Study Guide

The Selection Quotes

  • Competition

    I didn't want to be royalty. And I didn't want to be a One. I didn't even want to try. (1.2)

    This is like being drafted into the NFL and being all like, "Nah brah." Every other girl in the country would kill to take part in the Selection, but America couldn't care less at this point. Does that make her the best competitor?

    I felt a sudden flutter of worry. But why? I stopped myself and rearranged my thoughts. I didn't want this. (3.88-90)

    Although America claims that she doesn't care about the Selection, her internal dialogue tells a different story. Unfortunately for her, our little freedom fighter is only going to become more conflicted as the competition rolls on.

    Celeste sucked her teeth. "Please. A girl has more than one way she can pay for what she wants." (9.8)

    Celeste makes it clear that she'll do anything to win the Selection—and boy, do we mean anything. Given that the competition's grand prize is regency over an entire country, however, we can't really blame her for that.

    Suddenly those stares made sense. My intentions didn't matter. They didn't know I didn't want this. In their eyes, I was a threat. And I could see they wanted me gone. (9.112)

    Once America takes the lead in the Selection, the other girls start getting catty. That's to be expected. The interesting part to us, however, is that America becomes the front-runner precisely because she doesn't care about the competition—it gives her a sense of authenticity the others sorely lack.

    At its barest of bones, the Selection was kind of disturbing. I was sure the rebels hated it along with everything else about Illéa. (13.20)

    It's telling that America empathizes with the rebels' apparent hatred of the Selection in all its vanity and Bachelor-on-steroids spectacle. In fact, the rebels' opinion is not too far from her own honest opinion of the situation.

    It meant a great deal to me that she chose a place beside me as opposed to a spot in the second row. She was faithful. She'd make a great queen. (14.59)

    At first, America views the Selection from an outsider's perspective, as if she were a person at home watching a reality show. She even has a favorite contestant: Marlee. Marlee is sweet. Marlee is pretty. Marlee is compassionate. There's just one question left hanging, however—how does Maxon feel about Marlee? Is he even into her?

    It was strange to see them like that. How could someone who got along so well with me do the same with someone like her? (17.35)

    As America's totally-platonic-we-swear friendship with Maxon grows, she starts more closely analyzing the prince's relationships with the other women. The most questions arise where Celeste is concerned. How could such a smart guy have feelings for a girl so awful?

    It was true, though. Janelle was the only girl to have two dates with Maxon besides me. Not that I was counting. (17.85)

    We get it, America: you're sixteen and oh, so oblivious, but your lack of self-awareness is causing us physical pain. Like, we need take a long lunch break today and get a massage just to relax now. Sheesh.

    Should I ask him about kissing Olivia? Should I tell him how tense I was feeling around the girls now that things had changed between us? (19.69)

    The game changes completely once America admits that she has feelings for Maxon. No longer can she hide behind her love for Aspen as a reason not to fully engage with the Selection. Now she's playing for keeps. The only downside to this, however, is that she now falls victim to the mind-games and cattiness as the other girls.

    Now that we had survived a major rebel attack together, it felt like these small bonds had sealed into something unbreakable. (24.3)

    Although the competition gets cutthroat at times, the experience of being Selected is so strange and stressful that the girls are now BFFs whether they like it or not. Frankly, we'll take a palace full of friends over The Real Princesses of Illéa any day.

  • Family

    She couldn't stand when I was stubborn. But I got that from her, so she shouldn't have been surprised. (1.8)

    Strong women give birth to other strong women. At least that's what they say. (Well, it would be more accurate to say that they give birth to strong babies, but that just sounds weird. You get what we're saying.) The Singer household is no exception to this rule.

    His eyes came up for the briefest of moments, and I suddenly understood. He didn't want to ask this of me. He would want me to go. (1.56)

    While America's relationship with her mom can be a little tense at times, her relationship with her dad is all hugs and kisses. Totally adorbs. Even though she gives her mom a hard time, however, America needs to realize that her mom loves her just as much as her dad does.

