them a force to be reckoned with. Both Katniss and Lauren had extraordinary traits that made them an easy role model for readers. Both of them also defied stereotypical traits of girlhood and femininity. Here is where I see the big difference in Lena. As mentioned in class, she does demonstrate characteristics that conform to the standards of girlhood and femininity. The most obvious example being her head over heels love she has for Alex. The consensus of the class was that this made Lena not as likable as a main character. Unfortunately, in the books we are reading, as well as in real life, many people view love as a weakness. This trope was especially addressed in Delirium but also in The Hunger Games.
    Coming back to your question; I think as the novel goes on we start to see Lena talking about her mother and her case of amor deliria nervosa. At the beginning of the novel, she views her mother as being weak. So weak that it results in her ‘suicide’. She thinks this way because she is brought up in a society where love is seen as a weakness. As Lena evolves as a character I believe she comes to the realization that being in love or falling in love is not a weakness, but instead something to treasure. So to answer your question, I believe Lena submits to amor deliria nervosa, rather than fighting it off is because she now understands, that despite what her society has taught her, love is not a weakness but instead something she should welcome with open arms as a blessing.
    I think it is truly a shame that our society views ‘falling in love’ as something that has the ability to weaken you. I do agree that falling in love can change your perception and make you act in a way you may not have acted before. Although, these changes that occur in someone when they fall in love should be seen as growth. People should take pride in falling in love. Instead of it weakening you, it is making you stronger because you are able to care and love for another person as much as you care and love yourself. I believe submitting to love can only make someone learn and grow, about themselves and the world around them. By Oliver creating a character that defies the stereotype of love being a weakness, I believe she is actually challenging the stereotypes of girlhood instead of conforming to them.


  4. I really enjoyed this analysis of Lena’s breakthrough. In response to your first question, I believe that she submitted to Amor Deliria Nervosa because of her passivity. Lena is a character who is constantly being controlled by those around her. In the beginning of the novel, this force is the government and the society. Lena is aware of the rules and regulations, whether implicit or explicit, and forms her choices and lifestyle around them. An example of this would be choosing her answers for her evaluation to fit a certain standard. Lena does not have the will or power to stand up against this extreme ruling, and therefore she submits to it.
    Similarly, after Lena meets Adam and starts to develop affection for him. This is an overwhelming emotion that she has never experienced before. After a small effort in fighting it, she submits. As soon as a force makes its presence in Lena’s life, she is so easily taken over and put in a submissive state. Lena’s passivity can be seen as her fatal flaw. She does not fight for what she believes in. Rather, she lets the external forces in her life take over and control her. AS the reader, we see this power shift from the society to her love for Adam. Regardless of who or what it is, Lena does not fight it and submits blindly. This reinforces the negative female stereotype that girls will go along with whatever a higher force wants, regardless of if it is what that she really wants.


  5. Hi all,
    I’d like to consider your second question, because I found Projansky’s use of spectacle/spectacular/spectacularized to be extremely interesting. I don’t think Lena adheres to Projansky’s theory of the girl as spectacular as in fabulous; as others have discussed, Lena is (perhaps strategically) characterized as the “ordinary girl.” However, I do think Lena becomes spectacular, as in “spectacle” in Projansky’s other two definitions of the term. We may see both of these constructions in chapter fifteen.

    We can consider Lena as spectacular using Projansky’s first definition of the term; she states that “girls are objects at which we gaze…as such, media turns girls into spectacles—visual objects on display” (5). Instead of media turning girls in Delirium into spectacles, though, it is the system of governmental surveillance. In Chapter Fifteen, Lena avoids this spectacularization when she, Hana, and Alex meet in the stockroom; this the space in which she tells Hana about Alex, and is intimate with Alex. Thus, it is in this environment that Lena avoids becoming “spectacular” in terms of being an object that is to-be-seen.

    As you mention, though, chapter fifteen also characterizes Lena’s move from being spectacular, i.e. looked at, to spectacular, i.e. scandal. As Emma said above, Lena’s narrative in this chapter cements her as an at-risk girl: she lies to Carol and to Jed, and eventually accepts her amor deliria nervosa. We see here how Lena becomes the girl-as-scandal: she begins the decline from being looked at as an ordinary girl–not “fabulous” but at least obedient–to being looked at because she is a scandalous object on display.


