Study Guide

Lizzie Bisco in The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau

Lizzie Bisco

Lizzie is one of Lina's closest friends (possibly even her bestie). She's one of the only people who can keep up with Lina: she "could run almost as fast as Lina and could talk three times faster." (2.11) Clearly they're meant to be friends, right?

Flamey and Flakey

She's a little flighty, though. When Lina meets Lizzie after work one day, Lina notices something strange (even for Lizzie): "It seemed to Lina that Lizzie was like a clock wound too tightly and running too fast. She'd always been a little this way, but today she was more so than ever. Her gaze skipped from one spot to another, her fingers twiddled with the edge of her skirt. She looked paler than usual, too. Her freckles stood out like little smudges of dirt on her nose" (7.65).

Hmm… While it seems totally likely that people in Ember suffer from some sort of cabin fever, spending their whole lives in one tiny city, Lizzie's behavior is kinda weird. It's like she's incapable of sitting still or paying attention to anyone other than herself for very long at a time.

Lina realizes this when she tries to show Lizzie the mysterious message she found: "She'd always had fun with Lizzie. But their fun was usually with games—hide-and-seek, tag, the kinds of games where you run and climb. Lizzie never had been much interested in anything that was written on paper" (7.78). We get it, not everyone's a literary type (and they don't have Shmoop in Ember). But if your best friend is trying to show you something, maybe you should make an effort to pay attention?

Because of her bright red hair, Lizzie looks like a flame. People call her things like "carrot-head" (7.51), and Lina spots her around town one day because "her orange hair was unmistakable" (11.19). And like a flame, Lizzie's a bit flakey and finicky. Even though she's supposedly Lina's friend, she doesn't really act like a friend. On Assignment Day, Lizzie tells Lina: "Poor you! I thought I picked a bad one, but you got the worst. I feel lucky compared to you" (1.57). Um, thanks? How… thoughtful?

Selfish (But So What?)

We're just calling it like we see it: Lizzie is really self-involved. Even Lina didn't realize the extent of it, until she tells Lizzie that her grandmother has died:

Lizzie gave her a quick sideways glance, but she didn't stop walking. "That's too bad," she said absently. "Poor you." What was wrong with her? Lizzie was ordinarily so interested in other people's misfortunes. She could be sincerely sympathetic, too, when she wasn't wrapped up in her own troubles. (11.25-26)

If even Lina is aware that her friend likes to hear about other people's troubles, and that she's usually wrapped up in her own issues, that doesn't speak well of Lizzie. When you're best friend's grandmother and caretaker dies, we're thinking you should muster a bit more sympathy than "that's too bad."

When Lizzie gets mixed up with Looper, too, we see her selfish side magnified. Lina asks why Lizzie and Looper should be the ones to nom on all the goods they've found, and Lizzie answers, "Because we found it. Because we can get at it" (11.86). That is, you gotta admit, pretty selfish logic. It's shortsighted, too. What's gonna happen when everyone runs out of food? We're betting they could use some of that extra stash.

We could cut Lizzie some slack since she's only 12. But Lina and Doon are also 12, and they've learned that it's more important to work for the good of the community than to constantly be looking out for Number One. Somehow, somewhere along the way, Lizzie lost sight of that. Which is a bummer, because it means that Lina's down a friend.