Study Guide

The Scorch Trials Analysis

  • Tone

    Dark Lightheartedness

    Contradictory phrases are the best, because sometimes they're the only way to describe something.

    The overall story of The Scorch Trials is pretty dark. We have a bunch of kids being manipulated by people they can't contact, and most of the kids end up dying. And if they're not dying, their emotions are being totally messed with. Overall, this is a sick kind of torture going on—and even if the kids come out alive, they'll have major problems living the rest of their lives.

    Nevertheless, the kids seem to take it in stride. Sure, their lives are pretty horrible, but they actually come to terms with that and are able to laugh it off every once in a while. Take Minho for example, the leader of the Gladers: "Hey, you bunch of sissy, no-good shanks! Grab all the food and get up here!" (17.47).

    Of course Minho loves his fellow comrades, but he's also a total jokester, and his constant jocular attitude gives the story a much lighter tone.

    But then there's Thomas, the Debbie Downer of the group—and our protagonist. We actually get to see his thoughts, and they're not always so happy. For example: Thomas knew Minho would've laughed his face off at that last comment, but to him it sounded like the saddest three words he'd ever heard (17.57).

    The constant back-and-forth between lighthearted quips and depressing thoughts gives The Scorch Trials a surface that's littered when dark humor. That means that when you're reading it, you won't have to put the book down and mope around until you pick it up again, because even the most depressing scenes can be brought back up with a hilarious joke from Minho or Newt.

    The Gladers' lives stink, but hey, a little laughter never hurts.

  • Genre

    Dystopian Literature

    When you start to see random words capitalized, like Grievers or Gladers or Scorch or Cranks or Maze—the list goes on and on—then you're probably reading some kind of fiction novel. Then, when you realize that everything is sort of normal but messed up in a weird sort of way—like there may no be no witches or wizards or time travel, but things are just generally deserted and scary and desolate—then you can be fairly sure you're reading some dystopian lit.

    If the book's about kids, then you can be almost 100% percent sure it's YA dystopian lit.

    This novel follows the dystopian path pretty much by the Dystopia for Dummies book: it's set in a futuristic but not too distant time period; the boys are in a location that we can recognize (the Scorch is most likely in Mexico); and some kind of disease or catastrophe has plagued the earth. In this case, we're talking about the Flare.

    In most dystopias, a bomb has gone off, or some kind of disease is wiping out civilization, or the end of the world has happened or is about to happen. There's always some kind of turmoil going on, and this turmoil isn't just black magic—it's realistic.

    Sure, there can be monsters and flying saucers and random transportation devices in a dystopia; it just needs to seem realistic—because if it doesn't, then probably you're reading a fantasy novel.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Scorch Trials are the actual trials that the Gladers are put through as they enter the desert, which is known as the Scorch. Now, the word "trial" can mean a few things: it can mean a court case, in which someone is either found guilty or innocent; but it can also mean a test or an examination.

    This second definition of "trial"—a test or examination—is what we get in the title of this book. When you put it together—the Scorch being the desert area, and the trial being a test—then it's pretty easy to understand why this book is called The Scorch Trials.

    In short, the title refers to the test the Gladers are put on in the Scorch.

    But you already knew that.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Erg, the epilogue. It's the same thing we get in The Maze Runner: a memorandum from Ava Paige, the Chancellor of WICKED.

    In the memorandum in Scorch Trials, Paige talks about how everyone in WICKED should be optimistic about the results of the trials. Sure, not everything went as planned: Thomas got shot by a random dude, for example, and that wasn't really supposed to happen. But overall, things went pretty well. WICKED was able to collect some of the needed patterns, and every death and sacrifice is crucial to the ultimate outcome.

    Oh, and WICKED will totally end up restoring the kids' memories eventually. And they'll tell the kids if they have the Flare or not.

    Wow, manipulation at its finest.

    The thing about the epilogues in both The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials is that they're utterly frustrating. WICKED is supposedly good, and we can sort of tell that they're the good guys—after all, it seems like their experimentation is truly for the benefit of the human race.

