Gathering Blue

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The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song Symbol Icon
The Singer’s robe, staff, and Ruin Song are three different versions of the same thing: a story of the endless, inevitable rise and fall of history. Civilizations begin, grow, decay, and eventually die out, often in a fiery blaze, to be followed by a new, fresh civilization. The Song shows this with words, the robe shows it in weaving, and the staff shows it in wood. As Kira learns, the Council of Guardians believes that it is in its own best interest to control this version of history: to make sure that everyone knows it, and to make sure that when Thomas and Kira tell the future of civilization by carving the staff and embroidering the robe, their vision of the future depicts the Council in a flattering light. By the end of the book, it’s clear why the Council is so invested in teaching their version of history to the village: doing so encourages the villagers to believe that death and decay are inevitable, and therefore that everyone should accept their place in life and obey the Council. Kira decides to undermine the Council’s plan by weaving a version of the robe that includes blue, and will teach compassion and love to the villagers. Thus, the robe, staff, and Ruin Song show the power of art: a power that can be dangerous in the hands of a corrupt government, but liberating in the hands of individual artists working toward their own vision.

The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song Quotes in Gathering Blue

The Gathering Blue quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Gathering Blue published in 2012.
Chapter 7 Quotes

"This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact."
She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer's shoulders.
"The future will be told here," he said. "Our world depends upon the telling.”

Related Characters: Jamison (speaker), Kira
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jamison shows Kira the robe that she'll be working on all year. The Robe is designed to depict the history of the world: an endless process in which civilizations rise out of nothing, become powerful, and then die out once again. Jamison tells Kira that she'll have the job of depicting the future of the world, embroidering a vision of the future on the Singer's Robe.

Although Kira doesn't yet realize how sinister Jamison's plan is, she recognizes that the Singer's Robe is a teaching tool for the entire community, and she also realizes that as a talented artist, she has a lot of power over the community. Every single person in the village attends the Ruin Ceremony--there, they study the Singer's Robe, staff, and song in order to learn about the world. Because the Ruin Ceremony is the villagers' only source of information about the broader external world, the content of the ceremony (what the Robe depicts, for example) is crucial--the villagers can be compelled to do or believe almost anything based on what they see at the ceremony.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

The Singer's robe contained only a few tiny spots of ancient blue, faded almost to white. After her supper, after the oil lamps had been lit, Kira examined it carefully. She lay her threads — the ones from her own small collection and the many others that Annabella had given to her — on the large table, knowing she would have to match the hues carefully in daylight before she began the repairs. It was then that she noticed — with relief because she would not know how to repair it; and with disappointment because the color of sky would have been such a beautiful addition to the pattern — that there was no real blue any more, only a hint that there once had been.

Related Characters: Kira, The Singer
Related Symbols: Blue, The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolic scene, Kira studies the Singer's robe and realizes that it's almost entirely missing the color blue. Traditionally, the color blue has been associated with mercy, love, and intimacy. Thus, for the Singer's robe to be missing blue is a sign of a broader problem in the society that's based around the Ruin Ceremony: it's missing compassion. Based on everything we've seen in the village, Kira's world is cruel, brutish, and competitive; it's rare that one person will help another person out.

The passage also suggests that there was blue in the Singer's robe--in a symbolic sense, one could say that there used to be compassion in the world. From the reader's perspective, most of the behavior that goes on in Kira's world is barbaric, and her society seems dystopian. By craving the color blue (and the emotions that go with it), Kira seems to be yearning for contact with an earlier time, and also for contact with us, the readers.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Ruin. Rebuilding. Ruin again. Regrowth. Kira followed the scenes with her hand as larger and greater cities appeared and larger, greater destruction took place. The cycle was so regular that its pattern took on a clear form: an up-and-down movement, wavelike. From the tiny corner where it began, where the first ruin came, it enlarged upon itself. The fires grew as the villages grew. All of them were still tiny, created from the smallest stitches and combinations of stitches, but she could see their pattern of growth and how each time the ruin was worse and the rebuilding more difficult.
But the sections of serenity were exquisite. Miniature flowers of countless hues flourished in meadows streaked with golden-threaded sunlight. Human figures embraced. The pattern of the peaceful times felt immensely tranquil compared to the tortured chaos of the others.
Tracing with her finger the white and pink-tinged clouds against pale skies of gray or green, Kira wished again for blue. The color of calm.

