Study Guide

The City of Ember Quotes

  • Friendship

    Once they were out the door, Lizzie said goodbye and scurried away, as if Lina's bad luck were a disease she might catch. (1.58)

    Because clearly, you should treat your best friend as if their misfortunes might be contagious. We get that Assignment Day is a stressful time for kids (since the luck of the draw will determine the job they work for the next three years), but you'd think that a friend would want to comfort their buddy who'd just gotten some bad news.

    When they were younger, Lina and Doon had been friends. Together they had explored the back alleys and dimly lit edges of the city. But in their fourth year of school, they had begun to grow apart. (2.7)

    Sometimes friendships just kind of fade away. Sure, no one wants it to happen, but it totally does. In the case of Lina and Doon, a silly accident where she laughs at him when he feels humiliated is the cause for them splitting. Maybe you've been in a similar position before, where common sense loses out to pride, at the cost of friendship?

    When the lunch break came, Arlin took her lunch sack from a pocket in her tool belt and went off to meet some friends a few tunnels away. (3.25)

    Arlin isn't too friendly to Doon on his first day in the Pipeworks, but apparently she does have friends of her own among the Pipeworks laborers. It makes sense that coworkers would befriend each other, especially when they're in a dank and dangerous environment like the Pipeworks. The more people who have your back down there, the better.

    The next day Lina was given a message by Arbin Swinn, who ran the Callay Street Vegetable Market, to be delivered to Lina's friend Clary, the greenhouse manager. (4.30)

    Clary is older than Lina. We don't know by how much, but we do know that Clary worked at the greenhouses with Lina's father, who's been dead for around two years. So it's kinda neat that Clary and Lina are friends even though there's an obvious age difference between the two. We're thinking it'd be kinda boring to only have friends who are your same age, or who are exactly like you in other respects.

    "Lizzie," Lina said, beckoning toward the table in the corner of her room. "I want to show you—" But Lizzie wasn't listening. (7.66-67)

    Lizzie is way more interested in what she has to say than what Lina wants to share with her, which is kind of a bummer given that they're supposed to be best friends. We get that not every friendship will be 100% symmetrical in terms of who gives what, but still. You'd think Lizzie could at least make an effort to pay attention to what Lina wants to show her.

    "It was fun to see you, Lina. I miss you…What was it you wanted to show me? Oh yes—the fancy writing. Really nice. Lucky you to find it. Come and see me again soon, all right? I get so bored in that office." (7.79)

    Thanks, Lizzie, for showing us that friends exist to alleviate your boredom. That's totally their purpose, right? And is it just us, or does she come across as insincere when she's saying goodbye to Lina?

    Everywhere she ran, she heard the same words, like a drumbeat, in her mind: alone in the world, alone in the world. It wasn't exactly true. She had friends. And she had Mrs. Murdo, who was somewhere between a friend and a relative. (11.17)

    Lina's not really alone after Granny dies, but dealing with death is such a serious thing, it kind of feels that way. To Lina, having friends is proof that she's not alone in the world. Why friends? Well, she doesn't have any family left except for Poppy, so there's that. Also, to a kid (remember, Lina's twelve), it can seem like friends are your world, or at least your social world.

    But just at that moment, Lizzie tripped…Lina reached for Lizzie's arm. "Did you hurt yourself?" she asked, but Lizzie went scrambling after the cans so quickly it was clear she wasn't hurt. (11.38)

    We're getting the picture that Lina's a pretty considerate friend. She'll listen to Lizzie's nervous ramblings, and her first thought after Lizzie falls is to ask whether Lizzie is okay. In response, Lizzie tries to pick up her stolen goods as fast as she can, so that no one will notice them. Good game plan, Lizzie. Let's see how you feel about your friends when your illicit canned goods run out and you're left alone and hungry.

    She realized all at once that Doon—thin, dark-eyed Doon with his troublesome temper and his terrible brown jacket and his good heart—was the person that she knew better than anyone now. He was her best friend. (12.56)

    It's a nice side effect of all this mystery and conspiracy that Lina and Doon become friends again. And since they're older than the first time around (when they were friends in grade school), their friendship seems more real, more substantial. It's like if you were forced by your parents to take piano lessons when you were a kid, but later in life, you took up the piano again because you discovered that you really love it. Friendship should be a choice, something freely entered into, don't you think?

    For a moment, the fear he'd felt when he saw the guards was replaced by rage…But all at once he remembered: if the guards were after him, they'd be after Lina, too. He had to warn her. (15.33)

    For Doon's famous temper to cool down quickly, replaced with concern for Lina, shows how much their friendship has grown. It must be a universal rule of friendship: don't let the bad guys capture your friend if you can help it. Yeah, that sounds about right.

