Study Guide

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) Rules and Order

By Patrick Ness

Rules and Order

And when you walk by the Mayor's House, you can hear him, hear him and the men closest to him, his deputies and things, and they're always doing these thought exercises, these counting things and imagining perfect shapes and saying orderly chants like I AM THE CIRCLE AND THE CIRCLE IS ME. (2.52)

There's good order, and then there's bad order—the kind that squashes people under a political system. The mayor has this bad kind of order brewing in Prentisstown. He stages these repetition exercises to pretty much brainwashing people into letting him have total control. Scary.

"Now," Hildy says when we're all done. "Apologize to each other."
"What?" Viola says. "Why?"
"I don't see how this is any of yer business," I say.
"Never go to sleep on an argument," Hildy says, hands on hips, looking like she ain't never gonna budge and would be pleased to see someone try and make her. "Not if ye want to stay friends." (16.53-56)

Simple rules to live by. Hildy tries to make Todd and Viola see that fighting and holding a grudge is the beginning of all discord and chaos, so they need to get into the practice of resolving these arguments and moving on. She's also making it her business to help keep order and peace—which Todd doesn't understand. After all, he comes from a place without harmony.

"So do most people," Hildy says. "Even when yer used to it, it's nice to only have the Noise of yer most beloved a-hanging round yer house. Town gets a bit rackety." (17.88)

Here's a stroke of genius. Other people in the New World have found a way to keep order in the midst of their worst enemy, a.k.a. Noise. The answer? Personal space. Hildy's people discipline themselves to control Noise, which is usually the source of unrest and anger.

Hildy and Francia exchange nods. "Yer a-forgetting we were church settlers," Francia says, "getting away from worldly things to set up our own little utopia, so we let that kinda machinery go to rack and ruin as we got on with the business of surviving." (18.66)

Hildy and Francia were part of a group who came to the New World in search of a simpler life. Rules and order were found by getting rid of machines and fancy ways of doing things. They wanted to be in touch with nature and in touch with themselves. They believed that this would help them see which things really matter.

I start noticing things, too, as the morning gets older. Like that tho men and women both do the heavy labor, women give more orders that more men follow. And with Francia being Deputy Mayor and Hildy being whoever she is in Farbranch, I'm beginning to think it's a town run by women. (18.108)

Todd notices different ways of maintaining order while he's in Farbranch. Where he comes from there aren't women, but here, they seem to be running the show. And you know what? Since women don't have Noise, they're pretty well equipped for the job.

He's watching the rout of Farbranch as if it were a vid and not a very interesting one at that, letting everyone else do the work but so obviously in charge that no one would even think of asking him to break a sweat.

How can he make so many men do what he wants?

And how is he bulletproof that he can ride so fearlessly? (20.19-21)

Here we have the image of the Mayor, who personifies bad order. He's standing in the midst of a total massacre, as cool as can be. This is power at it's worst. His quest for order is actually creating chaos instead, as his army rips through the country, killing everything in its path.

"Schooling ain't life." "Ain't it?" she says, her eyebrows raising in mock surprise. "What did I say before?" I snap back. "Some of us were busy surviving and couldn't learn about subdividing farming." (21.147-149)

Priorities are definitely part of rule and order. Todd and Viola are fighting about whether it's more important to learn or just start working as soon as you're old enough. Their ideas about these things come from the civilizations they have been raised in. Viola's been educated on the theories of making a society work, while Todd's been busy supporting his society through manual labor.

"Noise send 'em wild. Hear tell of one where everyone wears masks so's no one kin see their faces. There's another where no one don't do nothing but sing all day long they gone so crazy. And one where everyone's walls are made a glass and no one wears no clothes cuz no one's got secrets in Noise, do they?" (28.66)

Wilf's wife is telling Todd about how some people have abandoned order. They haven't been disciplined enough to make rules that will help them combat Noise, so instead they're letting themselves run around naked and wearing masks. In other words: They're ruled by chaos.

She nods. "I asked Doctor Snow why they did it here and he said, "To keep men's thoughts private." I shrug. "It makes an awful racket, but it kinda makes sense, don't it? One way to deal with the Noise." (33.17-19)

Carbonel Downs has found its own way to keep order: They play music to kind of mute everyone's personal thoughts. Not so bad, huh? Besides, music has order of its own. So besides making everyone feel calm and organized, they don't hear each other's personal thoughts. And when everyone gets that space from each other, order happens.

"That's what the New World is. Informayshun, all the time, never stopping, whether you want it or not. The Spackle knew it, evolved to live with it, but we weren't equipped for it. Not even close. And too much informayshun can drive a man mad. Too much informayshun becomes just Noise. And it never, never stops." (36.52)

Here, the Noise is described as "informayshun"—so having Noise is like living in a state of constant information overload. No wonder people in the New World are driven a little crazy, and no wonder each community we encounter is pretty interested in establishing order.