    But on the other hand, these experiments are totally unethical and inhumane. Innocent kids are dying, and a lot of the deaths are planned. These kids' lives are being absolutely ruined by these trials, and we hate WICKED for doing this to them.

    Yet with each memorandum, we're brought back to the ultimate task at hand: these kids are being put through these trials so that they can somehow save the human race. So, yeah—we guess these trials sort of have to happen. But we're not happy about it.

    Gah, Ava Paige. Why must you create this internal conflict within us?

  • Setting

    The Dormitories

    Before the boys head into the Scorch, they're living in dormitories—just simple dorm rooms, where they all have beds and showers and such.

    These dorms were created by WICKED, and they protect the boys from the outside world. The dorms are pretty much a little piece of heaven compared to the Scorch: they're sanitary, the boys are given pizza, and they can actually walk around without getting burned by the sun or attacked by a Crank. It's almost a mini-Glade, just without the Maze on the outside.

    The Scorch

    After the boys go through the Flat Trans, though, they enter the Scorch, which isn't exactly a vacation spot. The Scorch is pretty much a huge desert. During the day, the heat can burn you to a crisp, and the sun can make you go blind. When it's stormy out, the sky becomes a blanket of darkness, and lightning bolts crash into the ground like meteors.

    Yeah, Disney World this ain't.

    In fact, the Scorch "was a wasteland," to clear that one up (17.27). Just take a look at how Thomas describes it:

    In front of him, a flat pan of dry and lifeless earth stretched as far as he could see. Not a single tree. Not a bush. No hills or valleys. Just an orange-yellow sea of dust and rocks; wavering currents of heated air boiled on the horizon like steam, floating upward, as if any life out there were melting toward the cloudless and pale blue sky. (17.28)

    So basically, the Scorch is a barren wasteland with a mountain range about 60 miles north and a dilapidated city about 30 miles north. The boys need to go 100 miles north to get to the safe haven.

    Yeah. Great. Sign us up.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Unless you're confused by Newt's accent (so saying the word "bloody" as an adjective to describe everything under the sun), The Scorch Trials should be a pretty easy read. Not only are the chapters short (just like The Maze Runner), but the language is fluid and easy to follow. Plus, there's a good amount of action and suspense, which makes the book fly by.

  • Darkness

    It's pretty safe to say that darkness pretty often means something bad when it comes to books and movies. When it's dark out, that's when the monsters and demons come out to play.

    We encounter a lot of darkness in The Scorch Trials, and it really messes with the Gladers' emotions. When they're first faced with pitch black, for example, the spooky-scary feeling sets in right away: "Newt stood quietly, staring at that long, narrow gap of blackness as if he expected demons from the underworld to come flying through" (3.31).

    Darkness can unnerve people, just as it does Newt. And he has pretty good reason to be scared, because when the kids flick the lights on, they find a bunch of dead bodies hang from the ceiling. Hey, sometimes it's better not to see what's lurking in the darkness.

    In the Flat Trans, darkness immediately envelops the Gladers, who desperately want light. It's a terrifying situation: nobody can tell what's going on, and danger is sure to be lurking around every corner. But when the kids finally do see light, the transition is simply too much: "After so long in pitch darkness, the sudden appearance of light overpowered him"(15.40).

    Ugh, first these kids want light, and then they can't handle the light when they get it. Not only does darkness mess with the emotions of many of the characters, but it also physically damages their eyes. It's bad news, either way.

    Little by little, the darkness takes its toll, until it just becomes too much. After a certain point, in fact, Thomas just decides he can't bear traveling anymore: "He'd had enough of long black tunnels. Enough to last a lifetime. 'I want daylight. I don't care what it takes. I want daylight. Now'" (34.9).

    Being restricted from seeing can really mess with you; not only can you not see, but you start to feel nervous. This seemingly never-ending darkness just adds to the suspense that keeps building in The Scorch Trials.