  • Greed

    But Granny rarely went out, Lina told herself… She didn't really need a new coat, did she? Besides, how much could a few pencils cost? She could probably get a coat for Granny and some pencils. (5.11)

    Oh, Lina, how quickly you learn the fine art of rationalizing irrational things. It seems like she subconsciously knows she's being kind of greedy here, but she's able to justify it to herself. Having colored pencils is surely more important than making certain her grandmother stays warm, right? (Wrong.)

    It was like hunger, what she felt. It was the same as when her hand sometimes seemed to reach out by itself to grab a piece of food. It was too strong to resist. (5.43)

    Lina's awareness of her greed doesn't make it any easier to resist, unfortunately. That shows just how powerful greed can be when it gets a hold of you, and how hard it can be to shake it.

    Later, in her bedroom, with Poppy asleep, 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 fear and shame and darkness. (5.80)

    It looks like Lina has to learn about the consequences of greed from the school of hard knocks. Luckily nothing too bad happened to Poppy during that blackout. And as for whether Lina's choice to get colored pencils instead of a coat for Granny was a good one, well, Granny did fall ill and die shortly after. It could've been something she was incubating for a while, or she could've gotten sick because she was cold because her selfish granddaughter didn't buy her a new, warm coat. Just sayin'.

    "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)

    Clary wins insightfulness points for this explanation of the mayor's greed. The scary thing, though, is that it's not just the mayor who's greedy—it's everyone in Ember. Some people just manage it better than others. But when these folks have been so deprived for so many generations, you can understand why they might be a bit selfish now and then.

    For a moment, she felt sorry for the mayor. His hunger had grown so big it could never be satisfied. His huge body couldn't contain it. It made him forget everything else. (13.9)

    This thought from Lina is pretty empathetic. She realizes that greed can become a prison, and if you're trapped in that prison, it makes not only your life miserable but also those of everyone around you. Don't get us wrong, the mayor is still a jerk, but it sucks that his greed is basically yanking him around.

    He could have told his father everything […] But Doon wanted to keep these things to himself for now. Tomorrow, the guards would announce that an alert young boy had uncovered the mayor's crime, and his father, hearing the announcements along with the rest of Ember, would turn to the person next to him and say, "That's my son they're talking about! My son!" (13.81)

    Doon isn't greedy for material things—he wants to be recognized and rewarded for his acts of service to the city. He wants his father to be proud of him, and to brag about him to others. That's actually a pretty common thing for people to desire, but when it gets out of hand, it can have consequences (like when Doon and Lina depart from Ember without actually telling anyone how to find the escape route… whoops).

    Lizzie nodded, smiling smugly. "Looper says it's all going to be gone soon anyway, why not live as well as we can right now?" (11.85)

    Yes, because scarcity is an excellent reason to act greedily. Highly recommended as a course of action. Not.

    "That's the solution he keeps telling us about. It's a solution for him, not the rest of us. He gets everything he needs, and we get the leftovers! He doesn't care about the city. All he cares about is his fat stomach!" (12.22)

    Well said, Doon. After putting the puzzle pieces together and realizing that the mayor is one of the people stealing food from the storerooms and secretly stashing it away, Doon gets angry at the mayor for lying to the people of Ember. Because the mayor says stuff like "solutions are being found," which is technically true—if he's the only person who deserves a solution. His greed must be skewing his judgment. We're not into fat-shaming, but we kind of have to agree with Doon: his greed has made him care only about his own (rather large) stomach.

    The thought of taking Poppy with her on the river, which had darted into Lina's mind, darted out again. I'm only being selfish, she thought, to want to have her with me. It's too dangerous to take her. Mrs. Murdo will bring her in a day or two. (15.81)

    Yeah, wanting to have your family close to you makes you soooo selfish, Lina. We wonder whether this thought is motivated partly by guilt from neglecting Poppy earlier and putting her in danger during the long blackout. Feelings of guilt and greed can make it really hard to sort out what the ethical thing to do is.

    "Silence!" said the mayor. "I am speaking." He wriggled slightly from side to side, wedging himself more firmly into the chair. He'll need to be pried out of it, Lina thought. (16.25)

    The mayor is such a greedy hypocrite, it's almost painful to watch him in action. He gorges himself while planning to let the citizens of Ember starve, and he demands that people respect his authority when he's clearly done nothing to earn their respect. We're starting to wonder if he's greedy for power as well as for food. Either way, he's totally cringeworthy.

  • Man and the Natural World

    "Take a lamp, for instance. When you plug it in, it comes alive, in a way…But a bean seed isn't connected to anything. Neither are people. We don't have plugs and wires that connect us to generators. What makes living things go is inside them somehow." (4.92)

    Clary spends a lot of time with plants, being a greenhouse manager and all, so we can see where she'd have an inkling about how they work. Plants and people do have this in common: neither is battery-powered (yet). But what makes us tick? It's a mystery even to Clary, who's a keen observer of natural life. We're guessing the biology curriculum in Ember is rather sparse.

