When you're a kid in Ember, your life isn't all fun and games (well, except for the parts that are). To Doon and Lina, pressing issues like saving their city affect their attitudes towards everything and everyone—and since they're our main narrators, their attitudes influence how we view the events of the book.
Doon, of course, is more serious than Lina. Here's what's going on in his head after his first day working in the Pipeworks: "Running out of light bulbs, running out of power, running out of time—disaster was right around the corner. That's what Doon was thinking about when he stopped outside the Gathering Hall on his way home and saw Lina on the roof… But how could she be so lighthearted when everything was falling apart?" (3.37).
Yes, Doon, we get it: everything is Serious Business For Serious. Lina's got a dose of it too, though. Like when she loses Poppy during the blackout that happened after her colored pencil craze, she looks at the pencils and thinks, "They were not quite as beautiful as they had been. When she held them, she remembered the powerful wanting she had felt in that dusty store, and the feeling of it was mixed up with fear and shame and darkness" (5.80)
The tone here is serious because obviously it's not mocking Lina's feelings—it's presenting them realistically, and taking seriously the effect of almost losing her sister, all for some frivolous colored pencils.
Despite the fact that Doon and Lina make some mistakes along the way, we can't help but feel for them. They are, after all, only kids, ad they're doing the best they can. Like at the very end, when they've escaped Ember, Doon asks about the note they'd meant to leave with someone trustworthy:
"Oh!" Lina stared at him, stricken. "The message to Clary!" She put her hand in her pocket and pulled out the crumpled piece of paper. "I forgot all about it! All I was thinking of was getting Poppy and getting to you." (18.60)
Doh! We're kinda floored that Doon and Lina are smart enough to figure out the incomplete message from the Builders, and yet they make silly mistakes in their follow-through. But we don't end up hating them or assuming that they're idiots, and this is because the book's tone is sympathetic, giving us insights into who they are and why they act the way they do.
Seeing as the two main characters are young (in the 12ish range), they make the typical mistakes that young people would—imagining themselves pitted against all of society, thinking that they're smarter than the adults around them, and so on. This makes them easy to empathize with, whether you're a kid or an adult, but we're thinking this one's particularly geared toward the younger set. So we're calling it Young Adult Literature.
Since the city of Ember is completely underground, its people are totally reliant on technology to live their lives. Artificial lights provide light to see by and grow plants with, while stores of processed food, vitamins, and medicine keep people healthy (sorta) without access to natural things like sunlight that we generally need to survive. But when the technology is starting to break down, it puts people's lives at risk.
As we find out, Ember was only built to accommodate human life for 200 or so years, so it's becoming an actively dangerous environment for the people still living there. In fact, the only reason they're living there in the first place is because some sort of terrible disaster has made the world above—our world—totally uninhabitable. And since their lives in Ember, post-nuclear-apocalypse, are pretty crummy, we're calling this one dystopian literature, too.
The City of Ember is, you guessed it, about a city named—drumroll, please—Ember. But why call it that instead of Lina and Doon's Excellent Adventure or Lina in Emberland? One reason is that the mystery of Ember is bigger than both Lina and Doon, and it'll take them working together to figure it out. What happens to Ember is about more than Lina and Doon's fates, too: there are hundreds of people living there, and all of their lives are in danger because of Ember's failing infrastructure.
It's also worth remembering what the word "ember" means: it's a small glowing fragment from a fire, like a piece of wood or coal that's been lit and hasn't gone out yet. With this in mind, can you see why the Builders would name the city meant to preserve the last remainders of humanity "Ember"? Although it is a bit ironic, given how no one in the city uses fire on a daily basis, and in fact no one knows where fire comes from or how to get it to stay burning to provide light and warmth.
See, that's the thing about humanity as a whole in The City of Ember. They're great at starting stuff, but not so good at preserving or maintaining it. Like, it'd be great if we could come up with a sustainable way of life that doesn't destroy us or the earth. But in The City of Ember, people apparently mucked that up, so it's back to the drawing board to start over with a smaller-scale civilization. Hopefully Ember—representing the spark of life in its first stages—will be nurtured into a flame (a.k.a. a culture) that can provide warmth and life, without growing into a destructive, raging fire that consumes everything.
Another reason Ember is featured in the title is that it is a unique kind of city, and this fact is important to the plot of the book. If a normal city's infrastructure goes out, well, people are unhappy and try to leave and it kind of sucks but most people survive and move along to the next town down the road. But in Ember, if the power goes out, everyone is left in total darkness, unable to see anything or anyone. If the food runs out, there is literally nothing to eat.