Related Characters: Kira
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kira studies the Singer's Robe and grasps the vast story of history that it's designed to tell. The Robe is covered with cyclical patterns, in which a civilization arises, grows, and then is consumed with fire. If there is an overall arc to history, it's that life is getting harder and harder--rebuilding gets more difficult with every ruin.

Although Kira doesn't fully grasp the implications of the Robe's version of history, she already disagrees with it. Where the designers of the Robe in years past have painted history as a story of death and destruction, Kira--a naturally compassionate person--sees history differently. She focuses on the happy moments in the lifespan of a civilization--the points when communities took care of one another instead of competing or fighting. One could say that the Robe was designed to inspire Kira's village's attitude toward life: the village thinks that life is a constant process of fighting and avoiding danger, so it makes sense that the Robe, which teaches the people of the village, would see history in identical terms. Kira, by contrast, sees life as an opportunity for cooperation and even love--thus, she disagrees with the story the Robe is telling.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Kira did too. She wanted her hands to be free of the robe so that they could make patterns of their own again. Suddenly she wished that she could leave this place, despite its comforts, and return to the life she had known. She buried her face in the bedclothes and for the first time cried in despair.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 171-172
Explanation and Analysis:

As Kira spends more time repairing the Singer's robe (and as she investigates the Guardians' deceptions more thoroughly), she becomes increasingly reluctant to cooperate with the Guardians' authority. She enjoys the opportunity to weave, but she resents the fact that she's being ordered what to weave--being forced to work efficiently but not creatively.

In effect, Kira cries during this scene because she realizes that she values artistic freedom more highly than material luxury. The Guardians offer her a fancy lifestyle to ensure that she'll cooperate with their artistic aims. But Kira knows from talking to Thomas that a lifetime spent working on the robe will destroy her innate creativity--like Thomas, she'll lose her "spark" of inspiration, her most precious possession. Overcome with fear of losing her creativity to the Guardians' commands, Kira begins to plan an escape.

Chapter 23 Quotes

The three of them — the new little Singer who would one day take the chained Singer's place; Thomas the Carver, who with his meticulous tools wrote the history of the world; and she herself, the one who colored that history — they were the artists who could create the future.

Related Characters: Kira, Thomas the Carver, Jo
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song, The Singer’s Chain
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important quotation, Kira first begins to realize how powerful she, Thomas, and Jo are. Because they have artistic talent, they've been tasked with performing and depicting the history of the world. Indeed, the Ruin Ceremony--the cloak, the staff, the song, etc.--is itself a history of human civilization, which Kira and her friends are tasked with polishing year after year.

Kira begins to realize how powerful she is: she has the ability to tell a story of the future, rather than merely rehashing the past. As long as Kira obeys the guardians and simply repairs the Singer's robe year after year, she's sending a message to the people of the village that nothing is ever going to change. But if she were to change the robe to depict a better potential future, then Kira could send a different message to her audience of villagers.

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The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song Symbol Timeline in Gathering Blue