    Fire was rare in Ember. When there was a fire, it was because there had been an accident—someone had left a dishtowel too close to an electric burner on a stove, or a cord had been frayed and a spark had flown out and ignited curtains… But it was, of course, possible to start a fire on purpose… The trick was to find a way to make the light last." (8.16-17)

    This tells us that there are no candles in Ember, or fireplaces, or flamethrowers (what would they do if zombies attacked?). They don't even have matches or lighters here. Because really, what do you need fire for in a community that's been planned out to the last detail? Everyone has a stove to cook on, and the lights are on during daylight hours so you can see. Probably having a flashlight would help when things get dropped into dark corners, but otherwise, fire just doesn't have a place in Ember, which is more than a little ironic, given the name.

    Heavens above – Indicates surprise. What "heavens" means is unclear. It might be another word for "floodlight." Hogwash – Means "nonsense," though no one knows what a "hog" is or why one would wash it. (8.22)

    Yep, this is how out of touch Ember citizens are with the natural world. They live in a cavern, but they don't know it, so they have no idea of what the sky or heavens might be. There's nowhere to keep animals, so they don't know what hogs are. But since the original citizens of Ember came from our society, they maintained some of the sayings and expressions they were used to. Their descendants picked up these phrases because that's how language transmission works—and besides, you don't need to know the origin of every phrase you use, as long as you use it correctly.

    After discovering the room full of boats, Lina had come home to Mrs. Murdo's with the sound of the river still in her ears. It was like a huge, powerful voice, roaring at the top of its lungs. Deep inside herself, Lina felt an answering call, as if she, too, contained a drop of the same power. (15.34)

    Most citizens of Ember don't see the river since it's below the city; it's just Pipeworks folks and electricians who encounter it, since it powers the generator that lights all of Ember. So Lina is understandably blown away by the presence of the river. It speaks to something inside of her, some part of her that understands that humans are a part of nature, and are not meant to live apart from it.

    "There is no place but Ember. Ember is the only light in the dark world." She knew now that this wasn't true. There was someplace else—the place where the boats would take them. (15.69)

    Because of what she and Doon have discovered, Lina now knows that Ember is not the only point on the map. There's more to the world than just their little city. And the river is the key to getting there, so they'd better get comfortable with whitewater rafting right quick.

    Then suddenly the current slowed even more, and the tunnel opened out […] Far overhead arched a vaulted ceiling. Columns of rock hung down from it, and columns of rock rose from the water, too, making long shadows that turned and mingled as the boat floated among them. They glimmered in the candlelight, pink and pale green and silver. (18.14)

    All this time, Ember has been surrounded by natural beauty, such as caverns full of stalagmites and stalactites. But who knew? They didn't have candles or flashlights or tiki torches, so how were they supposed to find out until it was time to follow the instructions from the Builders on how to leave Ember?

    "Doon!" cried Lina. "More lights!" She pointed at the sky. He looked up and saw them—hundreds and hundreds of tiny flecks of light, strewn like spilled salt across the blackness. "Oh!" he whispered. There was nothing else to say. The beauty of these lights made his breath stop in his throat. (19.17-18)

    Do you remember the first time you ever saw the stars? Probably not, since you were most likely a wee child and became accustomed to them over time. But when Doon and Lina emerge from Ember and behold the night sky with the moon and stars… holy moly, it's powerful and beautiful.

    I have a baby on my lap—a girl… Stanley and I have named these children Star and Forest. (20.11-12)

    Our mysterious journal writer is going to raise the first generation of Ember's native population from infancy. She knows the rules: they can't bring anything to Ember that is a reminder or memento of the world above. Yet she and her partner decide to name the kids after natural things. What's that about? Are they defying authority? Are they trying to preserve some of the beautiful things of the earth? We never get inside her head to find out why.

    But it was hard to picture a city like Ember here in this bright, beautiful place. How could anyone have allowed such a place to be harmed? (20.32)

    Lina wonders about the world that the journal writer had left behind, which was supposedly nearing its end and beset by troubles. To Lina, the natural world is so beautiful, she can't understand how its citizens could've let harm come to it. Still, this example shows us how the natural world suffers when the human world does, unfortunately.

    The creature was utterly strange, not like anything they had ever known, and yet when it looked at them, some kind of recognition passed between them. "I know now," said Doon. "This is the world we belong in." (20.50)

    Yo, kiddos, it's just a fox. Or maybe like a mutant fox. And yet to someone who's never seen a fox before, who's never seen any kind of living creature other than humans and insects, this kind of wildlife encounter is amazing. Doon's smart enough to recognize the similarities of the fox (a mammal) to himself (also a mammal), and from this he deduces that humans are a part of this new natural world as much as foxes are. Which means they can chow down on the same grub—yum.

  • Family

    Lina loved her little sister so much that it was like an ache under her ribs. The baby and Granny were all the family she had now […] Lina missed her parents with an ache that was as strong as what she felt for Poppy, only it was a hollow feeling instead of a full one. (2.24)

    Poor Lina, orphaned when her father died of a sickness that was going around and her mother died giving birth to Poppy—both within a few months of each other. The sad thing is, we get the sense that this sort of thing is pretty typical for families in Ember. Death is a frequent visitor in the city, meaning that many families get split up that way. At least Lina has her sister and her grandmother to love, right?

