“Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it?”

In the second part of this book we are introduced more into Molly’s life as her family moves from her rural town back in Pennsylvania all the way to Florida. As we get more into the novel one thing that we are more exposed to is this idea of labels and the way society needs to try and define and put every aspect of us in some sort of box/category.

One very early on example of this can be seen in the first few pages as we begin reading this part of the book we learn about how Molly was scolded for almost going into the “colored” bathroom. Not only does this show the idea of segregation that was occurring at this time, but also this idea of labels. Here in this situation society labels you as colored or white and just by having either one of those labels you are now not to mix or even “mess with” someone who is labeled differently from you. Society is defining and putting people into categories just based on their color of skin.

Another instance of this idea of society trying to label and define every little thing is found later in the novel when later on in chapter nine Connie, one of Molly’s friends, questions Molly about possibly being “queer,” and Molly responds with “Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don’t know what I am—polymorphous and perverse. Shit. I don’t even know if I’m white. I’m me. That’s all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something? “(p. 95). This passage is important to this novel and the idea of society always having to label and try and shove everything we are into some little box or category. I had no idea what the word polymorphous meant, so I decided to look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and found that in this context I believe Molly intends it to mean “Manifesting in different ways; occurring in different forms, shapes, or varieties; multiform.” The word first being used in this context in a quote from R. Townson in 1798.  I find it particularly interesting that Molly uses the word polymorphous, especially when it comes to the topic of labeling. She is basically using this word to sort of rebel and break away from any sort of label by saying that she comes in different forms, shapes, etc., and, therefore, cannot be labeled and put into one single category. Why should Molly have to try and define who or what she is? Why can’t she just be Molly?

Finally, another instance of this labeling appears towards the end of the chapter when Molly is now in college at the University of Florida. In the scene where Molly is spending the night at her roommate Faye’s house. The part that really brings it back to the idea of labels is where they are discussing Molly’s past experiences, and Faye responds with “[h]ow can you be a non-lesbian and sleep with another woman?” (p. 108) In this passage obviously about Carolyn, we can see again, not only this idea of society putting labels on things in this situation labeling one either a lesbian or a non-lesbian, but this also shows the idea of how society doesn’t see other sexualities besides gay/lesbian and straight as being valid. This line from Faye completely invalidates the idea of bisexuality and any other sexuality.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think we need labels in society in order to help us identify with one group, or do you believe that we should stray away and just let people “be them?”


  1. In what situations might labels actually be a good thing?


  1. What labels might you currently place on yourself, and if ever, have you ever been labeled as something you’re not?

2 thoughts on ““Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it?”

  1. The theme of labels was repeated an uncountable number of times in this book. Molly was constantly looking down on them and saw them as stupid. My take on why she feels this way is that she was always associated with labels that were looked down upon by society. She was never annoyed with being called funny and wanted the title of president, but as soon as someone labeled her something she didn’t like she turned around and said labels were stupid. In a way it seems hypocritical, but really she s just human and wants people to like her like anyone else.


  2. I think that the question of labels has come up with almost every book that we’ve read this semester and I think that in this novel Molly really does reject labels because they unnecessarily place limits and expectations on people. While I think this may be the case for some people, I also think it’s necessary to acknowledge that many people do indeed find comfort in their labels. As we discussed in class, having the language to articulate how you’re feeling and also having that to find people who identify the same way can be conducive to building community and a sense of self. In the end, labels can be harmful if they are prescribed to people without their consent, but labels that people individually identify with and accept could indeed be beneficial.


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