Before I Fall | Study Guide

Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall | Themes


Shadow versus Authentic Self

The pursuit of popularity is Sam's driving concern during her life. Only in her death does she realize she should have embraced her authentic self instead. Sam's story builds around the ritual of Cupid Day to illustrate how much the pursuit of popularity can be a trap that not only can condemn people to living superficial, unsatisfactory lives but can also make them cruel. Cupid Day is one of Sam's favorite days because it is a visual representation of her social success. The more Valogram roses she receives, the more popular others perceive her to be. And because she is best friends with queen bee Lindsay, Sam has the cachet to date Rob Cokran, one of the most popular and best-looking boys at school. Lindsay was Sam's ticket to this rarefied social stratum, and all she had to give up was her former goodness and authenticity. Before Lindsay chose Sam to be her friend, Sam was unpopular, but she did things she loved, such as horseback riding and going to Goose Point. Lindsay and Sam cemented their friendship by bullying another girl at a pool party. It is significant that Sam never went back to Goose Point or participated in riding competitions after that day.

Already on Day 2, Sam is beginning to realize the difference between her superficial self and her authentic self. She says she feels as though "there's a real me and a reflection of me," but she cannot yet discern which is which. In the characters of Izzy and Kent, Sam has two good examples of what it means to be one's authentic self. Sam thinks the point of growing up is learning how to keep others from making fun of you. But Izzy does not want to change her lisp even if others laugh at her, because it is her "voice." She embraces this authentic part of herself, and Sam is impressed by her courage to do so.

Kent is similar to Izzy in that he wears what he likes despite his fashion sense making him look different from everyone else. While the popular kids stick to fleece jackets, Kent wears a blazer. And anyone with status considers Kent's bowler hat a "real deal breaker." More significant, though, Kent does not conform to the culture of bullying and cruelty that reminds the unpopular students that Lindsay and her friends are on top. He believes Sam can be better and convinces her of it because she once defended him from a bully in second grade. She was his hero back then, and he becomes hers by showing her that real love and kindness trump the perception of popularity. By the time Sam stands up to Lindsay, breaks up with Rob, and kisses Kent, she has changed back to who she was before. By embracing her authentic self and choosing kindness, Sam is able to break the cycle and move on.


Sam Kingston may not consider herself a bully, but as a minion of queen bee Lindsay Edgecombe, Sam has inflicted a lot of harm on a lot of people over the years. Once unpopular but kind, Sam experienced an incident similar to the fall of man when she partook in Lindsay's bullying at Beth Schiff's party. Like Adam and Eve in the Bible, who ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Sam ate from the fruit of popularity and sacrificed her innocence. When Sam dies, she is thrust into a kind of purgatory that forces her relive her last day over and over until she redeems herself. With each failed attempt, the day resets itself, and Sam must try again. Sam's redemption journey is a bumpy one; after all, it takes her seven tries in her time loop to get it right. This seven-day structure mirrors the seven days of creation in the Bible and alludes to both the seven deadly sins and the seven Christian virtues that counterbalance them. With this structure, Oliver suggests that embracing virtues such as hope and love are key to undoing the harm done by sins such as pride and wrath.

The path toward redemption starts with seeing Vicky Hallinan's face as Sam is dying on Day 1. By Day 6 Sam ponders to herself, "Maybe before you die it's your ghosts that you see," but on Day 1 Sam simply thinks it is weird and random that she sees Vicky. Vicky certainly represents one of Sam's "ghosts"—that is, Vicky "haunts" her because Vicky is a victim of bullying in which Sam participated. But Sam's main "ghost" is Juliet Sykes, who becomes a literal "ghost" each time she dies by suicide at the end of each day. Juliet, therefore, is the key to Sam's redemption.

On the first few days, Sam acts out of selfishness and tries to "cheat" death by changing small details to prevent the accident from happening. On Day 4 Sam becomes frustrated and reckless and tries to trash her life in the same way she trashes her Valogram roses. On Day 5, however, Sam finally sees the time loop as an opportunity for personal growth rather than for punishment. Day 6 finds Sam vowing to be good, but her attempts at kindness are superficial and do not address the underlying issue: the serious damage Sam and her friends have done is not scrubbed away as easily as Lindsay's graffiti on the bathroom walls. On Day 7 Sam realizes that counterbalancing the depth of Juliet's pain will require true sacrifice. To save her soul, therefore, Sam must sacrifice her earthly life to save Juliet. Sam's sacrifice reaches Juliet in a way her words and empty gestures of roses could not. Leaning over the dying Sam, Juliet says with wonder "You saved me." But Sam knows it is "the opposite": Juliet saved her.

Fate versus Free Will

When Sam dies in a car accident and then wakes up again on the day of her death, she believes, at first, she can change her fate and avoid her death. However, the more often her day resets, the more certain she becomes that no amount of free will can alter her ultimate fate. Her first instinct in the face of this truth is to become fatalistic. On Day 4, she wonders what the point of reliving her day is if she cannot actually change anything. Although she is able to use free will to create endless variations of her day, the actions she takes don't necessarily result in the outcomes she seeks. She feels incapable of taking an action to end the time loop and set herself free. However, as her journey toward redemption progresses, she realizes she is not merely a passive participant in a continuing time loop but a person with agency who can practice kindness within the confines of her fate.

Being kind to Juliet Sykes is Sam's ticket out of the time loop, and Lauren Oliver plants clues for the reader by describing Juliet as someone passively drifting. On Day 1 Sam describes Juliet entering the cafeteria as looking like someone "being blown around by forces outside of her control." On Day 3, Juliet enters the cafeteria "like a snowflake being buffeted around in the wind, twisting and turning on currents of air." As Sam's fate seems outside her control, so does Juliet's. However, Juliet has no agency left. The endless cycle of bullying she endures at Lindsay's direction has rendered her hopeless, and no matter how much Sam pleads with her on the edge of the road, Juliet still dies by suicide. Sam may not feel as though she has agency at first. Before her cycle resets on Days 2–5, Sam feels in her dream as though she is falling. On Day 6, however, she realizes she is floating, and on Day 7 she realizes she is flying. Sam's hope buoys her and allows her the agency Juliet no longer has. She may be unable to talk Juliet out of suicide, but she can show Juliet she believes her life has value and is worth living. Sam proves this by sacrificing her own life to save Juliet's, the most heroic act she can perform.

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