Lessons in Chemistry: the Women empowerment novel’s ending, explained

Lessons in Chemistry

Set in American 1960’s, Bonnie Garmus’s novel touches upon the topic of women and their position in the society during those times through the character of Elizabeth Zott.

Warning, Spoilers ahead!

Science and women in the 50’s

Elizabeth is a talented chemist working at Hastings Research Institute in Commons, California. While she is intelligent, she’s stuck in her career. That’s because her boss, Dr. Donatti, is a misogynist who believes she’s not smart enough because she’s a woman.

A lack of resources leads her to steal some from the reclusive and prodigy scientist, a fellow at Hastings, Calvin Evans, who’s achievements are uncountable. While Elizabeth conducts her research, it becomes clear how unsupportive the society, and even women, are.

Elizabeth and Calvin: A chemical romance

Soon, Elizabeth and Calvin start to date to everyone’s surprise. They keep things private but prying eyes don’t leave them. Elizabeth has made her stand clear- no marriage, no children, independence. Still, they go on, working together in such sync and understanding each other so much it feels like they’re soulmates in the truest sense.

That is until people start rumouring that Elizabeth is talking advantage of Calvin’s fame to assert her presence in the lab. But Elizabeth’s the sort of feminist and independent woman which brings real change.

The growing hostility at work

One day, a new member joins their family- a dog. But this is no ordinary dog. He is extremely intelligent and Elizabeth has formed a deep bond with him. Thus, she starts teaching him- words. And he learns. The dog has some narratives in the book too!

At work, things aren’t good. Elizabeth has started researching on an advanced topic- abiogenesis- which her boss disapproves. But he doesn’t want to stop her for the fear of losing Evans and when a filthy rich investor comes in to fund her study, Donetti is enthusiastic and fabricates a Mr. Zott working on the study.

A sudden traged

The tragedy is Calvin Evans’ death. It was sudden, unexpected- he slipped and got crushed under a backing car. With Calvin gone, Elizabeth had no one to turn to.

Yet, she persisted. She went back to her job only to find out she’s pregnant out of the wedlock. The news spread like fire and she was sacked. Still, she persisted. She started freelancing, some of the institute’s scientists came to her too and she remodelled the kitchen into a lab. The money was low but she was making something.

Then, came Mad and new opportunities

Mad Zott, Calvin and Elizabeth’s daughter. A child smart beyond her years because of her mother’s experiential teaching. At age 4, she knew how to read, write, and reason. Elizabeth also found a new friend in Harriet Sloane, her neighbour.

Through chance, she got offered a job as a cook, something she was reluctant to do but agreed for the money. And she didn’t go easy on the management. She turned the cooking classes into a lesson in chemistry for the housewives and even started to inspire them to take hold of their life.

The inevitable backlash was nothing compared to the support she got.

A dramatic new entry

Calvin’s past has been traumatic. But there was something which didn’t make sense. His father was dead but to some Wakely guy, a pen pal, he’d written he wished his father was dead. That’s because at the orphanage, one man did come in search of him but the bishop created a misunderstanding which kept them apart and sought money for the orphanage- but got educational science material.

Now, Wakely by chance got in touch with Mad as she was researching for her family tree project and realized she’s Evans’ daughter. On enquiries, it was found that a Parker Foundation donated to the orphanage where Evans was. And the woman behind the foundation was Calvin’s real mother- Avery Parker.

The ending, explained

Avery had her son taken away from her through dishonest means and when she got to know he’s actually alive, she goes in his quest. Finally culminating after she hears of his death but determined to know the people who loved him- Elizabeth.

She offers Elizabeth Donatti’s position and renews her purpose in chemistry after a misinformed and demeaning article in a magazine.

Throughout the novel, we see empowerment of women no matter the hurdles they face. It’s the little things as well as the big. The abuses result in freedom, the doubts turn into resolves.

Talking to The Guardian about the basis of the book- Elizabeth and Chemistry, Garmus says, “Chemically speaking, she’s the catalyst – she changes every character she comes in contact with.”