The fate of Ember is central to the book's plot, then. But we also learn, throughout the book, that the city has a different purpose than the ones its residents assume. The city may, in fact, have saved humanity from extinction. But we'll have to read the second book in the series, The People of Sparks, to find out what happens to Lina and Doon and the others in the world above.
At the very very end, Mrs. Murdo is walking alone. The message that Lina and Doon toss down from the upper world falls at her feet, and she begins to untie it (and, presumably, to read it).
Let's rewind a bit: Lina and Doon and Poppy escape Ember—woohoo!—but Lina's disappointed because they don't find the city she's been dreaming of, but rather this big beautiful place that we might call nature. And the kids realize that they've left Ember without telling anyone else about the details of the escape route, so that's another bummer. Things haven't gone quite as they (or we) expected or hoped.
But because they manage to get the message to Mrs. Murdo, there is in fact still hope. If someone like Lizzie or Looper or one of the mayor's guards had found the message, we would've thrown up our hands, because they wouldn't have done a darn thing with the message. But Mrs. Murdo, well, she's responsible and caring and trustworthy. If anyone's gonna read the message carefully and try to implement it, we'd trust her to do so (though Clary is a close second).
So the conclusion of The City of Ember is a tad open-ended, because we don't know exactly what will happen next. But we're hoping that Mrs. Murdo manages to lead everyone out of Ember to safety. Or at least to a better situation—a place that's not falling apart.
We know that the Builders intended Ember to be inhabited for around two hundred years, maybe a little more, depending on how severe the damage to the earth from the expected war/apocalypse/Harlem-Shake-a-thon is. What we don't know is exactly when Ember was constructed, or if and when the anticipated destruction of the human race occurred. It could've happened in 2014, in 2020, or in 2051 for all we know.
One thing we do know is that people have been in Ember for longer than the Builders had anticipated, thanks to that no-good seventh mayor greedily stealing the box to see if it contained a secret cure for his illness. When that mayor dies, the box ends up in a closet, where "it sat, unnoticed, year after year, until its time arrived, and the lock quietly clicked open" (The Instructions.14).
Thanks to Lina reading a passage about the Gathering Hall clock and thinking about the current date in Ember, we know that "they called this the year 241, but it might have been 245 or 239 or 250" (2.76). This is because not every timekeeper is on the ball, and as a result, things have gotten a tad muddled with Ember's calendar. Whoops.
Regardless, people have been living in Ember for longer than the Builders intended, so they're running out of supplies (including important stuff like food and medicine), and the generator is starting to break down. Do you want worry about whether all light will vanish first from your world first, or you'll run out of food first? No, we didn't think so.
Planning out a city in advance means that its layout makes sense (unlike, say, Boston). But the lack of natural landmarks—like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west—means that some adjustments had to be made.
Doon thinks to himself, while in the Pipeworks, "In Ember, you were taught to remember the directions this way: north was the direction of the river; south was the direction of the greenhouses; east was the direction of the school; and west was the direction left over, having nothing in particular to mark it" (3.12). Hey, man, whatever works.
Lina in particular makes a good tour guide, since she loves to run around the town on her way to and from school (and later, to fulfill her job as a messenger). Here's how the town looks to Lina:
Every corner, every alley, every building was familiar to her. She always knew where she was, though most streets looked more or less the same. All of them were lined with old two-story buildings, the wood of their window frames and doors long unpainted. On the street level were shops; above the shops were the apartments where people lived. Every building, at the place where the walls met the roof, was equipped with a row of floodlights—big cone-shaped lamps that cast a strong yellow glare. (2.2)
So yeah, there's no sunlight in Ember, just electric lights. As a result, pretty much everyone is pale. We know they take daily vitamins with their meals, so we're guessing that vitamin D in particular makes an appearance. There are shortages of almost everything in Ember, and that's pretty disturbing when it comes down to it.
