a monster calls quotes:
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in-between.”
In its explanation of the first tale, the monster tells Conor that neither the queen nor the heir was a good person, but neither were they punished for their wickedness. In this passage, the monster concludes that not all conflicts feature a good guy and a bad guy, and that the truth is that most people are neither good or bad, but are somewhere in-between. The moral of the story is significant because the monster is trying to teach Conor that he himself is neither good nor bad for having contradictory feelings toward his mother’s illness and his desire to see the end of his and her suffering.
The nightmare feeling was rising in him, turning everything around him to darkness, making everything seem heavy and impossible, like he’d been asked to lift a mountain with his bare hands and no one would let him leave until he did.
In this passage, the narrator describes the extreme sense of responsibility Conor feels when he enters the space of his nightmare. The passage is significant because it shows how Conor’s dream exists as a hyperbolized, symbolic version of the responsibility he feels in his daily life as he tries to hold out hope for his mother to continue living. The feeling of being responsible for her life is akin to lifting a mountain—an impossible task.
“You thought I might have come to topple your enemies. Slay your dragons.”
While arguing with his grandmother, Conor sees the monster outside the kitchen window. Later, Conor shyly admits that he thought the monster had come to help him. In this passage, the monster suggests that Conor believed the monster would help Conor by fighting his enemies. This passage is significant because it shows how Conor, in the isolation his grief and anger induce, hopes the monster will support him. However, Conor doesn’t know that the monster is not there to defeat Conor’s grandmother; it is there to help him access the truth of his feelings.
But Conor didn’t run. In fact, he found he wasn’t even frightened. All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment. Because this wasn’t the monster he was expecting.
In an ironic reversal of the reader’s and the monster’s expectations, Conor isn’t afraid of the monster during their first encounter. In this passage, the narrator comments on how Conor isn’t afraid because the monster he truly fears is the monster of his nightmare. In contrast, the monster he does meet is inconsequential, despite its displays of ferocity.
He could think of a couple of important things that had happened. Nothing he wanted to write about, though. His father leaving. The cat wandering off one day and never coming back. The afternoon when his mother said they needed to have a little talk.
After Mrs. Marl gives out the life writing assignment, Conor thinks about how the most important events of his life have all been unpleasant, and he would prefer to not write about them. This passage not only speaks to Conor’s avoidant mindset, but to his mother’s. By referring to her cancer diagnosis as “a little talk,” Conor’s mother greatly understates the seriousness of the situation. This passage is significant because Ness captures in a single line Conor and his mother’s dynamic of insisting to each other that her treatments are going to make her better, when in fact they both suspect she is unlikely to survive.
“I don’t need healing. My mum’s the one who’s…” But he couldn’t say it. Even now he couldn’t say it. Even though they’d had the talk. Even though he’d known it all along. Because of course he had, of course he did, no matter how much he’d wanted to believe it wasn’t true, of course he knew. But still he couldn’t say it.
Toward the end of the novel, Conor confronts the yew-tree monster about its failure to heal his mother. The monster tells Conor it came not to heal his mother, but to heal Conor. In this passage, Conor insists he isn’t the one in need of healing. The passage is significant because Conor’s inability to name his mother’s condition betrays his denial. The response attests to how Conor does in fact need to heal in order to overcome the emotional repression that is making him angry and isolated, and preventing him from being able to grieve.
“You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary.”
In its effort to help Conor heal, the monster outlines to Conor the paradoxical nature of Conor’s feelings as he watches his mother succumb to cancer. On one hand, Conor wishes for the monster to save his mother; on the other, Conor hopes for an end to her and his suffering by wishing she would die soon. Conor feels ashamed that he cannot stake all his belief in her survival, but this passage is significant because the monster reassures Conor that it does not make him a bad person to want his and his mother’s pain to end. The monster believes it is not only possible but completely understandable to believe the comforting lie that his mother might survive, while simultaneously knowing the painful truth whose impact the lies work to lessen.
But before he went, he could feel one last question bubbling up. “Why do you always come at 12:07?” he asked. He was asleep before the monster could answer.
After the monster explains to Conor that he has come to help heal Conor and not his mother, Conor asks why the monster always visits at 12:07. In this instance of foreshadowing, Ness creates mystery around the significance of the monster’s visiting time by neglecting to answer the question. The question follows the reader into the final chapter, when it becomes clear to the reader it is likely Conor’s mother will die at 12:07.
He took in a breath. And, at last, he spoke the final and total truth. “I don’t want you to go,” he said, the tears dropping from his eyes, slowly at first, then spilling like a river.
In the novel’s climactic final scene, Conor is able at last to tell the truth. Up to this moment, the reader has been led to believe that the truth is that Conor wishes for his mother to die so that he and she will no longer have to suffer through the uncertainty and pain of her health’s decline. However, in an instance of situational irony, Ness reveals in this passage that Conor has been unable to utter another truth: he doesn’t want her to go. The moment is significant because Ness shows Conor finally breaking through the denial that has kept him from being able to admit to his mother or himself that he is scared of her impending death. Until this point in the book, Conor has been unable to be truthful with his mother, because for him to admit he doesn’t want to see her go would have shattered the pretense that they both believed her treatments were going to make her better.
Conor held tightly onto his mother. And by doing so, he could finally let her go.
The novel’s final lines capture the paradoxical nature of Conor’s dilemma. Throughout the novel, he fears that his doubt about his mother’s chances of getting better condemns him as a bad person who deserves punishment. In response to this fear, Conor denies that there is any chance of his mother dying. It is only once Conor stops denying his true feelings and his deeper fear—that his mother will not survive—that he can finally say goodbye to her properly. He holds on to her tightly to express his love for her in her dying moments, and through this gesture, he can accept the unfairness of his reality and accept that she will die.