Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Choices

By Carrie Ryan

Choices

And the widow made an excellent point: the only thing that separated the living from the Unconsecrated is choice, free will. She wanted the choice to be with her husband. […] I can't fathom leaving an old woman to face such a fate. But such is the way of choice, I imagine. (1.50)

Interesting point—that choice keeps the Unconsecrated from the living. Free will's still tricky, though, when you consider the fact that the living don't choose to become infected. In this regard, there's really no escaping choicelessness when it comes to living among the Unconsecrated. Argh.

"It was her choice," I tell him.

He spits on the ground near my feet and some of the spit catches in the short black hairs on his chin. "It was not her choice. […] She was insane, she was sick." (3.27-28)

Sure their mom might have lost her mind—she did get too close to the fence and get herself infected, after all—but the question remains: Did her descent into madness begin before or after she was bitten? Did it begin when she lost her husband?

"So you have chosen to become one of us?" the eldest, Sister Tabitha, asks me. She stands facing me in front of the altar, flanked by two middle-aged Sisters.

"I have no other choices," I tell her, because it is the truth. (4.2-3)

No joke—thanks to Sister T's village rules, Mary's out of luck unless they take her in.

"There is always a choice, Mary," Sister Tabitha says to me, standing with her feet braced against the steps, the lower half of her body concealed belowground. "It is what makes us human, what separates us from them." […]

It is important for you to know this, Mary," she tells me. "You must understand the importance of this choice you are making to become one of us. The Sisterhood is not something to be entered into lightly."

"I choose to join the Sisterhood," I tell her, desperate to get out of the clearing. (4.22, 25, 28)

Is a forced choice still a choice?

My life will never be my own. (8.16)

With the way things are going in the village, this statement's probably true. Mary's got no parents, no hubby, no lover, no brother (anymore), and not even a friend to stop in for a chat while she's locked away. It's Sister Tabitha's way or the highway—the highway to Zombieville, that is. Life's pretty rotten.

It is as if every door in my life has been slammed shut, every window boarded up until there is only one path for me to take. My choice is either Harry or the Sisterhood. (9.65)

Wait—isn't that two paths?

It is only Harry in the firelight, his skin warm and smelling of fresh-turned soil. And I cannot help but hear Sister Tabitha's words repeat themselves around the room. About this being the life I have been given.

Not the life I have chosen. (13.51-52)

Not gonna lie, it's not a terrible life to be given. A loving husband, warm home, promise of safety? There are plenty of peeps that would kill for such a life.

I wonder if I have ruined any chance for Travis and me to be together because I didn't wait for him until the end.

Because I chose to Bind myself to Harry. Because I gave up on Travis. On love. (16.54-55)

There you go, Mary. She admits here that she gave up on love, that she actually chose life with Harry. Strangely enough, Mary later flip-flops and acts all offended that Travis didn't come for her. But she didn't do much on her side, either. Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

"And then what? What will happen after that?"

"And then we will find a way out of this village and we can go down that path and we can find the outside world," I say to him in a rush of words. "It's like we always said—"

"It's like you always said," Travis cuts me off. He won't meet my eyes. (25.18-20)

Mary is so wrapped up in her dreams and choices that she assumes everyone else must be too, especially the people she loves. But like Travis says here, sometimes her choices are only her choices. Still, we've got to cut Mary a little slack—Travis did tell her earlier that he wanted to know what was outside of the village, so he's the one flip-flopping here and Mary's not totally bonkers after all.

"I was ready to give it all up then. To follow His path, whatever it was. But then you came into my room night after night and you told me about the ocean and pulled me through the pain and I didn't know what to believe anymore. I didn't know if I was being tempted or being shown the right path." (25.49)

Aw, shucks. It's hard to make the right choice when the line between right and wrong is just a blurry mess. Poor Travis. Was loving Mary the right decision, or was he supposed to follow a different path?