Study Guide

Matched Art & Culture

By Ally Condie

Art & Culture

[…] they decided our culture was too cluttered. They created commissions to choose the hundred best of everything: Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings […] the rest were eliminated. […] How can we appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much? (3.43)

Isn't "best" inherently subjective? We're curious how these commissions determined which cultural items were better than others. While it seems clear that Michelangelo's paintings are "better" than our stick figure drawings, it seems nearly impossible to distill thousands of years of cultural artifacts into only a hundred items.

"You have words of your own, Cassia," Grandfather says to me. "I have heard some of them and they are beautiful." (7.84)

So deep, Gramps. What makes art and culture beautiful is creating something new and unique, not regurgitating what's already out there. The fact that Cassia doesn't seem to realize this makes us wonder if art class in Society's school involves tracing the Hundred Paintings.

The Hundred Poems […] this poem is not one of them. She took a great risk hiding this paper, and my grandfather and grandmother took a great risk keeping it. What poems could be worth losing everything for? (9.32)

Well that's quite a doozy of a question, Cassia. What we see here (and more of, later on) is how culture can have such a profound effect on people that it's worth risking everything. Is it just us, or is anyone else getting visions of the Nazis destroying books and artwork?

Nothing I have written or done has made any difference in this world, and suddenly I know what it means to rage, and to crave.

I read the whole poem and eat it up, drink it up. (9.38-39)

Quite a reaction just from reading a poem, isn't it? Now we see how important art can be—it makes us feel. So it seems that Society's goal in eliminating most cultural artifacts may have been to prevent people from feeling intense emotions, so they remain calm and complacent.

There's a reason they didn't keep this poem.

The poem tells you to fight. (9.46-47)

Is art so powerful that it must be destroyed in order to fully control people? Society certainly seems to think so. All art begins somewhere though, and we're most impressed that Society has managed to control people to such an extent that they are no longer creating anything new.

"These words aren't peaceful […] Then why do they make me feel calm?" Ky asks.

[…]

"I think it's because when we hear it we know we're not the only ones who ever felt this way." (19.47-51)

It's like when you're going through a breakup and you hear a song on the radio that describes exactly what you're feeling. It's strangely comforting, right?

"Even if he didn't live his story, enough of us have lives just like it. So it's true anyway." (21.39)

In case you had any doubts about what the point of fiction is, ask Ky. We're curious whether most people read fiction because they can relate it to their own lives, or if there are other reasons as well. Escapism?

"Back when the Hundred Committee made their selections, the Archivists knew the works that didn't get selected would become a commodity. So they saved some of them." (25.3)

Shmoopsters, the need for culture is so powerful that when taken away, there's a black market for it. How cool is that? Instead of an illegal drug trade, the Society's got an illegal poem and painting trade.

"They know we like to feel that things are authentic. We like to hear them breathe." (25.25)

Even though Society's "singers" are merely computer-generated voices, they're specifically created with enough imperfection to make them sound real. Does art have to be authentic to be appreciated?

And I look at my hands, too, which move in the shape of my own inventions, my own words. It is hard to do, and I am not good at it yet. (32.18)

Remember how Grandfather told Cassia to trust her own words? Here she's finally able to do it. So this must be what Society was worried about—suddenly Cassia feels empowered to create.

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