Located underneath Ember, the Pipeworks house the generator that powers all of Ember. It is, to Lina, pretty much the worst place ever. She thinks "going down into the Pipeworks must be like being buried alive" (1.38). And here's how she and most non-Pipeworks-laboring Ember citizens picture the place:
Pipeworks laborers worked below the storerooms in the deep labyrinth of tunnels that contained Ember's water and sewer pipes. They spent their days stopping up leaks and replacing pipe joints. It was wet, cold work; it could even be dangerous. A swift underground river ran through the Pipeworks, and every now and then someone fell into it and was lost. People were occasionally lost in the tunnels, too, if they strayed too far. (1.37)
To Doon, though, the Pipeworks isn't such a bad place to work; he's mostly annoyed that the ancient generator makes no sense to him. Heck, it doesn't make much sense to us either. And living in a world powered by technology you don't understand must be terrifying, especially when you rely on it on a daily basis.
Everyone lives in little apartments above the city's shops, and most of them are full of clutter by now. We're guessing the apartment Lina shares with Granny and Poppy is typical: "It was a small apartment, only four rooms, but there was enough stuff to fill twenty. There were things that had belonged to Lina's parents, her grandparents, and even their grandparents—old, broken, cracked, threadbare things that had been patched and repaired dozens or hundreds of times" (2.28). This makes sense since Ember is a closed-off, totally self-reliant community. If something breaks, you'd better hope you can fix it, since there may not be anything like it in the storerooms to replace it.
The people of Ember are resourceful and skilled, but they also try to inject a little beauty into otherwise dull and colorless lives. Lina covers her apartment's walls with her drawings, for example. After Lina and Poppy move in with Mrs. Murdo, Lina observes this at Mrs. Murdo's place: "On the table was a basket, and in the basket were three turnips, each of them lavender on one end and white on the other. Mrs. Murdo must have put them there, Lina thought, not just because she was going to have them for dinner, but also because they were beautiful" (11.1).
When Lina and Doon finally escape Ember, they emerge into the outer world—our world. The one with the sun and the moon and the stars and boy bands. It's pretty familiar to us, but to the kids, who've never seen the sky before, it's like The Best Thing Ever.
The first sunrise is pretty awe-inspiring:
The edge of the sky turned gray, and then pale orange, and then deep fiery crimson. The land stood out against it, a long black rolling line. One spot along this line grew so bright they could hardly look at it, so bright it seemed to take a bite out of the land. It rose higher and higher until they could see that it was a fiery circle, first deep orange and then yellow, and too bright to look at any longer. The color seeped out of the sky and washed over the land. Light sparkled on the soft hair of the hills and shone through the lacy leaves as every shade of green sprang to life around them. (19.42)
We know from this passage that if there was a nuclear winter or whatever, it's long passed. Or maybe the feared disaster didn't strike this part of the world. The sun is shining, plants are growing, and there are insects, birds, and at least one other mammal (probably a fox). The kids figure out from watching the fox with a fruit in its mouth that they can probably eat the same fruit from a nearby tree, so the land hasn't been poisoned as far as we can tell.
The real mystery, and one we don't see answered in this book, is: what happened to the other people of the earth? Have they all died out? Were others also hidden away? It seems like a shame to Shmoop that no one's around to enjoy this idyllic nature scene with Doon, Lina, and Poppy.
Recommended for kids nine and up, The City of Ember is written in an easy-to-understand way. The two protagonists are both kids in the 12-ish range, and since we see things through their eyes, we see a simplified version of the world. Then again, Ember itself is also like a simplified version of the world: there's no gun violence because there are no guns, and no war because there aren't divisions based on ethnicity or religion in their society.
Sure, when you actually start thinking about the story's implications, there are plenty of interesting and complex ideas there, but the story is written in a straightforward and engaging way, so we're guessing just about anyone can get into it and grasp the plot.
Fancy words? We don't need no stinkin' fancy words. The style of The City of Ember gets plenty across using simple and direct language. Like when Lina asks Granny what pineapple was:
"It was yellow and sweet," said Granny with a dreamy look in her eyes. "I had it four times before we ran out of it." (7.47)
These two sentences convey a whole bunch of feelings—nostalgia, longing, memory, and, of course, tasty tastiness. And yet, none of the words are more than two syllables. That's pretty impressive. DuPrau manages to pack a whole lot of feelings into very simple writing.
Plus, that "dreamy look" description also shows that the style is metaphorical. As in, Granny wasn't actually talking in her sleep, so we're not supposed to take it literally. We also get a whole slew of metaphors when the book turns toward describing the environment. During the long blackout, Lina's freaking out: "But the darkness pressed against her and she couldn't summon her voice. She could hardly breathe" (5.56). Newsflash: darkness has no physical substance, so it can't actually press against you. But it sure felt that way to Lina, and the language of the book reflects that.