    All Doon's life, his father had been saying to him, "You're a good boy and a smart boy. You'll do grand things someday, I know you will." (3.39)

    It's nice that Doon's father is so encouraging, don't you agree? But it also makes Doon feel like he has to pull off something grand to impress his dad. We're not sure how much of that is actual parental pressure and how much is Doon's inflated ego wanting to get recognized and rewarded for his achievements. Still, it's worth noting that a lot of people's ambitions are formed while they're growing up with their family, and Doon is no exception.

    For Granny to forget the baby was dangerous. Poppy could fall down and hurt herself. Granny had been forgetful lately, but this was the first time she'd completely forgotten about Poppy. (4.15)

    On the one hand, it's great when you've got multiple generations living under the same roof: built-in childcare, and all that jazz. But on the other hand, you get situations like this, where the supposedly responsible family members start getting too old to take care of others (or even themselves, in some cases). Lina can't be at home to supervise both Granny and Poppy since she needs to work, so she's in a bit of a pickle until she thinks to ask Mrs. Murdo to look in on them.

    "They heard him talking about it when he died… My grandfather. The seventh mayor." "And what did he say?" "Ah," said her grandmother with a faraway look. "That's the mystery. He said he couldn't get at it. 'Now it is lost,' he said." (4.20-24)

    We're not saying we believe in karma, but it makes sense for Granny to be the one to help right the wrongs of her grandfather, the dishonest seventh mayor who brought home the box that was supposed to be the salvation of Ember (except no one knew it yet). Lina gets in on the action, too, since she's the main one deciphering the message that Poppy halfway eats.

    Since her parents had died, Lina had come many times to talk to Clary, or just to work silently beside her. Clary was always kind to her, and working with the plants took Lina's mind off her grief. (4.38)

    Losing your family is rough, and so we're glad Lina has Clary to help her cope. In the process, it seems like Clary might've become something of a surrogate family member to Lina—someone she can talk to and spend time with. We all probably have people like that in our lives. You know, people we're not biologically related to, but who are very dear to us and have helped us through tough spots?

    Lina rather liked having Mrs. Murdo around—it was a bit like having a mother there. She wasn't anything like Lina's own mother, who had been a dreamy, absent-minded sort of person. Mrs. Murdo was mother-like in quite a different way. (5.5)

    Mrs. Murdo gets stuff done, yo. She's the practical sort of mother figure who makes sure everyone's fed and washed. Lina's mother, on the other hand, was maybe not so practical (though Lina doesn't love her any less for it). It doesn't sound like Lina's being judgmental here, but rather being a typical kid who compares the different people she has in her life in terms of how their actions affect her.

    She had Poppy. She had friends. And she had Mrs. Murdo, who was somewhere between a relative and a friend. But she felt as if she had suddenly gotten older in the last three days. She was sort of a mother herself now. What happened to Poppy was more or less up to her. (11.17)

    Lina's thought process here shows how Mrs. Murdo is becoming a part of her little family, and how Lina herself is taking on a different role. Towards the end of Granny's life, Lina had to step up and take care of Granny more than Granny was taking care of her, but in theory Granny was the one in charge. Now Lina is realizing that she's Poppy's oldest remaining relative, so in a sense, she's completely responsible for what happens to Poppy from now on. Kinda scary, no?

    Everyone in the city must have seen these posters by now. He was famous, he thought wryly, but not in the way he'd wanted. There were be no glorious moment on the Gathering Hall steps after all. Instead of making his father proud, he would cause him dreadful worry. (17.3)

    Doon's really motivated to succeed and fix things, in part because he wants his dad to be proud of him. That doesn't work out so well when he and Lina become two of Ember's most wanted criminals for trying to expose the mayor's treachery. This probably isn't going to be a touching moment that makes Ol' Pops proud. How would you feel if you saw a family member's face on a wanted poster? Epic fail.

    "I'd been thinking before that I had to leave Poppy because she'd be safe with Mrs. Murdo. But when the lights went out, I suddenly knew: There is no safety in Ember. Not for long. Not for anyone. I couldn't leave her behind. Whatever happens to us now, it's better than what's going to happen there." (18.56)

    It must be scary to love someone as much as Lina loves Poppy, and to have to decide whether to leave them in an unsafe situation, or bring them along into an unknown situation, which could potentially be better or worse. But let's face it: what could be worse than starving to death in complete darkness, once the food and light bulbs and electricity all run out?