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song appears in Gathering Blue. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...prepares for his duties by resting and drinking special oils for his voice. The Ruin Song is long; it describes the rise and fall of many civilizations, culminating in cracks in... (full context)
Chapter 4
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...dye threads; in fact, Katrina was responsible for coloring the threads used to decorate the robe that the Singer wore when he performed his Ruin Song. As a small child, Kira... (full context)
Chapter 5
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...before lunch. The chief guardian tells the guard to open the box, revealing the Singer’s robe. Everyone, including Kira and Vandara, leans forward to get a closer look at the robe.... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...that Kira will stay in the village and continue her mother’s work, repairing the Singer’s robe—he points to a large undecorated patch of fabric on the back of the robe. Vandara,... (full context)
Chapter 6
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...that she has access to drawers of threads and other supplies for repairing the Singer’s robe, which is kept in another drawer in her quarters. (full context)
Chapter 7
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...all her lunch. Kira answers him, but even as she does so Jamison examines the robe and begins to explain her duties to her. Kira’s mother had begun repairing the robe,... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Jamison shows Kira the supplies she’ll use to complete the robe: needles, threads, scissors, etc. Kira notices that the threads haven’t been dyed; when Jamison reminds... (full context)
Chapter 9
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
...after Kira visited Annabella. Back in her quarters of the Council Edifice, Kira examines the robe she is to repair. There are a few spots of blue, but they’re so faded... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...Thomas what his work for the guardians involves, he explains that he re-carves the Singer’s staff in the areas where it’s been worn down. The Singer uses his staff to keep... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...a schedule: she visits Annabella regularly, but spends most of her day working on the robe. She also begins to enjoy her bath instead of preferring the stream. (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
As she works, Kira examines the Singer’s robe more closely. It tells a long, complicated history. One part of the robe shows a... (full context)
Chapter 12
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...would tell her what they want her to weave in the empty area of the robe. Kira said nothing, but thought that the guardians’ instruction won’t give the sense of magic... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Kira remains indoors studying the robe. She focuses on the patches of the robe in orange, red, and yellow: these signal... (full context)
Chapter 13
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...being taken by beasts. He tells Kira that she’s doing an excellent job with the robe, and leaves. Kira touches her cloth, but it brings her no comfort. She thinks she... (full context)
Chapter 16
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...she can come and go as she pleases, she’s forced to work on the Singer’s robe. As she realizes this, Kira realizes that she is losing all interest in repairing the... (full context)
Chapter 17
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...outside. As she suggests this, she notices that Thomas has been working on the Singer’s staff. Much like the robe, the staff has intricate carvings, but also an empty area at... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...such a place, and Thomas tells her, “It’s how it is.” Kira remembers from the robe that this is not true: there were times when people lived in better conditions. She... (full context)
Chapter 18
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...has been closed, people are quieter, and some even bathe. Thomas is polishing the Singer’s staff with thick oils. Matt has not returned from his quest to find blue, even though... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
In the days leading up to the Gathering, Kira completes the robe. Jamison visits her and inspects the robe, and says she’s done an excellent job. He’s... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Jamison looks at another section of the robe, and recites the portion of the Ruin Song that corresponds to it. He explains to... (full context)
Chapter 19
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Kira goes to Thomas’s room and asks him where the staff is. He tells her that the guardians took it yesterday, and she confirms that they... (full context)
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
...of the future.” Finally, he presents the “Singer of the future,” who will wear the robe one day. When the chief guardian announces this, a side door opens, and guards push... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
The chief guardian then presents the Singer, who enters, holdings his staff and wearing his robe, which is bright and colorful because of Kira’s work. Thomas mutters... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...the hall, and the scraping sound stops. He holds out one arm, on which the robe shows the scene of the origin of the world. Kira feels great pride in her... (full context)
Chapter 20
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...since the Gathering ceremony began. Thomas and Kira listen to the Singer perform the Ruin Song while Jo sleeps. Kira listens to the Song, and is surprised to find that she... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
The Singer moves through a quiet portion of the Song, which corresponds to a green section of the robe. The “Green part” of the Song,... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
When it is time for the Ruin Song to begin again, Kira and Thomas leave Matt and Branch in Thomas’s room and walk... (full context)
Chapter 23
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...it’s possible that the guardians poisoned her to get to Kira to work on the robe for them. It’s also possible, Kira realizes, that they killed Jo and Thomas’s parents to... (full context)
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...what she saw at the Gathering. When the Singer finished his performance, he lifted his robe slightly, and Kira saw his feet, which were bloody and scarred, so that as he... (full context)
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
...“task” in the village. As she talks to her father, she thinks of the undecorated robe she must begin to weave. She senses that the future is in her hands. Thomas... (full context)