    "Aspen, I know you could do it. But you're not a superhero. You can't expect to be able to provide everything for everyone you love." (2.42)

    One of the reasons America is so in love with Aspen is that he's unflinchingly dedicated to his family. He'd do anything for his brothers and sisters, but given that he's a Six (one of the lowest levels in Illéa's awful caste system), even that might not be enough.

    It was too much to bear, to be loved that much. I'd be surrounded by scores of guards at the palace, but I couldn't imagine a place safer than my father's arms. (7.46)

    Here's an important thing to remember when reading The Selection: this is the first time that America has been away from her family for an extended period of time. That's a big deal. As if it weren't enough that she's on the most high stakes reality show of all time, she's forced to do it all by herself.

    I turned and caught the briefest of moments in Maxon's life. His mother, the beautiful Queen Amberly, pushed some stray hairs back into place. (14.56)

    It's always a bit shocking for America to see the royal family acting normal. She's grown up watching them on TV and revering them, so this is the first time she's been forced come to grips with the fact that they're real human beings. That's a lot harder to grasp than you might think.

    I practically ran forward and snatched the letter out of her hand. I was so hungry for words from my family. (17.111)

    Although America finds the Selection more enjoyable than she thought it would be, she still misses her family. As a result, she savors the few brief opportunities she gets to make contact with them.

    Did they not like all these strange young girls in their house? Were they only all here because of blood and duty? I didn't know what to make of this invisible family. (17.138)

    America has been living at the palace for some time now, but she still doesn't feel like she knows the royal family. That feels weird to her. It's like being invited over to a sleepover at a friend's house, but when you come over, you find out that they're on vacation. Of course, this is even more complicated, because the family in question happens to be royalty.

    The cameras were focused on Gavril now, but I watched Maxon and his parents. I didn't understand why their reactions were mixed. (18.99)

    America's view of the royal family is complicated even further once she begins seeing the king and queen as individuals. The king seems quiet and intelligent, but not too compassionate. In contrast, the queen seems truly empathetic and kind to those around her.

    I thought about what Elayna had said. If I ended up living in the palace, would I expect my family to change? (19.56)

    While becoming a princess would undeniably help her family in a material way, America can't help but wonder if the experience might be too much of a culture shock for them. What if it changes them—for the worse?

    So much went through my head. How families are families, no matter the caste. How mothers all have their own worries to bear. (19.98)

    After learning about Queen Amberly's miscarriages, America is finally able to empathize with Maxon's family on a fundamental level. They might be the richest, most powerful, most ridiculously good-looking clan in the country, but they have the same struggles as anyone else.

  • Society and Class

    Our caste was just three away from the bottom. We were artists. And artists and classical musicians were only three steps up from dirt. Literally. (1.17)

    The country of Illéa has an eight-tiered caste system: each caste corresponds to a set of professions. America's family members are Fives, for example, which are the highest of the low classes. This status affords them a decent lifestyle, though they too have trouble putting food on the table at times.

    When I thought of it that way, the Selection seemed like a rope, something sure I could grab onto [...] and [...] pull my family along with me. (1.24)

    If America wins the Selection, her family will be vaulted out of poverty. And this won't just be financial: they'll also gain a whole lot more respect from society at large. Knowing this, it's no wonder that America's mom pushes her so hard to take part in the competition.

    Besides, I'd been in the homes of enough Twos and Threes to be sure I never wanted to live among them, let alone be a One. (1.43)

    America is unique in that she doesn't buy into the constraints of the caste system. She knows that there are material benefits to being higher up on the ladder, true, but she's equally aware of the more negative aspects of such decadence.

    As if it wasn't enough that they could have pretty much whatever they wanted, they turned our necessities into luxuries. (3.28)

    Here, America is commenting on how the upper castes of Illéa take the clothing styles of the lower castes (which exist due to necessity) and turn them into upscale fashion pieces, jacking the prices up to high heavens in the process. Can you think of any examples of this happening in the real world?

