Study Guide

The Selection Themes

  • Competition

    Take The Bachelor, toss it in a blender with Survivor, and then add the pungent garnish of a presidential election, and you've just made yourself a steaming helping of The Selection. America Singer is a sixteen-year-old girl who gets swept up into this competition, fighting with thirty-four other girls for the heart of Illéa's Prince Maxon, but she has a dirty little secret—her heart is elsewhere. She doesn't even want to compete. No spoilers here, folks, but let's just say that America gets a rude awakening when she realizes that she has more skin in the game then she thought was possible.

    Questions About Competition

    1. Is America competitive by nature? Explain.
    2. How does America change once she takes the competition seriously?
    3. Why does Celeste act the way she does?
    4. Do the people of Illéa have a say in the Selection? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Celeste is so competitive and hostile because she is insecure.

    Although there is no rule saying so, the people of Illéa have a say over the Selection because their sentiment clearly matters to the royal family when choosing a ruler.

  • Family

    Can you remember the first time you were away from your family? Well, we're just going to go out on a limb and say that it was nowhere near as stressful as America Singer's experience in The Selection. In this novel, America is chosen to take part in a competition known as "The Selection," in which thirty-five girls compete for the heart of Illéa's crown prince. That'd be pretty stressful on its own, but it's made so much worse by the fact that America's away from her family for the first time ever. Her family members might make her mad sometimes, but at the end of the day, they're all she's got.

    Questions About Family

    1. Compare and contrast America's relationship with her mother and her relationship with her father.
    2. Does Maxon love his father? Explain.
    3. Why is Mrs. Singer so hard on America?
    4. Why did Kota turn his back on his family?

    Chew on This

    Although America is often angry with her mother, she owes her fearlessness and strength to her.

    The fact that Kota turned his back on his family to improve his own status illustrates the inhumanity of the Illéan caste system.

  • Society and Class

    The dystopian future-state of Illéa does not seem like a fun place to live. For starters, the country imposes a hyper-strict caste system, which limits the jobs people can do, the places they can live, and even the people they can love. And that's just the start of it. As we dive deeper into this icky country, we realize that it's an honest-to-goodness totalitarian state—like if Big Brother were into Renaissance fairs instead of science fiction. Yikes. The Selection gives us a perspective on Illéan society that you're not going to find in their tourism brochures.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. What is the purpose of the Illéan caste system?
    2. In what ways is America treated as inferior because of her caste?
    3. Will Illéan society improve with Maxon's new food program? Why or why not?
    4. Does Illéa's history explain anything about its society?

    Chew on This

    The only purpose of the caste system, or so it seems, is to keep people under a tight leash.

    Although it will help the country, Maxon's food plan will not cure everything that ails Illéa.

  • Love

    Oh, to be a teenager in love. To have the world as your oyster. To have butterflies in your stomach. To be competing with thirty-four other girls for the heart of your country's crown prince.

    Wait, what?

    As weird as it sounds, this is the exact scenario depicted in The Selection. See, America Singer is chosen to be a part of a royal competition for the prince's hand, but there's just one problem: she has a secret boyfriend. Uh oh. Although America enters the competition with no interest in getting to know her princely suitor, she comes to learn the hard way that the heart wants what the heart wants—and maybe her heart wants itself a prince. But that raises another question. What if the heart doesn't even know what it wants? What then?

    Questions About Love

    1. Why does America have feelings for Aspen?
    2. Is America's love for Aspen real? If so, how do you know?
    3. What causes America to start having feelings toward Maxon?
    4. Is the Selection a good system for finding love?

    Chew on This

    There is no way on Earth that the Selection is an effective system for finding love.

    The Selection is a proven system for finding love: it worked for Queen Amberly, and now it's working for America.

  • Women and Femininity

    The country of Illéa in The Selection doesn't exactly have balanced gender relations. Women are supposed to have male providers here. They're valued more for their beauty than their brains. Heck, even princesses have it tough: they get traded to other countries rather than trained to become leaders. In the middle of all of this silliness, however, we have one shining light: America Singer. Though she's never heard the word before, America is true feminist, and her fearlessness in the face of others' preconceptions provides a great example to any of us who have ever felt bullied by the people with all the power.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Is the Selection sexist? Explain your answer.
    2. How is sexuality used to subjugate women in Illéa?
    3. In your opinion, is America a feminist? Explain your answer.
    4. Are gender relations in Illéa related to the caste system in any way? Explain.

    Chew on This

    The fact that it's uncommon for a woman to marry a man from a lower class shows that gender and caste are related in Illéa.

    Although it's supposedly based on health concerns, the ban on premarital sex in Illéa is primarily a way to subjugate women.

  • Power

    In Illéa, all of the power is concentrated among a select few. It's concentrated in the upper castes, who are given a larger piece of the pie than regular families like the Singers. It's concentrated in the army, which maintains control over the population. And, most importantly, it's concentrated in the royal family, who call all of the shots at the end of the day. That doesn't sound too equitable to us. By the end of The Selection, however, our heroine America Singer has gone inside this powerful behemoth and lived the tale—and she might have even changed it along the way, too.

    Questions About Power

    1. How does America usually react to powerful people?
    2. Does Maxon abuse his power? Explain.
    3. In what ways does the royal family use its power for good? For evil?
    4. How does the Selection affect the royal family's relationship with its subjects?

    Chew on This

    Unlike everyone else in the novel, America responds defiantly when someone tries to establish power over her, and that's essentially what makes Maxon fall in love with her.

    To his benefit, Maxon never uses his power for evil—he always tries to do good.

  • Poverty

    America Singer and her family are tired of being broke. There's not much they can do about it, but there is one shred of hope: every now and then, the country holds something called The Selection, a competition in which thirty-five girls fight for the heart of the prince and, as a result, control over Illéa. And America has been Selected. Although this just seems like a way for the family to make some quick cash at first, America comes to realize that she might be able to change her country for the better and help struggling families just like hers.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. How does the Singer family adapt to living in poverty?
    2. Will Maxon's plans actually help lessen poverty in Illéa? Why or why not?
    3. How does the caste system enforce mandated poverty?
    4. Did America benefit in any way from being poor?

    Chew on This

    Through its system of enforced jobs and low wages, the Illéan caste system literally mandates that a large part of its population will be poor and remain poor.

    Although it obviously made her life difficult, America's tough upbringing has made her stronger as a person.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    The Selection might seem like a glitzy reality show, but for America Singer, it feels more like a prison. Here's the deal: thirty-five girls are competing for the heart of Illéa's Prince Maxon, and America is among them. Should be a blast, right? Not for her. Whether due to class differences, her love for her family, and her seemingly unrequited feelings for her secret boyfriend, our heroine just can't get comfortable. But then something happens. We don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say that the palace starts feeling less like a prison, and more like a sanctuary.

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. Why does America feel that her family limits her choices? Is she right in this belief?
    2. In what ways does the caste system contribute to America's feelings of confinement?
    3. Why does America's relationship with the palace change over the course of the novel?
    4. Will America still be free if she becomes the Queen? Explain.

    Chew on This

    By limiting people's choices, the Illéan government maintains an authoritarian control over its people.

    America will have to sacrifice some degree of her freedom if she truly wants to become the Queen of Illéa.