Our first clue that darkness is important in this book? It gets mentioned in the very first sentence, which reads, "In the city of Ember, the sky is always dark" (1.1). We're guessing they're not spending winter in Alaska, so we know straightaway that something's up.
And indeed, every time darkness pops into the book, it's when something is very not right. Take, for example, the moment when Lina is running home after Assignment Day:
When she came to Hafter Street, she slowed a little. This street was deep in shadow. Four of the streetlamps were out and had not been fixed… How could people find their way through the streets in the dark? (2.4)
So on the one hand, darkness is kinda normal in Ember. It's par for the course that the sky will never be bright and blue. And it's not odd at all that the lights go out every night—that's you're your regularly scheduled programming in Ember. But when darkness appears where and when it's not supposed to be, well that's a big symptom that something's up—and it's nothing good.
Of course, that sounds like a bit of a paradox. How can darkness to be both normal and abnormal for the citizens of Ember?
Easy—darkness is linked to the unknown. The citizens of Ember have no clue that they're living in an underground city. They just know that a reasonable amount of darkness is to be expected. But as soon as the darkness starts intruding in on their lives more and more, it indicates that something is wrong—there's stuff they don't know or understand, and that's what's threatening.
But we can't stop there, now can we? If we ask the always wise Clary, darkness is about more than just the unknown—it's about the people themselves:
There is so much darkness in Ember, Lina. It's not just outside, it's inside us, too. Everyone has some darkness inside. It's like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power. And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets. (13.8)
Let's break this down. On a symbolic level, Clary is saying that we all have hunger within us—a selfishness that won't be denied. And if we give in to that dark hunger, it grows. Take the mayor, for example. Once he got a taste of those delicious foods, he probably just couldn't help himself. And once he got a taste of his power to hoard those foods for himself, well, why would he ever bother sharing? That hunger is a darkness because it leads to bad things. The more he hoards power and supplies, the more the citizens of Ember suffer, and the more likely it is they'll end up in literal darkness—permanently.
It doesn't seem like Clary is saying darkness is necessarily a bad thing; after all, we all have some inside of us, so it must be natural. But letting your darkness get out of hand is what leads to imbalance and problems. Letting your darkness have power over you… well, we've all seen Star Wars, so we know where that path leads. Unless your life goal is to be a Sith lord, we don't recommend it.
So keep an eye out for darkness, whether it's internal or external. Darkness isn't inherently evil, but too much of it is usually a bad sign.
Lina is so excited at the thought of getting some colored pencils to draw with that she follows a rumor to Looper's shop. Seeing them in person is totally exciting: "Inside the box were at least a dozen colored pencils—red, green, blue, yellow, purple, orange. They had never even been sharpened; their ends were flat. They had erasers. Lina's heart gave a few fast beats" (5.33).
Seriously, girl, they're just a bunch of pencils. What's the big deal? Well, to Lina, the pencils represent the ability to draw the pictures she sees inside her head, especially her dreamed-of lit-up city. In that sense, pencils = freedom of expression, and so it's even better that they're pristine and not used up, like most of the stuff in Ember is. Lina can really put these pencils to work.
Sadly, the pencils become tainted because Lina ends up associating them with her neglect of Poppy leading up to the power outage. She's so entranced by the pencils that she loses track of her baby sister, who winds up in danger. And thanks to that little mishap, the pencils aren't all about joy and imagination and expression anymore. They're also about icky feelings, like guilt and selfish desire: "she took the two colored pencils from her pocket. They were not quite as beautiful as they had been. When she held them, she remembered the powerful wanting she had felt in that dusty store, and the feeling of it was mixed up with shame and fear and darkness" (5.80). It's a sad day when a kid's desire for art supplies becomes a symbol of shame and fear and darkness, but then again, there are a lot of sad days in Ember.
So when Clary compares the mayor's inner state to one of darkness, Lina totally gets what she's talking about: "Lina knew. She had felt it in Looper's shop as she hovered over the colored pencils" (13.9). It's a bummer that Lina doesn't have happy, carefree associations with the pencils anymore, but she also learned a valuable lesson about how greed can eat you up from the inside and make you act in not-nice ways that have huge consequences for the future. Now, if only the mayor had learned that same lesson.
The river running under Ember gets top billing in the first chapter, as one of the big reasons Lina doesn't want to get a Pipeworks position on Assignment Day. As she puts it, "A swift underground river ran through the Pipeworks, and every now and then someone fell into it and was lost" (1.37). Yeah, that does not sound safe.