    It seemed unreasonable to limit everyone's life choices based on your ancestors' ability to help the government, but that was how it all worked out. (3.65)

    You know, America, you're right—that does seem unreasonable. We might even say that it's completely and categorically insane, but maybe that's just us. Either way, it's clear that Illéa's caste system has some serious problems, and we've read enough history books to know that problems like this always lead to conflict.

    The upper castes looked at me like I'd stolen something that was theirs. The Fours on down were cheering for me—an average girl who'd been elevated. (7.5)

    It's pretty shocking that America was chosen to take part in the Selection at all—that honor is usually given only to the upper classes (surprise, surprise). For example, the current Queen Amberly was a Four when she was Selected, and that was considered unthinkable at the time. America, on the other hand, is a Five. That might seem insignificant to us, but it's a huge deal for a Five.

    I would be the best of us, the Highest of the Lows. It gave me a sense of purpose. America Singer: the champion of the lower castes. (7.6)

    Instead of internalizing the upper castes' nastiness toward her, America decides to take their bourgie lemons and turn them into some good old working-class lemonade. Atta girl. We doubt many other people would be so fearless if they were in the same position.

    I looked around the room to see how the other Fives were enjoying their meals. That was when I noticed that I was the only Five left. (12.8)

    That's telling, isn't it? Maxon is a pretty swell guy, but it seems that even he has a bit of subconscious bias against the lower castes. Knowing this, we can't help but wonder if America might have met a similar fate if she hadn't made such a striking first impression. What do you think?

    "He kept it all for himself. Trying to buy his way up?"

    I nodded. "He's got his heart set on being a Two. If he was happy being a Three or Four, he could have bought that title and helped us, but he's obsessed." (15.86-87)

    America's older brother Kota hit it big after making a wildly popular sculpture, which led him to abandon his family in a quest to climb the caste ladder. It's a real bummer of a story. The really interesting part, though, is what this teaches us about the Illéan caste system—you can, quite literally, buy your way to a higher status. Uh huh. We see how it is.

    "You are the last Five left in the competition, yes? Do you think that hurts your chances of becoming the princess?"

    The word sprang from my lips without thought. "No!" (18.134-135)

    True to her nature, America doesn't hold back her working-class pride even when she's being grilled by Illéa's resident Ryan Seacrest on live television. That's our girl. It would be a lot easier for her to just sit there, look pretty, and say nothing of substance, but America takes a much more difficult path. We wouldn't expect anything less.

  • Love

    That was all it took. His lips were on mine, and I couldn't think about anything anymore. There was no Selection, no miserable family, no Illéa itself. (2.4)

    America's relationship with Aspen is pretty serious, if you can't tell by this romance-novel-ready passage. Ah—there's nothing quite like some teenage puppy love. Makes us want to listen to Katy Perry. Jokes aside, this love proves to be a huge barrier between America and all of the antics of the Selection.

    [I]t was atypical for a woman to marry down. A man from a lower caste could ask for your hand, but it was rare to get a yes. (2.13)

    There's one big problem with America and Aspen's relationship: Aspen is in a lower caste than she is. While it doesn't seem too uncommon for a woman to marry into a higher caste, it's all but unheard of for it to happen the other way around. We wonder why that is...

    "I can't make you like me. I can't stand the thought of you hungry or cold or scared. I can't make you a Six." (5.40)

    Aspen knows that America will have to sacrifice a lot if they actually get married, and it makes him sick with guilt. That's the main reason why he encourages her to take part in the Selection: he could never live with himself if he held her back from such a life-changing opportunity.

    I needed to hate him right now. That anger would keep me going. Staying as far away from him as I could for as long as possible was half my reason for being here. (10.64)

    After some run-of-the-mill teenage drama, America is convinced that she and Aspen are done for good. How convenient that this happens right as she's about to take part in a royal reality show, don't you think? In fact, America begins to look at the Selection as a way to separate herself from Aspen, a way to heal her broken heart and move on.

    I was excited to know that tonight, after dinner, Maxon would be stopping by my room. (14.77)

    America claims that she just wants to be friends with Maxon, but we're not usually that excited to find out that our friends are visiting us. Unless they have pizza, of course.