    Of course, the darkness also symbolizes the fact that the Gladers really have no idea who they are or what they are doing in the Scorch Trials. Their memories have been wiped; they're being manipulated at all times; and nothing they see can be trusted. They're truly being kept "in the dark" about just about everything.

  • Jargon

    "What's a shank?"

    Thomas almost—almost—laughed. An irrational response that somehow would've seemed appropriate. (26.44)

    In Maze Runner,the Gladers were all placed in a Maze where they had to build their own civilization. A unique jargon was pretty much bound to arise. If you're building up an entirely new civilization on your own—and your memories have pretty much been wiped—it's almost inevitable that you're going to have to come up with new words for things.

    Though it's not a huge factor, vocabulary seems to link the boys who survived throughout the Maze together. Saying things like "shuck" and "klunk" are just ways these kids can fit in with one another. If they talk the same, then that's one way of becoming more unified.

    At first, Thomas is pretty confused about the jargon, but eventually it becomes second nature to him. It's just like when you start a new job or join a team: at first, you need to think of what certain words mean. If you're a runner, you'll eventually understand what a tempo run is and what lactate threshold means; it just becomes part of your vocabulary. If you work in the field of dentistry, things like gingival inflammation and lingual tori are just common words.

    Just take a look at what Aris calls the boys:

    "Then you sticks show up."

    "Sticks?" Minho repeated ...Minho exchanged a glance with Thomas, half smiling. Looked like both groups had come up with their own vocabulary. (6.16)

    Building a unique jargon is an intrinsic quality of humans, and it brings us together. So listen up and start acting like a shank, klunkheads.

  • The Flare

    The Flare is that deadly, brain-eating disease that all of the Cranks have. It's, you know, the thing that's destroying the world. The Flare seems to be a kind of global pandemic, one so large and deadly that it actually unifies all of the nations of the world.

    Thomas describes the Flare like this: "The Flare destroyed your brain, slowly driving you insane and stripping you of the capacity to feel basic human emotions like compassion or empathy" (11.5). Yeah, the Flare isn't much fun. The worst part about it may be that it doesn't directly kill you; it actually makes you worse than dead. It makes you inhuman, which is everyone's greatest nightmare.

    And the worst worst part? "The Flare always wins in the end" (35.24).

    Well, that's encouraging.

    The Flare is what WICKED is fighting against. Somehow the Gladers, under WICKED's—ahem—"direction," are supposed to save the world. Logically, it seems that the Gladers' task is to destroy the Flare… or at least come up with some kind of cure for the whole world.

    Basically, the world is sick, and these kids have to fix it.

  • Humor

    Okay, The Maze Runner series takes place in a dystopia. In other words, things aren't exactly happy-go-lucky in this world. In fact, everything is pretty much depressing and bleak. But hey, the best way to survive in a dystopia might just be give in to some old fashioned humor.

    That's what the Gladers do, anyway. Instead of crying for their mommies and giving up, they often resort to humor so that they can stay sane. Minho, in particular, lightens up the mood constantly. He jokes about life and death on a regular basis, and though it might seem a bit messed up, his humor's a good way to cope with suffering and loss.

    Here's an example of Minho's dark humor:

    "Yeah, right," Minho said. "And Frypan's gonna start having little babies, Winston'll get rid of his monster acne, and Thomas her'll actually smile for once." Thomas turned to Minho and exaggerated a fake smile. "There, you happy?" "Dude," he responded. "You are one ugly shank." (10.30)

    Sometimes, the best way to make a situation better is to stare it in the face and just mock it. Sure, these kids' lives are pretty terrible, but that's been pretty obvious for a while now. They've already had time to mope and freak out about it. Now, they have to try to survive, and humor does make matters just a little better.

    Hey, we've all been there. A little dark humor never hurt nobody.

      • Allusions


        • Tropic of Capricorn (35.14)
        • Tropic of Cancer (35.14)