Study Guide

Mary in The Forest of Hands and Teeth

By Carrie Ryan

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Our girl Mary is obsessed with the ocean. And when we say obsessed, we're talking obsession on the Twilight-Hunger Games-Harry Potter scale. Everything and everyone in her life come second to her #1 obsession.

Here's the proof:

  • The ocean is more important to her than safety. Mary's lived her whole life in her relatively safe (you know, except for the fact that it's surrounded by fenced-off zombies… ahem) village, yet all Mary can think about is a way out. She climbs to the highest point in the village to scope out the never-ending Forest, wanting to escape everything she knows to find the ocean. When Gabrielle, an Outsider, shows up at the Cathedral, Mary is desperate to find out more about the Outside. Why? Because "the Outsider is my excuse to leave this village. […] And I will be the first one through the gate. I will be the one to lead us to the ocean" (7.56-57). In short? Knowledge of the Outside will lead her closer to the ocean.
  • The ocean is more important to her than the love of her life. When Mary and her friends escape their zombie-infested home, Mary and Travis finally have the freedom to be together. You would think becoming trapped with her love in the big ol' house in the deserted town would be Mary's dream come true… but you would be wrong. Despite her love for Travis, Mary spends every day out of his reach, sitting on a balcony and wishing for… you guessed it… the ocean. In her words, "I realize that I still long for the ocean and it's not enough to just sit in this life and be safe" (24.18).
  • The ocean is more important to her than her friends (and her brother). When the gates end, Mary refuses to hang with her friends to figure out what to do next. In her mind, it's the ocean or nothing. She rationalizes that she "promised Travis that I wouldn't give up hope […] that I wouldn't accept safe and calm. Not at the expense of my dreams" (34.15). So she leaves her friends behind and stumbles out alone into the Forest to find her dream.
  • The ocean is more important to her than (gulp) getting eaten alive by zombies. What? That's right. Both of Mary's parents became flesh-eating monsters, she's grown up haunted by their moans, and yet, when push comes to shove, she'll put herself right in the thick of them to find the ocean. How do we know? Mary's obsessed with Gabrielle, even when she becomes super-zombie girl, because she's from the Outside. Remember when Mary screams for her and presses her "finger against the nail of her pinky, the only finger that is not bent and broken from trying to rip through the fence" (19.21)? She also ran through the Forest at the end of the path. By herself. 'Nuff said.

Does this make Mary shallow and selfish? Not completely. She can also be loyal and self-sacrificing when the need arises. She was willing to break all kinds of village rules to be with the man she loved instead of her betrothed, and she did save Travis's life when the zombies penetrated their house. Plus she fought off zombies to save Jed in the Forest, and she even sat with her mother until she finally turned into a zombie. That kind of moxie's gotta count for something.

And we can't totally blame her for her obsession. Who wouldn't be obsessed with the hope that things could get better? In Mary's mind, the ocean isn't just a giant saltwater playground—it's freedom from fear and man-eating dead people. We have to give her courage props for being willing to face death and abandon everything for that kind of peace.

Oh Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

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