    I turned at the sound of my name. Maxon was jogging down the hall toward me. I felt like I was seeing him for the first time. (17.141)

    In other words, America finally realizes that she has feelings for Maxon. It's notable that this happens as Maxon rushes over under the assumption that something has happened to America's family: she falls in love with him when he shows that he truly cares for her.

    Something about the tentativeness of it made me feel beautiful [...] I sensed that he adored me. (18.207)

    America's relationship with Maxon is very different from her relationship with Aspen. Her relationship with Aspen is all fireworks—it's all passion and long make-out sessions and late night tree house rendezvous. Her relationship with Maxon is much more delicate by comparison, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    In his eyes I could see the same face I'd kissed a thousand times in the tree house. The world around us was completely new, but our connection was the same as ever. (23.41)

    America expects her feelings towards Aspen to have lessened, especially given her growing bond with Maxon, but she finds them rekindled as soon as she sees him again—and especially after they've done some stuff that's a little more hands-on. No two ways about it, people: our girl America has one hunky mess on her hands (which, to be fair, isn't a bad type of mess).

    "If this were a simpler matter, I'd have eliminated everyone else by now. I know how I feel about you." (24.46)

    And bam—there it is. If Maxon had a choice, he would have grabbed America and hopped on a plane to Vegas yesterday, but our dude has a duty as prince to see the Selection through to the end.

    As I looked into his eyes, I felt that unnamable feeling that was growing between us. (24.64)

    Ah, yes, we know exactly what you're saying, America. Hunger. That "unnamable feeling" is hunger. Er, right? Right? Or did we just write this 3,000-word-paper on the relationship between America's and Maxon's metabolisms for nothing?

  • Women and Femininity

    This was the way they did it with sons. Princesses born into the royal family were sold off into marriage in an attempt to solidify our young relations with other countries. (1.41)

    In other words, princes are seen as future rulers of countries, while princesses are seen as commodities that can be traded back and forth to solidify trade alliances and political treaties. Does that sound like an even gender balance to you? Not really. Sounds pretty medieval to us.

    "America, I'm supposed to be providing for you. It's humiliating for me to come here and have you do all this for me." (5.17)

    America and Aspen's class differences are amplified by a swirling mess of gender dynamics. Aspen's the man in this relationship—he's supposed to be doing the providing. Of course, the caste system makes this impossible, but that doesn't mean he's going to feel good about it.

    "Now, I know this is personal, but I've had to discuss it with every contestant, so please don't be shy." He paused. "I need confirmation that you are, in fact, a virgin." (6.26)

    Yes, America, please don't be shy when this complete stranger asks you for intimate details about your sexual habits. That's not weird or anything. In addition, we should also note here that Illéa has publicly banned premarital sex. Although they claim that this is for health reasons, we'd be shocked if there weren't a puritanical aspect to this ban as well.

    "Well, I get tutored with a bunch of other Fours back home, all girls, and they each have their ways of getting under other people's skin." (10.20)

    Interestingly, America feels lost being around so many women. She's spent most of her life cloistered up with her family, after all, so she hasn't had the opportunity to socialize with many other people.

    "One of the rebels got a hold of Lucy [...] "I'm not sure they have very many women with them, if you catch my meaning." (13.168)

    Yikes. Although rebel attacks seem like scary scenarios no matter your gender, they seem like particularly frightening propositions for women, since women often get kidnapped or worse. This is yet another reminder that times are tough if you're a woman in the wild world of Illéa.

    It seemed like Maxon's experience with women was so great and so small at once. [...] It was like he knew how to treat a lady, he just didn't know how to treat a date. (15.6)

    In our eyes, this is because Maxon has been taught about the proper way to interact with women but completely lacks experience in that arena. He's all book smarts and no street smarts. Fortunately for him, he's about to go through a seriously intense training regimen: the Selection is like romantic CrossFit.