    We are all strangers to one another. They planned it that way; they said there would be fewer memories between us. They want us to forget everything about the lives we've led and the places we've lived. The babies must grow up with no knowledge of a world outside, so that they feel no sorrow for what they have lost. (20.7)

    Our mysterious journal writer is being asked to form an entirely new family when she enters Ember. She'll be matched with a man she doesn't know, and they'll receive two babies to care for and raise. If you think about it, this isn't that strange a situation; people have entered into arranged marriages and hasty marriages for a looong time on this earth. And it's oddly appropriate that the first families to settle in Ember are artificially constructed, much like the city itself. We hope they still manage to form bonds and grow to love and support one another. Otherwise they're in for some very expensive hours on a therapy couch.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    "So the first mayor will pass the box to the next mayor, and that one to the next, and so on down through the years, all of them keeping it a secret, all the time?" "What else can we do?" asked the chief builder. "Nothing about this endeavor is certain. There may be no one left in the city by then or no safe place for them to come back to." (The Instructions.11-12)

    The people who planned Ember had good intentions—to save a small set of humanity in case the rest of the population is killed in an inevitable disaster. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans? Yeah, nothing is certain in life, and even though it seems like the Builders have done a pretty good job accounting for various possibilities, they couldn't take every variable into account. Especially not human nature, since we humans are notoriously fickle. With that in mind, leaving the box containing instructions to one person at a time maybe wasn't the best plan in the first place Would planting a back-up box somewhere have been that hard?

    Both the girl and the boy were making urgent wishes. Doon's wish was very specific. He repeated it over and over again, his lips moving slightly, as if he could make it come true by saying it a thousand times. Lina was making her wish in pictures rather than in words. (1.7)

    On Assignment Day, we imagine that most kids are wishing or hoping for a particular job (or against a particular job—we think being a toilet scrubber in Ember doesn't sound fun). It's interesting that Lina and Doon make their wishes in different ways, one visual and the other verbal. Just goes to show that while we all have hopes and dreams, we express them in different ways.

    Lina had done the drawings out of her imagination. They showed a city that looked somewhat like Ember, except that its buildings were lighter and taller and had more windows. (2.30)

    The city of Lina's dreams is filled with light and beauty. In other words, it's totally different from Ember. She hopes that someday she'll find it, even though she knows from school that Ember is the only light in a dark world. It's not like there's a rule saying dreams have to be consistent with the real world, though. Or that what you learn in school is always true.

    For the moment, Lina felt almost perfectly happy. There was no need to think about the fate of the city right now. Tomorrow, she'd be a messenger! She wiped the orange goop off Poppy's chin. "Don't worry," she said. "Everything will be all right." (2.35)

    Being a messenger is Lina's biggest hope for her life at the beginning of the book. Yeah, there is some weird stuff going on in Ember, lights going out and all that, but Lina knows she'll be happy if she gets to run around and help people connect with each other. Is it selfish to want and hope for things for yourself?

    He'd been stupid to think he could understand the generator just by looking at it, when other people had been working on it their entire lives. The thing was, he had to admit, he'd always thought he was smarter than other people. (3.39)

    One of Doon's greatest hopes is to learn how electricity works and to save Ember from the blackouts (earning a lot of pats on the back in the process, natch). And when you're a smart kid like Doon is, there's no reason to think your hope is unrealistic. Until, of course, you find out that electricity is way more complicated than it looks, and that without an experienced teacher, you're unlikely to puzzle it through. Poor Doon, having this hopes crushed like that.

    "What were you looking for?" Lina asked […] Sadge stared at her. He seemed to puzzle over her question. Finally he said, "I was looking for something that could help us… Like a stairway that leads somewhere, maybe." (4.69-72)

    Sadge's heart is in the right place: he was hoping to find something that could help the people of Ember, out in the Unknown Regions. It's a nice thought, but without a portable light, Sadge's plan doesn't carry him very far out there in the complete darkness. Other citizens of Ember have hoped and tried the same thing, but all have failed. It seems like hope needs to be paired with a solid plan in order to have a chance at success.

    "And the Builders will come again and show us the way."


    "How do you know?"

    Captain Fleery straightened up and clapped a hand over her heart. "I know it here," she said. "And I have seen it in a dream. So have all of us, all the Believers." (7.32-36)

    Spoiler alert: the Builders don't come back to save the people of Ember. So while Captain Fleery is optimistic and hopeful (which is generally a good thing), the thing she sees in her dreams is an illusion—not the truth. Which raises a good question: how are we supposed to know the difference between true dreams and false dreams? And when does it matter whether your dreams and hopes are one vs. the other?

    Lina saw that Clary was no better at deciphering the puzzle than she was. She sighed and sat down on the end of her bed. "It's hopeless," she said. Clary straightened up quickly. "Don't say that. This torn-up piece of paper is the most hopeful thing I've ever seen." (13.27-28)

    Lina has been pretty hopeful throughout the book, so if even she's giving up on something and declaring it hopeless, that's a bad sign. Luckily Clary is there to reinforce Lina's belief that the mysterious message is in fact important.