    1. I think this is a really smart reading of Lena. I would extend it somewhat though. She’s always aware of being watched by her aunt, her uncle, the regulators, etc. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of the male gaze, though, so her gradual acceptance that Alex is attracted to her makes her aware of how she’s watched in a way she wasn’t aware before. Feeling attractive and being in love makes her want to avoid being watched, which, I think, is different than the way the average person feels.


  6. It is interesting for me to read this after reading Childs’ article on female friendships. I had read Delirium way in advance because I had to write my blog post on it, and thought about the connections when reading Childs’ article, but this post put it into perspective specifically looking at chapter 15. This chapter demonstrated their friendship getting stronger only for it to be ripped apart. Looking at the time when they were at her uncle’s store and Lena wanted to hide the relationship from Hana only to give in when she had no choice. Hana seemed to be on board with the whole relationship, almost excited about it, which can parallel the stereotypical female friendship Childs was discussing. The idea that your friends are excited for you finding a new partner, only to eventually get dropped (which Hana does), and then get jealous and do something drastic in order to get your friend back (which Hana does). While this chapter was the beginning of Lena’s rebellion, I believe that she was not active in her decision since it sort of fell onto her, she already was drifting away from Hana, and did not expect her to even come.

    Looking at the first question, I have thought about her actions and thoughts towards Amor Deliria Nervosa. I think that at first she really believed she had the disease but since it was the beginning stages and she was curious towards Alex, sort of ignored them. She continued to believe she had this disease running through her veins, but ultimately she was still going to go through with the surgery. I don’t think she tried to fight it off because she knew eventually she would be cured. Many people prior to her had done the same thing, and then ‘they were saved’ so I do not think that she thought she would leave and never get the cure, especially since Alex asked her to and she said no. It was not until she realized that the disease and the cure were all lies, that her mother was not dead, that she decided to leave and not get cured.


  7. For the first question I don’t think Lena’s passivity is the reason. Because if she is passive all the time she would accept the cure which fights off  Amor Deliria Nervosa. We should regard Delirium as a coming-of-age novel and Lena’s submission to love is a symbol of maturity.  As an ordinary girl she embraces the ultimate dangerous thing in her world, which is incredible and spectacular. Love brings her weakness but also gives her courage. I think it is her rebellious traits triggered and catalyzed by love that makes her submitts to Amor Deliria Nervosa.


  8. I agree with your opinion of this chapter being a breakthrough chapter for Lena. I think that in this chapter she realizes that she even though she knows that what she is experiencing are symptoms of the deliria, the symptoms are what cause her not to care. I think that her eventual submissiveness towards the deliria comes from her predisposition for it. Her mother fought for love all her life, and when Lena realizes that that love won and her mother is alive and free from the restraints of her society, she decides that she can follow in her mother’s footsteps. The people in this society are never told when someone is actually imprisoned or when someone escapes prison due to the deliria, so they believe that the only path there is is the cure, but when Lena sees examples of people who manage to live without the restraints of her society and live with love, she gives in to those strong emotions which she has been hiding from the people around her. Lena submits to the deliria because she doesn’t believe that anything better can ever happen to her, and eventually, the strict rules of her society become too much for her and she leaves it all behind to try to live a life she loves.


  9. In regards to your first discussion question, I assumed while reading the novel that Lena submitted to love as it may have given her a new perspective of her mother. Lena often remembered of times with her mother that comprised of activities that were discouraged; such as dancing to loud music in their living room. Lena was plagued with nostalgia, grief, anger and confusion in response to her mother’s death and the social consequences she experienced post mortem. It was never clear to Lena the attraction her mother had to love, the heartbreak she experienced or the strong emotions she felt towards her husband and daughters. By falling in love herself, Lena had a new lens to understand her mother’s perspective. She better understood the emotional horror and hollowness of feeling romantic and familial love, while the rest of her society could not. I don’t think Lena viewed her mother’s actions as falling into the trap of some sort of illegal, guilty pleasure, but of innocent protective instincts and emotional support that one may experience while in love. It is interesting though that Rachel also fell in love and still opted to be cured. I’m assuming that she viewed love as the disease that killed her mother rather than the new perspective that Lena encountered. It’s also important to note that Lena and Rachel were socialized in a society that demonized love as a deadly disease and so their apprehension to love is understandable. Though this, Lena was simultaneously falling in love and learning of the possibility of her mother being alive and so I feel that her approach to falling in love was unique in contrast to any other citizen of her society experiencing love as well.


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