    "My mom still talks to some of the women she was with when she went through the Selection. They're all viewed as important women. Still." (15.63)

    While it's cool that the women who are Selected become respected by society even if they aren't chosen, we can't help but think that there is a better system than this. Like, maybe woman scientists could be considered important? Or female business leaders? Or maybe if Illéa gave more respect to mothers and working women? Just a thought.

    This was the thing I'd been bothered about since the beginning, that Maxon was looking for nothing more than a pretty face. Now that I'd met him, I was sure that wasn't true. (17.33)

    To be honest, we can't blame America for being skeptical of Maxon's intentions. The Selection seems like a pretty messed-up system to us—it manages to be sexist, classist, and vapidly materialistic, all in one nasty package. Luckily for America, however, Maxon is an earnest dude who sincerely wants to find love. Could you imagine what would have happened if he weren't?

    So the eliminated girls were already getting snatched up by wealthy men. I didn't realize being the castoff of a future king made you a commodity. (17.121)

    In case you still had doubts that women are treated like commodities in Illéa, then this should rest the case. Still, if there's any consolation we can take from this situation, it's that the girl who's currently leading the Selection—America—is all about the girl power, even if she doesn't realize it.

    Perhaps it was all my years as a big sister, but I just had to keep these girls safe. (23.80)

    Although America is sometimes swept up into the competitive aspects of the Selection, her predominant feeling toward the other girls is one of sisterhood. That says a lot about her character.

  • Power

    I think the Selection was meant to draw us together and remind everyone that Illéa itself was born out of next to nothing. (1.41)

    That's one interpretation of the situation. Another is that the Illéan government uses the Selection as a way to keep the masses placated under the assumption that they too someday might become royalty. It sounds a little conspiratorial, we know, but is it wrong?

    "This isn't exactly a rule, but it would be unwise of you to ignore it. When you are invited to do something with Prince Maxon, you do not refuse. No matter what it is." (6.62)

    We don't think we have to spell out the subtext of this statement, but needless to say, it's quite troubling. It's bad enough that Illéa is a totalitarian state, but now America literally has to submit her body to the royal family's power. Knowing America, however, she's not likely to give up her freedom so easily.

    I was infuriated. [...] I wasn't above the rules; that was what he'd said. But apparently the prince was. And I felt dirty, lower than an Eight. (6.67)

    Although you might have expected America to willingly submit to the Illéan government's authority, she refuses to be pushed around by anyone. That's an admirable quality. But how long will it last once she's inside the palace walls?

    Something in his voice struck me. There wasn't a trace of sarcasm. This thing that seemed like little more than game show to me was his only chance for happiness. (10.109)

    America rightly sees the Selection as an overly elaborate, painfully vapid show of power, but Maxon takes it deadly seriously. This actually makes America like him more. Instead of being the vain, detached ruler that she expected him to be, Maxon is a sincere guy who has no desire to exploit his status for his own advantage.

    "America, what did you think I wanted?" He sounded upset. More than upset. Offended. He had obviously guessed what I'd assumed, and he didn't like that one bit. (12.106)

    We get that Maxon's feeling are hurt, but he's naive if he doesn't understand the nature of the Selection. He has all of the power in the situation; the girls have none. Now, we're not advocating throwing knees into crotches all willy-nilly, but it's hard to blame America given the circumstances.

    I realized that if Maxon had simply been Maxon Schreave and not Maxon, future king of Illéa, he would be the kind of person I would have wanted to be my next-door neighbor. (13.119)

    As America gets closer to Maxon, her assumptions about him keep on being proven false. He's not the spoiled brat she assumed him to be; he's really quite sensitive. He's not stiff and arrogant; he's just a tad shy. In this way, we see how Maxon is potentially limited by others' expectations of him, given his high status.

    It made me wonder just how many attacks the palace suffered through that we never heard about. Was it far less safe here than I'd thought? (14.2)

    One of the ways that the Illéan government retains its power over the people is by controlling the information they receive. After all, the country's biggest news show is shot on location in the palace. That doesn't seem too fair and balanced to us.

