The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
Fast and Fearless
One of the first things we learn about Lina is that she loves to run. On Assignment Day, she pictures "herself running through the streets of the city in a red jacket." (1.7) This is her way of wishin' and hopin' that she'll luck out and become a messenger. Messengers get to run around the city all day delivering news, which sounds like her idea of heaven.
In fact, she loves to move so much, it's almost as though she has trouble sitting still. When she's waiting for her assignment, she's described as a "slender girl […] winding a strand of her long, dark hair around her finger, winding and unwinding it again and again. Sometimes she plucked at a thread on her ragged cape or bent over to pull on her socks, which were loose and tended to slide down around her ankles. One of her feet tapped the floor softly" (1.5). Yeah, this girl's fidgety. She needs to be out there moving and shaking—not cooped up inside doing nothing much at all.
Being a messenger makes Lina as happy as a clam. Yes, Lina is One Of Those People. You know who we're talking about—the people who actually like to run. She probably looks disgustingly fresh even after spending all day sprinting from one end of the town to the other. Quick, Adidas, sign her for an endorsement deal.
So she's fast. So what? Well, Lina's love for running connects her with the people of Ember. Since she's constantly delivering their messages, she gets to know the citizens in every corner of the city. And to her, "All of it was interesting. She loved finding things out, and she loved running. And even by the end of the day, she wasn't tired. Running made her feel strong and big-hearted, it made her love the places she ran through and the people whose messages she delivered" (2.56).
See, Lina's messenger job makes her care about Ember's problems in a way that she didn't before. It's impossible to be so involved in her fellow citizens' lives and not care about them, right? So when the seven-minute blackout goes down, Lina freaks out. Suddenly, everyone seems to be just a little bit in danger, and she notes that "Fear had settled over the city. Lina felt it like a cold chill. She understood now that Doon had been speaking the truth on Assignment Day. Ember was in grave danger." (6.3) It's thanks to her messenger job that Lina is able to change her mind and start struggling toward a solution to Ember's problems.
Color Me a City
Remember how Lina pictures herself wearing a red messenger's coat on Assignment Day? This shows us that she's really visually oriented. And we know our girl loves to draw. Her subject? Usually it's "a city that looked somewhat like Ember, except that its buildings were lighter and taller and had more windows." (2.30) Lina sees this other city in her imagination, and she feels compelled to draw it even though she knows it's made-up. (Or is it?)
So it's no wonder then, that those brand spankin' new colored pencils at Looper's shop catch her eye: "Inside the box were at least a dozen colored pencils—red, green, blue, yellow, purple, orange. They had never been sharpened; their ends were flat. They had erasers. Lina's heart gave a few fast beats" (5.33). For a kid who loves colors and coloring to see a set of unused, totally new colored pencils in a place like Ember where everything gets reused and recycled? Well, let's just say it's kind of a big deal.
It's not just colors that get Lina going; she's interested in writing, too. When Poppy is chewing on the message from the Builders, Lina notices the way it's written: "It was the printing that sparked Lina's curiosity. It was not handwriting, or if it was, it was the neatest, most regular handwriting she had ever seen. It was more like the letters printed on cans of food or along the sides of pencils" (7.1). She's smart enough to realize that there may be more to this message than meets the eye, so she saves it and begins to work on deciphering it. Lina's a girl who doesn't let a thing pass her by. She notices every little detail, which is a fact that's sure to help her and Doon out later.
In fact, we're starting to think that Lina's pretty engaged with all of her senses—not just vision. At one point, she remembers how she used to visit the greenhouse with her father: "Lina had spent hours wandering along the gravel paths that ran between the vegetable beds, sniffing the leaves, poking her fingers into the dirt, and learning to tell the plants apart by their look and smell" (4.36). She likes to smell and touch plants, and she's curious about how to identify them using her different senses.
Unfortunately, Lina's keen senses are wasted in a place like Ember, where there's little light or color to be had. The contrast when she, Doon, and Poppy make it to the outside world is really striking: "The sky arched over them, higher than they could have imagined, a pale, clear blue. Lina felt as though a lid that had been on her all her life had been lifted off" (19.43). This is the moment our girl has been waiting for—a moment when the world gives her all new things to see, touch, hear, smell, and taste.
Lina is twelve, which in Ember means she's old enough to work. And while that might seem cruelly young to us, it's pretty handy for Lina because she has to support her little sister, Poppy. These two orphaned siblings live with their grandmother, but since Granny is starting to lose her marbles, Lina has to shoulder a lot of that responsibility.
We're not saying Lina's getting Most Responsible Big Sister of the Year Award, though. She is, after all, still only a kid herself. When she's looking at colored pencils to buy, she becomes so entranced by them that she accidentally loses Poppy. While she looks over the pencils, "a faint, dazzly feeling came over her" (5.43) and she completely loses track of her little sister.
Luckily Poppy is okay, but Lina's not: "She could have endured it if she'd been on her own. It was the thought of Poppy, lost, that she couldn't stand—and lost because she had been paying more attention to a box of pencils" (5.58) We'll say this for Lina: the fact that she knows she messed up proves her dedication to her little sister. But it also shows us that life in Ember is a lot more high stakes than it is elsewhere. When the lights can go out at any minute, you can't ever lose track of your loved ones—who knows when you'll find them again?
Still, Lina's only twelve, and it's asking a lot of a twelve-year-old to take care of a toddler and an older person at the same time. So we're gonna cut her some slack. The important thing is that she cares, right? And she does care a ton: "Lina loved her little sister so much that it was like an ache under her ribs." (2.24)
In fact, Lina loves Poppy so much that she just can't leave her behind when she and Doon embark on their journey out of Ember. And yeah, the journey will be dangerous, but how is staying in Ember with its failing light and dwindling food stores any better? So long as you keep in mind that Lina is just a kid, and an orphan at that, she has a pretty big heart and really is trying her best to take of the people she loves. Which is more than we can say for a lot of people, right?Lina Mayfleet's Timeline