    "Really," he said, "this is a perfect idea. We can get away from the guards and leave our message behind us. And we can be the first ones to arrive in the new city! We should be the first, because we discovered the way." (15.78)

    Doon's plan to escape Ember and leave behind instructions for the rest of the citizens isn't necessarily a bad one… except that it, like the plan of the Builders, leaves a lot to chance. What if the kids get captured before they can deliver their message, or what if the message gets lost? Doon's a smart kid, but it seems like he'd benefit from an understanding of just how many variables there are in human behavior.

    They have spent years and years making this plan. It's supposed to ensure that, no matter what happens, people won't disappear from the earth […]

    And of course this plan is proof that they think the world is doomed. All the best scientists and engineers have been pulled in to work on it. (20.5-6)

    Our mysterious journal writer has some idea of just how much planning has gone into the creation of Ember. Constructing a place for a couple hundred people to occupy for a couple hundred years is a massive effort, but a worthwhile one, right? What's a little planning if it means the continuation of the human race?

  • Youth

    Lina had always liked her. Even when she was little, Clary did not treat her like a baby but gave her jobs to do—pulling up carrots, picking bugs off cabbages. (4.38)

    Youthful is as youthful does, and Lina shows early on that she's ready to be treated like an adult. Well, most of the time, anyway. Being able to pick bugs off cabbages is a lot simpler than taking care of your family, especially when that family includes a rambunctious toddler.

    Colored pencils! Lina had not seen colored pencils in any store for ages. (5.10)

    Even though Lina's old enough to have a job and support her small family, she's still a kid in a lot of ways. She loves the idea of having colored pencils so much that she sets out to find some after hearing them mentioned in a conversation, and she is willing to pay more than she should for them. This is one of the things we think is a bummer about Ember: every kid should have access to colored pencils, right?

    She had found something strange and important: instructions for something. But for what? And how terrible that Poppy had found it first and ruined it! (7.6)

    That's the thing about kids: you've gotta keep an eye on them if you don't want them making a mess or possibly getting hurt. They probably have the concept of baby proofing a living space in Ember, and we're guessing that Lina's apartment is pretty safe in general, but obviously there was no way for them to know in advance that an important message from the Builders would be hidden in one of their closets

    A child seeing the rooms where powdered milk had been stored, or the rooms that stored bandages or socks or pins or notebooks, or—most of all—the dozens of rooms that had once held thousands of light bulbs—would not feel, as earlier generations of children had, that Ember was endlessly rich. Today's children, if they were to tour the storerooms, would feel afraid. (7.48)

    Part of being a kid is learning how your world works. And in Ember, everything comes from the storerooms. But there aren't storeroom tours for the children anymore, because supplies are running out, and who wants to make kids feel afraid?

    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. (7.78)

    Lina and Lizzie were close friends when they were kids, but as they grow older (because twelve is so old) they start to grow apart. We imagine this is a pretty common experience for all youths—because how many friends from elementary school are you still close to today?—but it can still be a big bummer.

    "I don't think it's fair," said Lina. Lizzie spoke as if she were talking to a not-very-bright child. "You can have some, too. That's what I'm telling you. There are still a few good things left." (11.87-88)

    Lizzie's logic is rather childish here, even though she's talking down to Lina as though Lina's still a child. But sure, let's lie about the few supplies that are left, steal what we can, and enjoy them while they last. That's a great idea. It couldn't possibly have any consequences.

    But Doon wanted to keep these things to himself for now. Tomorrow, the guards would announce that an alert young boy had uncovered the mayor's crime, and his father, hearing the announcements along with the rest of Ember, would turn to the person next to him and say, "That's my son they're talking about! My son!" (13.81)

    Doon's pretty smart, but his youth shows in moments like this, when he's so in love with the idea of being recognized for his accomplishments that he decides to not share information that could benefit the whole community. Letting your desire for acclaim decide your course of action isn't the most mature thing ever.

    "The duties of a mayor," said the mayor, "are… complex. Cannot be understood by regular citizens, particularly children." (16.28)

    Yes, Mayor Cole, tell yourself whatever will help you sleep at night. Not only are you stealing supplies from the people you're supposed to govern and protect, you're about to order a child thrown into prison. We don't think children are as mentally deficient as the mayor paints them. In fact, kids might be a little more capable than adults when it comes to seeing through the hogwash and noticing what's actually going on in a situation.

    What if she were to shout into the silence right now? What if she were to say, Listen, people! We've found the way out of Ember! It's the river—we go on the river! […] Would the guards rush to the roof and seize her? Would the people in the square think her news was just a child's wishful thinking, or would they listen and be saved? (16.48)

    That's part of the trouble with being a kid and actively wanting to help your community. What if they dismiss your ideas and thoughts just because you're young? How do you prove yourself to the adults around you? This passage also shows Lina's youthful inexperience, because if she had thought through the situation a bit better, she might've made a different decision than simply fleeing with Doon—a decision that might've benefited the community more. Who knows?