    I began to wonder just how much we knew about the rebels. Maybe I just didn't understand, but I didn't think they could be blamed for everything that was wrong with Illéa. (14.80)

    The more we hear about the rebels, the more we doubt the Illéan government's official narrative regarding the conflict. It just doesn't add up. In fact, now that we're doing the math, it seems like the government conveniently uses the rebels as bogeymen to scare its people. That's a classic technique from the totalitarian playbook.

    "So a new nation was formed under Gregory Illéa's name and leadership. [...] He was just a private citizen who donated his money and knowledge. And he changed everything." (17.20)

    We gain some insight into the formation of Illéa during the girls' history lesson, and it's an interesting story to say the least. How could some random dude just start a country? Why would he do that? And why did he create this infernal caste system? Unfortunately, this is one mystery that doesn't get revealed in The Selection—guess we'll have to wait for the sequel on that one.

    His voice was full of a ringing authority that I had only really heard once—the night he let me into the garden. He was much more attractive when he was using his status for a purpose. (18.8)

    This is an important moment for America because it shows that Maxon does care about the struggles of his people and sincerely wants to use his power for good. But it's even bigger for Maxon. For him, this represents the first time that he takes full advantage of his status to do something that's important to him—and important to his country. It's a big step.

  • Poverty

    It wasn't that our situation was so precarious. […] We weren't destitute. But I guess we weren't that far off either. (1.16)

    America's family is in a place where many working-class and middle-class families find themselves: making ends meet, but one disaster away from complete bankruptcy. As a result, they're forced to live life like they're walking on a tight rope.

    He had much steadier work than we did but got paid significantly less. There was never enough food for his family. (2.31)

    Aspen's family is even worse off than America's. The cruel irony is that Aspen works his hunky little butt off, but no matter how hard he tries, there's literally no way he can work his family out of poverty. That's just not how the caste system was constructed.

    I had seen him cry only once, when they whipped his brother in the square. Little Jemmy had stolen some fruit off a cart in the market. (2.72)

    That's pretty rough. Given what we know about Aspen's family's financial status, however, Little Jemmy probably only stole fruit because he would have starved without it. He had no other choice. What's the other interpretation of the situation? That he just loves pulling off apple heists?

    "Mary was born in the castle, and her parents are still here. I was an orphan, taken in because the palace needed staff [...] Lucy was sold to the palace." (13.159)

    As we spend time in the palace, we gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the Illéan caste system. Most notably—and horribly—we learn that the country has a system of indentured servitude that's functionally indistinguishable from slavery. That's some nasty stuff.

    "Lucy's family needed money for an operation for her mother. [...] Her mother never got better, they never made it out of debt." (13.161)

    Lucy and her father were forced into lifelong slavery because...they couldn't pay a medical bill. Can you think of anything more messed up? Still, similar things happen every day in the real world, so this scenario might not be as far-fetched as you think.

    "And we needed that money so badly at the time, the whole family was elated. But Kota kept almost all the money for himself." (15.83)

    America's older brother Kota hit it big as an artist, but instead of using his newfound fame and fortune to help his family, he decided to hoard it all for himself. It's easy to judge him for this, but from another perspective, this is simply the end result of such an imbalanced caste system.

    "But what about the Eights? Isn't that caste responsible for most for the crimes? They don't get any education." (17.164)

    Maxon has some good ideas about how to help the people of Illéa, but he remains detached from the day-to-day reality of life in the lower castes. How couldn't he be? Fortunately, America is here to give him a fuller, more nuanced perspective.

    "Have you ever been hungry, Maxon? [...] If there was absolutely no food here, nothing for your mother or father, [...] what would you do?" (17.165)

    Here, America eloquently explains roughly ninety-nine percent of criminal activity: desperate people do desperate things. If Maxon's plan for combating crime rates doesn't actually include making people's lives better, it's going to be dead in the water before it even leaves the harbor.

