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”?
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.