Where'd You Go Bernadette
Maria Semple
Contributed by Ariane Heyne
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.

One of the themes in Where’d You Go, Bernadette concerns relationships. The two types of relationships that Maria Semple explores in the book include those of family and friendships. Bee has a close relationship with her parents, Elgin Branch and Bernadette Fox. Her parents are immensely proud of her and even promise her anything she wants, as long as she performs well at Galer Street, the boarding school at which she attends. However, the relationship between Elgin and Bernadette is not all rosy: Bernadette becomes frustrated with the generic ‘Seattle’ persona that her husband has adopted (Ramsey 2). Bernadette runs away after Elgin tries to restrict her in a mental health institution following an ill-advised series of run-ins with their neighbor, Audrey.

The concept of friendship is also analyzed in the book. For instance, the deep friendship that exists between Bee and Kennedy, whom Bee considers as the only friend at the school. All the other classmates fail to offer Bee the kind of friendship that she is looking for. Therefore, she tends to find solace in the friendship that she shares with Kennedy. She holds the idea that such a friendship is likely to flourish into something better, enabling her to tackle the various challenges that she happens to face from time-to-time. Much is also made of the friendship between Audrey and Soo-Lin (Semple 32). They seem to be in almost constant communication, and Soo-Lin expresses her desires to host Audrey in her house when she comes back to Seattle. Bernadette is, however, not able to form a friendly relationship with others. She is considered crazy by many people — with the exception of her daughter, Bee.

Convention and Rebellion

The theme of rebellion is shown through Bernadette’s actions. She chooses to escape from the community’s norms, not just with her disappearance but even with how she conducted herself earlier in life. For instance, people often built their houses without too much thought about where these materials come from, or by explicitly wanting foreign materials. However, Bernadette, as an architect, chooses to do things differently. She decides to construct her house with materials that were found within 20 miles of the construction site, creating the award-winning ‘Twenty Mile House’. After the house was bought and then pulled down, Bernadette decided to move to Seattle, rebelling against what had happened to her project (Semple 36). Another act of Bernadette’s rebellious behavior is that she chooses to be private and selectively not take part in any school activities. Although she is a stay-at-home mother, she chooses to stay away from the image that is linked to other stay-at-home mothers, all of which look at her with distaste and judgment.


As subtly as it appears in the book, the theme of education is well presented. It is shown where Bee studies at Galer Street, a private school. It is through the private school where most of the drama originates. While a student at the school, Bee does her level best to excel in her studies. She gets straight ’S’s in all the courses that she takes. The theme of education is also furthered in the schooling that Bee undertook at Choate Rosemary Hall (Semple 201). Although she does not manage to make friends at the institution, she gets to learn about the realities of life. For instance, she understands that people are different and there is a possibility that they might not be willing to warm up to her as much as she hopes for.

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