People are not always aware of the effect which their interactions may have on others. When an individual influences other persons, that individual may change those persons’ character traits and lives, and this influence may even affect how the individual lives his or her life. In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Rachel, a girl who lives a normal life, affects Greg who is engaged to help her live her last months through her battle with Leukemia. Another character whom Rachel’s hospitalization affects is Earl, Greg’s close friend whom Greg engages to help brighten Rachel’s mood. Through their visits with Rachel in the hospital, Greg and Earl are changed as individuals. Rachel’s presence, life experiences and approach to life have a deep effect on Greg and Earl’s attitude, views and values. Andrews’ theme is revealed to the reader through these interactions.
As the first character in the book to be affected by Rachel’s hospitalization and the events relating to it, Greg personifies the author’s theme of change through interaction. Pertinent to a complete understanding of how Rachel changes Greg is Greg’s approach to the social anxiety which he experiences in high school. The reader can also see Greg’s interests and how they affect his school behavior. A reader’s initial conclusion when first introduced to Greg and his daily high school life is that he seems to care only about himself. His principal concern seems to be minimizing social interaction at school. Greg avoids this social contact because of his somewhat introverted personality and fear of becoming an outcast. Greg even states that a defining characteristic of high school is “that you can’t be friends with anyone” (Andrews 10). Once faced with Rachel’s problem, Greg initially does not want to commit to providing emotional support to her during her battle with leukemia, especially since he and Rachel had not been well acquainted in the first place. During Greg’s first meetings and attempts to cheer Rachel up, the situation turns awkward rather quickly as the initial conversations go little beyond some relatively dull dialogue, coupled with a few bad jokes on Greg’s part. However, soon afterward, Rachel undergoes chemotherapy, loses her hair and begins her repeated stay in the hospital. These events contribute to a change in Greg’s feelings towards Rachel. Greg now sees a physical difference in Rachel as a result of her hair loss.
Rachel’s leukemia is beginning to kill her from the inside out, and this has a noticeable effect on Greg who now appears to be deeply moved by her situation. This contrasts with the “old” Greg who initially did little more for Rachel than go to her house unenthusiastically and wait for his visiting time to end. As a result of these events, Greg’s feelings for Rachel begin to change. Greg becomes more willing to see Rachel in the hope of cheering her up, thus completely altering his original, indifferent mindset. While on the surface, Greg and Rachel’s later conversations sometimes seem pointless and serve no purpose beyond preventing the dialogue between them from ending, those conversations go far beyond what Greg originally intended. The conversations are likely even deeper than what Rachel had originally expected. The teenage jargon which Greg and Rachel use to discuss, and to elaborate upon, the subject of a particular conversation does not mask the serious tone and content which now characterizes their discussions. Through her interaction with Greg, Rachel also manages to convince Greg—without directly telling him—that death is something which many people of all ages deal with, not just frail old persons who are expected to teeter on the brink of death and then to die. Consistent with Andrews’ theme of change and a person’s influence on the lives of other people through interaction, Greg’s interactions with Rachel have changed him by forcing him to go see Rachel and interact with her more. Greg does this out of a feeling of pity which he has developed for Rachel and to correct his initial, misguided moral compass.
Greg is not the only character whom Rachel’s hospitalization affects; another such character is Earl. As with Greg, Earl’s experience also reflects Andrews’ theme of change through human interaction. Earl is an odd character who does not interact with others besides Greg, and when he does, most of Earl’s arguments revolve around his experience of growing up in a fatherless household. When Earl first learns about Rachel’s illness, he shows little interest in accompanying Greg to the hospital, just as Greg did. However, with time, Earl gains a better understanding of Rachel’s situation. For example, when Greg complains about Earl giving Rachel any of their movies, Earl says that Rachel needs something to cheer her up and “she [is] happy as hell about th[ose] films” (167). This proves that Earl begins to understand the life which he has taken for granted and in so doing, improves himself as a human being, as well as others around him. This improvement consists of using his movies for good and not taking life for granted, even without a father figure to guide him. Thus, Earl undergoes a change in personality as a result of his interactions with Rachel and Greg. Earl transitions from a careless, anti-social boy into a young man with moral scruples. Rachel also affects Earl by enjoying his and Greg’s movies. This enjoyment causes Earl’s mood to change for the better. This is another change resulting from the interaction with other people, again, consistent with the theme of the novel.
In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Andrews teaches that by interacting with people with whom one may not typically interact, a person may learn important lessons about life and character, discover his or her own emotion, and ultimately, change for the better. Andrews also suggests that none of this may be possible in the absence of such interaction. During her illness, Rachel changes both Greg and Earl emotionally through their respective interactions and shared experiences. Even as she dies, Rachel finds a way to make a significant impact in both Greg’s and Earl’s lives. As a result, she permanently changes both Greg and Earl for the better.