Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Guilt and Shame

By Carrie Ryan

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Guilt and Shame

I should have been with her. (1.41)

Agree? Disagree? Maybe Mary's presence would have kept her mom from going all zombie on her, but then again, if that's what her mom wanted, maybe what happened was the best scenario. What's the verdict?

"You love him," he says to me. I try to find accusation in his voice but I cannot.

"You did not speak for me," I respond.

His eyes flare for just a moment and then his gaze shifts away from me as he looks out the window. I want him to tell me why. Instead, he says, "I'm sorry, Mary," and turns and leaves, his eyes skimming over me before he closes the door behind him. (6.36-38)

What Mary says to Harry seems kind of unfair—it's like she's blaming him for falling in love with Travis. Yet she wasn't thinking of Harry when Cupid's arrow smacked her in the chest for the Travster, and deep down she feels guilty about what she did. So she tries to make Harry feel guilty, like it's his fault. But it's not.

I press my face into his pillow, trying to smell him, trying to remember. It is a test to see if I can really give him up.

I know that I never will. Even to save him. I am too selfish. (8.44-45)

The guilt Mary feels here only gets worse when she and the Travster have their heart-to-heart in the tree house. She thinks she's too selfish to give him up, when really she's too selfish to give the ocean up. Even to save her dear, sweet Travis.

I want to run to Sister Tabitha and ask her what she has done, ask her how this happened. At first I stay silent because I'm terrified of becoming like Gabrielle and then other worries begin pounding in the back of my head: was there something I could have done to save her? Could I have spoken out? Searched harder? Was I responsible for her fate? (11.12)

Sure, Mary feels guilty because she was one of the last to actually see Gabby, but there isn't much she could have done. Told the villagers? They wouldn't believe her, unless Sister T backed it up, which was not gonna happen. Rescued Gabrielle? How could she have known what the Sisters would do to her? Stood up to Sister Tabitha? A lot of good that would do (translation: none). Calm down, Mary—this one actually is not on your hands.

But most of all I hate myself for loving Harry's brother with everything that I have so that there is nothing left over for him. And for being too much of a coward to cut him free. To use the knife to sever our bonds. (13.41-42)

Now that's a bum deal. Crazy in love with someone else, with no courage to make it happen. Mary should have remembered this moment when she got all huffy with Travis about not coming for her. Face it, Mary—you didn't have the courage, either.

I can see how Harry's jaw tightens […]. I know he wonders if his presence in the village would have made a difference—if he is a coward for escaping through the gate. (17.21)

Harry the hero. He not only saves Mary's life in the village, but also Jacob's; not to mention the fact that he forgave Mary for deserting him for his brother. He's gonna do the right thing whenever he knows what it is, and therein lies the problem. What's the right thing to do? Sacrifice himself to help others, or keep himself alive to save others? That there's a sticky one.

I never said good-bye. I was not there.

I did nothing in her final hours but cause her pain. (19.43-44)

True dat. Not only did she hurt Beth, but Jed and the boys too. Not cool.

I wrap my arms around my body, imagining what it must have been like for Jed. Imagining being responsible for the person I loved most becoming infected. (20.12)

Oh, foreshadowing, we love you. Mary has to feel these very feelings just a few weeks later when both Jed and Travis die as a direct result of helping Mary. Ouch.

As the days wear on I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. […] Are we the only survivors? […] Have I killed us by insisting we continue through the Forest? If we had returned to the village could we have made a difference in the fight against the Unconsecrated? Should we have turned back? Taken a different branch in the path?

Am I responsible for the final fall of mankind? (21.25-26)

These are some pretty tough questions, and the worst part about them (and most what-if questions we have to deal with generally in life) is that there isn't a clear answer. Most of the time we'll never know what might have been. Thankfully, Mary realizes that her last question is untrue. Whew—talk about taking the weight of the world off her shoulders.

I want to be in the moment with him, feel his body against mine and think of nothing else, but my mind explodes with grief for all that I am missing, All that I will miss. All that I have wasted. (32.26)

Sadly, this is a truth that too many of us experience—we don't know what we got 'til it's gone.

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