Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Dreams, Hopes, Plans

By Carrie Ryan

Dreams, Hopes, Plans

My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. (1.1)

Just like the ocean water, Mary's dreams seems to rush toward her and then away, all throughout the book. Her mom dies and gives her hope for the ocean—rushing toward her. Jed turns her out—away. She meets Gabrielle—rushing toward her. Gabby becomes a super-zombie—away. Travis says he'll come for her—rushing toward her. He doesn't—away. Get the picture?

That no one has seen him gives my mother hope. At night she prays to God that he has found some sort of enclave similar to our village. […] But no one else has any hope. (1.8)

In reality, Mary's mom seems to have lost hope as well. If she really thought her husband were in another village, why wouldn't she have braved the paths rather than joining the zombie Forest? Like everyone else, she knew—deep down—that her beloved husband was Unconsecrated.

"The ocean," my mother murmurs. Sharp as a crack she whips her head around and I see that her eyes are wide and unfocused but lucid. She crawls toward me until our hands are linked together through the fence.

"The ocean, Mary, the ocean! […] So beautiful, the ocean. […] The water, the waves, the sand, the salt! […] It consumes me," she says, her voice only a whisper. "My little girl," she tells me. "Do not forget my little girl." (2.26-29)

Why do you think these are Mary's mom's final words? Did she have a vision of the ocean before she turned? Did she regret her decision to join Mary's father? Did she merely want to leave Mary with something to hope for?

And so instead I tell him of the things I do believe in, the things I know to be true only because of faith. I tell him the stories my mother used to tell me about life before the Return.

I tell him about the ocean. (5.29-30)

Mary loses her faith in God after her mother's death (well, her mostly-death, anyhow). In many ways, her God then becomes her dream of the ocean and freedom from zombies, and she tells her ocean stories instead of praying. She never quits believing in her dream, and follows it no matter how much those around her are filled with doubt. Sounds like religion, eh?

Someone from Outside has come to our village and as I sit and stare at the flames I know deep in my being that this is what I have been waiting for, what I have wished for even though I never realized it before this moment. (7.55)

Ever had a wish like that? Something you didn't even know you needed until you got it? Mary's always dreamed of life outside the village, but she's never had the moxie to step outside the gates. With Gabrielle's arrival, she realizes that her dream isn't impossible or ridiculous after all. That's a pretty big deal, folks.

"Can we drink the ocean, Mary? Will your precious ocean save us when we're dying here on this path?" (20.39)

If anyone is Mary's foil, it's Cass. Once the happy-go-lucky sunshine girl, life has turned Cass into Rhonda the Realist. Hope? Crazy talk. Dreams? Stupid. Love? Overrated. While Mary clings to her dreams to maintain her sanity, Cass clings to realism to save hers.

"Nothing in this world is deep enough to withstand the Unconsecrated." (29.46)

Not even the ocean, Mary, though she never really believes that… not even when she sees the zombies strewed along her precious shoreline. She's got too much hope, buried too deep inside, to give up on an idea of no zombies. Is she just setting herself up for disappointment, or is she setting an example we should all follow?

"I think that even then I knew I wouldn't be enough for you, Mary. It's no longer about the ocean. It's about you and what you want and need. Maybe you'll be happy with me for a few years…"

He pauses and I can see tears flooding his eyes again. "I can't be your second-choice dream." (29.68-69)

Boohoo—shed a few tears here with us for poor Travee-poo. No one wants to be someone's second-hand dream, and it seems like the poor Travster feels more like the first loser. We wish we could give him a hug.

"Mary, why chase old dreams? What can the ocean give you that we cannot?" (34.3)

Good question. We Shmoopers aren't even sure we can answer it, but we know there had to be something, or else Mary wouldn't have left everything and everyone she loved to it. Freedom? Hope? A saltwater massage?

For a while I let the water push and pull me, lift me, hold me as I fall. I watch the sky, the clouds, the sun, the birds darting overhead. I wait for peace and happiness but I can only think of Travis and Harry and Cass and Jacob. About how I have lost everything but this place. (36.46)

Finally Mary reaches her dream, and all she can think about is what she lost to get there. Was it worth the sacrifice?