But the thing is, Lina has never seen the river before in her life. She just knows about it. Which reminds us of the fact that just about everyone in Ember is only partially aware of the things that are central to their lives. They know the sky is always dark, but they don't know it's because of the fact that they're living underground. They know that electricity works, they just don't know how. They know they can grow things in the greenhouses by applying light and water, but they don't know why life can come from a seed.
The fact that the people of Ember don't actually know how they're surviving puts them in a tight spot. It's not like they're living in some jungle paradise where delicious tropical fruits grow on every tree and birds practically fall from the sky ready to be roasted and eaten. So they rely on the river for power, and use the generator to get that power. But if and when the generator finally breaks down, they won't know how to rig another solution in order to continue living in their city. By making Ember dependent on the river, but not telling them how exactly that dependence works, the Builders gave them a raw deal.
Doon has also never seen the river—until he takes Lina's spot as a Pipeworks laborer, that is. On his first day on the job, he's absolutely floored:
He stood still, staring. Like most people, he had never really been sure what a river was—just that it was water that somehow flowed on its own. He'd imagined it would be like the clear, narrow stream that came out of the kitchen faucet, only bigger, and horizontal instead of vertical. But this was something entirely different—not a stream of water, but endless tons of it pouring by. Wide as the widest street in Ember, churning and dipping and swirling, the river roared past, its turbulent surface like black, liquid glass scattered with flecks of light. Doon had never seen anything that moved so fast, and he had never heard such a thunderous, heart-stopping roar. (3.10)
Life in Ember is so contained, with everything planned out by the Builders, that it can feel a little sterile at times. But the river doesn't fit inside a tidy box, just like it doesn't fit in Doon's expectations. In a way, the river symbolizes all of nature, which they've been deprived of for so long. It's messy, wild, chaotic. Humans can work with it for a time, as the Builders did by harnessing the river's energy to power the generator that powers Ember, but you'd have to be power-crazy to think you could actually control it.
It's also worth noting that the river is the escape route from Ember. Lina and Doon are the ones to discover this, of course, and they're the first citizens to take a ride on that river—sans lifejackets. In that sense, the river represents hope to them, although it's not without its dangers. Then again, hope rarely is totally safe.
What do you call a moth that's not yet a moth? A worm, apparently: "A few days before school ended, Doon found the worm on the underside of a cabbage leaf he was slicing up for dinner. It was a pale soft green, velvety smooth all over, with tiny, stubby legs" (3.52). Because Doon's fascinated with insects of all kinds, he puts it in a box in order to study it.
At some point, between running around and trying to save the city, Doon notices that the worm has "wrapped itself up in a blanket of threads." (15.20) Now that's odd behavior for a worm, sure, but we can probably guess what's going on. And sure enough, while Doon is watching, the bundle begins to wriggle, and slowly, a moth emerges from it. This goes down right after Doon and Lina have figured out the Instructions for Egress and found the river path that leads out of Ember. So it's no wonder that Doon is all smiles as he watches the moth's transformation. Just like Doon and Lina will finally be able to escape Ember and change their lives for the better, the moth is finally able to escape it's cocoon and transform:
Doon watched until the moth disappeared. He knew he had seen something marvelous. What was the power that turned the worm into a moth? It was greater than any power the Builders had had, he was sure of that. The power that ran the city of Ember was feeble by comparison—and about to run out. (15.22)
Doon's on to something here. The fact that this transformation is so "marvelous" to him shows that he understands that nature is way more powerful than even the most powerful human. What this means to Doon (and the rest of the people in Ember) is that trusting in nature will get you farther than trusting in people. And don't tell the Believers we said this, but if nature is stronger than even the Builders, the citizens of Ember need to look to nature to guide them in the next steps of figuring out their world, just as the moth has done.
The bean sprout first comes up in conversation when Lina asks Clary if Ember is really the only light in the dark world. Clary pulls the bean out of her pocket and says that something inside it knows how to make a bean plant. This might be some kind of clue as to what is going on with Ember, because Ember is also alive, and the life inside it had to come from somewhere.
Clary gives Lina the bean seed, along with a pot filled with some dirt, saying, "Stick the bean in here and water it every day […] It looks like nothing, like a little white stone, but inside it there's life. That must be a sort of clue, don't you think? If we could just figure it out" (4.98). Lina takes it home and waters it, and when Clary stops by to help Lina with the instructions, she points out that it's started to sprout.