    Poppy caught the excitement. She shouted gleefully, waving her fists like little clubs, and stomped around, glad to be on her feet again. She found a pebble and plunked it into the water, crowing happily at the splash it made. (18.34)

    We admit, we're enchanted with Poppy's innocence and youthfulness. She's just so carefree and adorable. Granted, this sometimes leads to her chewing up important documents, but in passages like this, we get to see her just being a kid, one who's never splashed around in a river before. This cements our thinking that kids are meant to be out in nature, playing and frolicking.

  • Memory and The Past

    The box ended up at the back of a closet, shoved behind some old bags and bundles. There it sat, unnoticed, year after year, until its time arrived, and the lock quietly clicked open. (The Instructions.14)

    Some things should be forgotten—embarrassing first dates, traumatic trips to the dentist, and so on. But a box that contains instructions for how to escape your city that becomes a death trap once the supplies run out? Yeah, that might be something you'd want to remember.

    More and more, her grandmother's mind seemed caught in the past. She could explain the rules of pebblejacks, which she'd last played when she was eight, or tell you what happened at the Singing when she was twelve, or who she'd danced with at the Cloving Square Dance when she was sixteen, but she would forget what had happened the day before yesterday. (4.19)

    Forgetting the past is no good, but living entirely in the past isn't good either. Granny's condition is familiar to people all over, whether they've got dementia or another psychological or mental condition brought on by age or an accident. Like a lot of folks struggling with mental deterioration, she'll latch on to some facts but not others. She ends up obsessing over the object her grandfather had said he'd lost, but she forgets to look out for her own grandchild (Poppy, who just loves to get into trouble).

    "They say the Builders made the city. But who made the Builders? Who made us? I think the answer must be somewhere outside of Ember." (4.92)

    Clary raises some good questions here. Everyone in Ember knows that the Builders made their city, but the Builders must have come from somewhere, too. So must've the citizens of Ember (because as far as we know, the Builders only built stuff, not people). It's the classic "where did we come from?" question, but with a unique twist.

    She remembered other years, when she had stood with her parents, too short to see the Songmaster's signal, too short to see anything but people's backs and legs, and waited for the first note to thunder out. She felt her heart move at that moment, every year. (16.40)

    The Singing is such an important event in the lives of Ember's citizens that everyone remembers it and has emotional associations with it. For Lina, those associations include memories of her parents, now dead.

    But suddenly, with a flash of joy, he remembered: he didn't have to wait for the lights to come back on. He had what no citizen of Ember had ever had before—a way to see in the dark. (17.11)

    Old habits die hard, since you basically have to retrain your brain to override past memories of how to operate. This is true for Doon as much as anyone else in Ember, since they've spent their whole lives without portable lights, and it was mere days ago that Doon and Lina discovered the candles and matches that the Builders had stashed away safely.

    "They're expecting us!" said Lina. "Well, they wrote this a long time ago," Doon said. "The people who put it here must all be dead by now." "That's true. But they wished us good fortune. It makes me feel as if they're watching over us." (19.4-6)

    Nothing like a message from dead people to make you feel connected to the past. In this case, it's a sign from the Builders, welcoming the refugees from Ember to the path to their new home.

    I have put everything I can into my one suitcase—clothes, shoes, a good wind-up clock, some soap, an extra pair of glasses. Bring no books, they said, and no photographs. We have been told to say nothing, ever again, about the world we come from. (20.3)

    This account from our mysterious old lady journal writer tells how the first citizens of Ember were to carry nothing that conveyed any of Earth's history or a sense that there's a whole world outside Ember. That must've made packing a difficult task. No books? No movies? No photographs? How would people remember their lives?

    I don't know yet which one of these gentlemen I'll be matched with. We are all strangers to one another. They planned it this way; they said there would be fewer memories between us. They want us to forget everything about the lives we've led and the places we've lived. The babies must grow up with no knowledge of a world outside, so that they feel no sorrow for what they have lost. (20.7)

    Again, we learn from journal-writer-lady that the people coming to populate Ember are being encouraged to forget what they know of the world. This is so that they won't mention it to the babies who will grow up to be Ember's first native-born citizens. If these young folks knew there was an outside world, they might go seeking it… and it likely wouldn't be safe for them.

    Absently, Doon dug his finger into the ground, which was soft and crumbly. "But what was the disaster that happened in this place?" he said. "It doesn't look ruined to me."

    "It must have happened a long, long time ago," said Lina. "I wonder if people still live here." (20.30-31)

    Does every disaster leave a trace? The aftermath of a forest fire looks different than that of an earthquake. What if the disaster the Builders feared happened so long ago that its effects are no longer visible? Or worse, what if its effects were never visible in the first place, like radiation from a nuclear bomb? How would Lina and Doon have any clue whether the ground was safe for them to walk on, the water safe for them to drink, the fruit safe for them to eat? Having zero connection to the past is leaving them pretty clueless right now.