    "Good God. When you said you were only here for the food, you weren't kidding, were you?" he asked, shaking his head. (17.203)

    Although Maxon knew that America had only taken part in the Selection for financial reasons, he didn't really know it, if you get what we're saying. This is another example of the prince's privileged existence preventing him from fully seeing his country's situation.

    "[A]round the new year, there will be public assistance for food in every Province Services Office. Any Five, Six, Seven, or Eight may go there anytime for a free, nutritious meal." (18.93)

    After his conversation with America, Maxon's eyes are opened to the suffering of his people. To that end, he starts an ambitious new program that seeks to push back against poverty by providing free meals to the lower castes. It's a great idea, and he deserves all the props in the world for it. Still, it won't be enough on its own—it has to be just the beginning.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    The whole thing made me feel like my family didn't think I had any right to want something of my own. It bothered me. (3.49)

    America often feels hemmed in by her family, and this only gets worse once the Selection rolls around. Rightly or wrongly, her mother sees the Selection as a way for the family to escape poverty, and she's not giving America any choice in the matter.

    "You cannot leave the palace of your own accord. You have to be dismissed by the prince himself." (6.39)

    While America is taking part in the Selection, she's completely under Prince Maxon's control. She can't even sneeze without him signing a permission slip. No matter the payoff, it's never fun to have your personal freedom so constrained.

    "You are not to go outside under any circumstances," Silvia continued, "During the day, there will be times when you can go into the garden, but not without permission." (9.86)

    Although Silvia tries to frame this as a safety precaution, it's hard to believe that there's not something deeper going on here. The entire Selection is built around these thirty-five women being under the thumb of the prince, after all, so it's counter-intuitive that they'd be allowed any degree of freedom.

    There was no freedom in this. The bars of my balcony caged me in. And I could still see the walls around the palace, high with guards atop the points. (10.67)

    America doesn't take very well to palace life. In part, this is due to the vast class differences between America and the royal family: she's so out of her comfort zone in the palace it's not even funny. Regardless of the reason, however, America quickly feels stifled by the constraining nature of the Selection as a whole.

    "Open the doors."

    "But—Your Majesty–"

    "Open the doors and let her go. Now!" (10.79-81)

    In a surprising twist, Prince Maxon comes to America's rescue and allows her to get some air in the garden, despite it being against the rules. We did not see that coming.

    Would I ever get back any piece of the life I'd had before this? I just didn't know. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about any of it. (10.89)

    It's bad enough that the minute-to-minute experience of being a part of the Selection is a bummer, but America must also reckon with the fact that her life will be forever changed after the competition concludes. No matter the outcome, America will lose some of her precious freedom.

    I looked over at Lucy. At least in my case, one of us got to make the decision. She had no choice when it came to losing the man she loved. (13.163)

    America thinks that she has it rough, but being Selected is a dream compared to being an indentured servant at the palace. Anne, Mary, and Lucy have zero freedom, but, unlike America, they have no hope of ever gaining it. That must feel really constraining.

    "America, I might have my family, but imagine how embarrassing it is to have your parents watch as you attempt to date for the first time." (15.40)

    Maxon feels confined by the Selection, too, but in a much different way from the America feels. America feels constrained because she's out of her comfort zone and forced under the thumb of some princely nerd (or is it a nerdy prince?). For Maxon, however, the situation is emotionally constraining because an entire country is watching him date for the first time. We don't envy that.

    It seemed so funny that the palace—the beautiful cage—was the one place I could actually let myself be open about everything I'd been feeling. (16.1)

    As America grows closer to Maxon, the palace starts feeling less like a prison and more like a sanctuary. What a completely and utterly unrelated coincidence. Now, America still doesn't feel entirely comfortable in this bizarro place where crowns are considered casual wear, but it's a good start.

    Yes, I still had feelings for Aspen. I couldn't undo that. But if I couldn't be with him, then what was holding me back from being with Maxon? (18.196)

    It's not until the back half of the novel that America fully understands how her feelings towards Aspen have been holding her back, preventing her from making herself vulnerable and taking a chance with Maxon. In other words, her feelings towards Aspen have, in her mind, kept her from being free.