Is it a coincidence that the bean starts to sprout right when Lina makes headway in deciphering the instructions, and learns that they're instructions for how to exit Ember? We don't think so. Just as the bean sprout breaks out of it seed shell and begins to flourish, Lina begins to figure out how the people of Ember can leave their long-term home and find a new, hospitable place to live.
In The City of Ember, we only get a glimpse inside two character's brains for the most part. These two are, you guessed it, Lina and Doon. Through them, we get a glimpse of what life is like in Ember, and we're also treated to their thoughts as they solve the mystery of Ember's existence.
One of the nice things about this narrative technique is that we get a fuller picture of each character. Lina, for instance, thinks of Doon when she is getting closer to figuring out what the instructions from the Builders contain: "The message had something to do with the river, a door, and the Pipeworks. And whom did she know who knew about the Pipeworks? Doon, of course. She pictured his thin, serious face, and his eyes looking out searchingly from beneath his dark eyebrows… he was curious. He paid attention to things" (7.97-98).
Doon, of course, wouldn't be sitting there thinking about his own thin face and dark eyebrows, unless he's got a secret vanity problem. But since Lina does it, it helps us to get a good picture of how Doon looks, and we also know which of his behaviors (like curiosity) get picked up on by other people. Doon also takes pride in being curious and a fast learner, so the fact that Lina knows this about him too shows that his behaviors are right in line with his values.
This isn't true for every character in the book, obviously. There's the mayor, who lies to the people of Ember while hoarding goods for himself. We never see inside his head, so we don't know how he explains that to himself—and honestly, we kinda don't want to be in his head, since it must be a lonely, nasty place.
The overall effect of this narrative technique is that we get a good understanding of Lina and Doon's motivations, but we only understand the other characters as much as they open up to Lina and Doon. People like Clary, Poppy, and Lizzie are practically open books, while others like Mayor Cole and Looper remain mysteries.
From page one we learn that Ember is a carefully designed city, made by the Builders to protect the people in it for a certain span of time. When we jump into the novel's main plot, it's Assignment Day, which the kids in Class 8 are kinda excited about and kinda scared about. We're calling this the initial situation because we learn the background with Ember, and we meet and learn all about Lina and Doon, our main characters
Lina runs around happily being a messenger; Doon plods along in the Pipeworks trying to fix stuff. And yet not everything is hunky-dory. Both kids realize that something is truly wrong in Ember. The power is failing, supplies are running out, the ghosts of Christmas Past are… wait, different story.
When Lina finds a message containing instructions from the Builders, and when Doon finds a secret room in the Pipeworks, they start to figure out that urgent action is needed to save their community. This, of course, makes their lives pretty complicated because brings them into conflict with the mayor, who benefits from keeping his people in the dark about the situation.
After a mad dash to figure out the cryptic instructions and locate the point of exit from Ember, Lina is captured by the mayor's guards for treason and Doon is helpless to save her. She finally gets away, and together the kids (along with Lina's baby sister Poppy) maneuver one of the Builders' escape boats into the river.
Cue exciting trip down a raging waterway. It's all new and scary and, of course, very wet. Being pursued by the authorities is freaky and tense, hence the main crisis of the plot, and the plot turns in a new direction once the kids realized that they can and should escape by boat.
The kids emerge into the world above, see the moon and stars, and witness their first sunrise (which is totally amazerrific). They realize that they've come from this world, and were meant to return to it. They also read a journal from the time of the Builders, helping them put together more puzzle pieces.
Since most of the previous action has taken place over the last few days, the chance to catch their breath in a peaceful, scenic nature-y spot is pretty much the best falling action they can hope for.
Doon and Lina find a crack in the earth and manage to get a glimpse of Ember, which has been underground this whole time (oh, so that explains it). They throw a message down into the city, explaining the mayor's treachery and how to access the escape boats on the river. Mrs. Murdo finds the message—and because we know she's super-competent, we're thinking she'll act on it ASAP. We're filled with a sense of hope that a lot of the problems in Ember (abuse of power, lack of electricity, a dearth of supplies to sustain life) will be resolved once this information reaches everyone and they hatch a plan to come out of the darkness and into the light.
Because Ember was deliberately constructed as a refuge from our messed-up, disaster-headed world, there aren't many references to things from our world in it. The original citizens of Ember weren't supposed to bring books, photos, or any other mementos or reminders. Still, a few phrases survived (not quite proverbs, more like slang), such as
Alas, that's about it.