    "Oh, our city… Our city is at the bottom of a hole!" She gazed down through the gulf, and all of what she had believed about the world began to slowly break apart. "We were underground," she said. "Not just the Pipeworks. Everything!" (20.58)

    Yes, Shmoopers, this is one giant light bulb moment: realizing that everything you'd ever been told about your world and your past was a lie. Kinda like Neo's many "Whoa" moments in The Matrix. What do you do when you learn this kind of stuff? How do you put the pieces back together so you can live your life? This happens right at the end of the book, so we're not sure entirely what Lina and Doon decide about how to interpret their world and its history. But still: whoa.

  • Power

    Lina knew about the generator, of course. In some mysterious way, it turned the running of the river into power for the city. (1.67)

    Everyone in Ember knows where power comes from… kindasorta. Lina's never seen the river (at least not in the beginning of the book), she just knows that it's water that continually flows and somehow is connected to electricity for the city. Don't get us wrong, a lot of us in the modern era are ignorant about exactly how our gadgets work—but we're not as in the dark as Ember's citizens are (pardon the pun).

    The mayor's office was in the Gathering Hall […] And there were offices for the guards who enforced the laws of Ember, now and then putting pickpockets or people who got in fights into the Prison Room, a small one-story structure with a sloping roof that jutted out from one side of the building. (2.62)

    It seems like Ember is a pretty peaceful place overall, but they still need guards in order to maintain the current power structure: mayor at the top, everyone else at the bottom, ideally not acting up or fighting. The more we see of the mayor's guards, the more we get the sense that they, like the mayor, are a bit too happy being in charge, and that they don't mind throwing their power around.

    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)

    Being face-to-face with such a powerful force of nature the first time around must be overwhelming, especially for an Ember kid who'd never been exposed to anything like it before. They don't have weather in Ember, clouds or rain or lightning, nothing that could prepare you for a sight like this.

    "Take a lamp, for instance. When you plug it in, it comes alive, in a way. It lights up. That's because it's connected to a wire that's connected to the generator, which is making electricity, though don't ask me how. But a bean seed isn't connected to anything. Neither are people." (4.92)

    Clary lays it out for us: people and plants must be powered by something, but it's invisible, unlike the cords that lamps and other electronics need to power them. What fuels us? What makes us alive, and what makes us dead? The people of Ember have a basic grasp of these issues (as in, they know how to keep people alive, and how to tell when they're dead), but as far as the deeper reasons go, they're pretty clueless. (Though to be fair, we are too, when you get into philosophical questions like why we're on this planet, and so on.)

    "The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is." (6.34)

    Doon's father is spot on: anger is one of those emotions that will gain power over you if you let it. And seriously, who wants to be a slave to their anger? Just ask Darth Vader.

    What difference would it make if she had the colored paper, or the shoes? She suddenly wanted those things so badly she felt weak. (11.77)

    As Lina discovers, greed can gain power over you pretty easily. It's so simple to justify wanting something, and needing it, and having it. It's a total slippery slope. Luckily Lina is pretty powerful on her own. She has a sense of empathy for the other people in Ember, so she knows that it wouldn't be fair for her and a few others to hog all the good stuff. But she was still tempted, which shows how powerful selfishness can be.

    "Everyone has some darkness inside. It's like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power." (13.8)

    Clary's description of selfish and greedy feelings connects them to power, and rightly so. Once we give in to those feelings, we give them power over us. And once they get a hold on us, they're harder to say no to. That's what happened to the mayor, Looper, and Lizzie. Lina is lucky to escape with her sense of self intact.

    If he still had light bulbs when everyone else in Ember had run out, would he enjoy sitting in his lit room while the rest of the city drowned in darkness? And when the power finally ran out for good, all his light bulbs would be useless. (14.1)

    Electrical power is a limited good in Ember, since the generator is breaking down and no one knows how to fix it. The mayor either doesn't realize this or is too selfish to care. But his situation with electrical power parallels his situation with political power: both will only last so long.

    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 was about to run out. (15.22)

    Dare we compare the power of life to the power of electricity? How are they similar and different? To Doon, who (to be honest) doesn't really understand either, the power of life is much more amazing than electricity. Maybe it's the novelty. Maybe it's the fact that life is renewable and sustainable in ways that electricity isn't. It sounds like we're writing an ad for eco-friendly energy, doesn't it? Maybe Ember should've been powered with solar panels… but that would've assumed that there wasn't going to be a nuclear winter or something similarly terrible to black out the sun. Yeah, maybe it's better that they went with a river-powered generator (even though it's not as cool as metamorphosis in Doon's opinion).

    Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet – Wanted for spreading vicious rumors – If you see them, report to mayor's chief guard. Believe nothing they say. Reward. (15.55)

    This last attempt by the mayor to stifle Lina and Doon's voices is pretty effective. He's basically taking away their power of speech by telling everyone who sees the "Wanted" posters to not listen to them because they're liars. It's pretty devious if you ask us.