Gathering Blue

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gathering Blue, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon

It’s been noted that the characters in Lowry’s children’s books endure an unusual amount of pain and suffering. Gathering Blue is no exception: that Kira loses her mother isn’t so remarkable (there are plenty of protagonists of children’s books who are orphans, after all), but she has to drag her mother to a field and watch her corpse for four gruesome days. It’s fair to say that Lowry seeks to explore the impact of pain: what people do with it, how they respond to it, and how they learn from it.

Kira is hardly unique in her village—all the villagers have to deal with pain and suffering. Many of the adults lose their husbands or wives to sickness, and others are injured while hunting. When a villager endures a huge amount of pain—an injury or disease, for example—the other villagers drag him to the Field of the Living to succumb to his pain and die. When the pain is of a milder sort—for instance, when a child annoys its mother—the pain is immediately returned upon the person who causes it—the mother beats her child. In the former case, pain is ignored, swept under the rug; there is no point in trying to minimize another’s pain, the villagers believe. In the latter case, the pain is reproduced in the short term (the child is beaten) and perpetuated in the long term (presumably the child grows up to beat its own children).

At the core of the way the villagers deal with pain is a deep pessimism about the world: pain cannot be fought; it can only be ignored or passed on to someone else. This pessimism mirrors exactly the pessimism of the Ruin Song, which teaches the village that Ruin cannot be fought; it can only be accepted as an inevitability.

The similarity between the pessimism of the villagers and the pessimism of the Ruin Song suggests that part of the role of art is to teach humans how to deal with pain. Thus, it’s no coincidence that Kira, an artist, learns how to live with pain by transforming it into something new. Kira’s mother teaches her that pain can make her stronger. We see many examples of this in the novel. When she first arrives in the hall of the Council Edifice, Kira is frightened and nervous. Yet the very nervousness and fear she feels teaches her to be calmer and more confident in the future. Thus, when she returns to the hall for the Gathering, she’s not afraid at all, and even notes how much more mature she’s grown. Similarly, Kira insists on making the difficult journey to Annabella’s house, even though it’s exhausting for her to walk with a lame leg. Her perseverance makes her stronger, and makes it easier for her to travel freely. In both cases, pain is a crucial part of growing up. By going though a painful experience, Kira teaches herself to deal with that experience, so that when she encounters it in the future, it causes her less pain.

Transforming pain into experience is an almost artistic process: it requires Kira to see beauty and value in ugly things, thereby shaping them into something beautiful and valuable. Although Kira’s ability to transform pain into experience is closely tied to her abilities as an artist, Lowry makes a much more general point: maturation is only possible with pain. Thus, children become adults by experiencing pain and learning how to deal with it.

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Pain and Maturity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Pain and Maturity appears in each chapter of Gathering Blue. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Pain and Maturity Quotes in Gathering Blue

Below you will find the important quotes in Gathering Blue related to the theme of Pain and Maturity.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She felt a small shudder of fear. Fear was always a part of life for the people. Because of fear, they made shelter and found food and grew things. For the same reason, weapons were stored, waiting. There was fear of cold, of sickness and hunger. There was fear of beasts. And fear propelled her now as she stood, leaning on her stick. She looked down a last time at the lifeless body that had once contained her mother, and considered where to go.

Related Characters: Kira
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

As the quotation makes very clear, Kira lives in a society where the dominant emotion is fear. In the village where Kira has spent her entire life, the weak are dispassionately dragged to a field to die, and the dead aren't given a burial of any kind. In general, "survival of the fittest" seems to be the only rule. There's no mention of cooperation or collaboration between people--everyone seems to be looking out for him or herself, and no one else.

Although Kira seems to dislike the constant fear of her society, she has no choice but to be afraid herself. Kira is crippled (the passage mentions her "stick"), which means that she's in danger of being regarded as weak and useless. Even more keenly than other people in her village, then, Kira feels afraid of being left to die.

This horrifying rite—of watching her mother's body decay—is also an important step towards Kira growing up. As in many of Lowry's works, Kira as protagonist must suffer a lot of pain, but also be transformed by pain to become a mature young heroine.


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"Of course not. Your strong hands and wise head make up for the crippled leg. You are a sturdy and reliable helper in the weaving shed; all the women who work there say so. And one bent leg is of no importance when measured against your cleverness. The stories you tell to the tykes, the pictures you create with words — and with thread! The threading you do! It is unlike any threading the people have ever seen. Far beyond anything I could do!"

Related Characters: Katrina (speaker), Kira
Page Number: 6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback, Kira remembers something her mother, Katrina, told her before her untimely death. Katrina, rather than criticize Kira for her physical weakness and crippled leg, praised her daughter for her intelligence and creativity. Most of all, Katrina encouraged Kira to weave thread--an activity for which Kira showed notable aptitude.

Katrina's behavior toward her daughter shows that in spite of the atmosphere of fear and competition in Kira's world, there are good, kind people who are willing to help others instead of fight with them. Katrina's gentle, encouraging treatment of her daughter might seem perfectly natural to readers, but Lowry makes it clear that in Kira's village, it's not the norm at all: even mothers usually don't treat their own children as kindly as Katrina does. The flashback is also important in that it shows us where Kira gets her aptitude for weaving--a talent that, in the harsh, competitive village, might appear "useless."

Chapter 2 Quotes

Nodding in agreement, the women turned their backs on Kira and moved away, scolding and kicking at the small tykes by their sides. The sun was low in the sky now. They would attend to their evening tasks, preparing for the return of the village men, who would need food and fire and the wrapping of wounds. One woman was soon to give birth; perhaps that would happen tonight, and the others would attend her, muffling her cries and assessing the value of the infant. Others would be coupling tonight, creating new people, new hunters for the future of the village as the old ones died of wounds and illness and age.

Related Characters: Kira
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Lowry describes how the village works--in other words, how a community of harsh, ruthless people could possibly survive for more than one generation.

Many of the activities described in this quotation are brutal and callous. The women help each other give birth, but there's no sign that they show any love or affection for newborns--on the contrary, their job is to dispassionately "assess" babies. And although the people of the community have sex, there seems to be little to no romance between them--the purpose of sex is to breed children, nothing else.

Yet as Lowry makes clear, the people of the village aren't entirely self-interested. Although the majority of the characters we've met so far seem selfish and small-minded, the people of the village recognize that it's important to work together for the good of their community as a whole. They dress the wounds of the hunters, so that everyone can have food to eat. Notably, it appears to be women who are most concerned with taking care of other people--even if they seem harsh, they're still gentler than their male counterparts.

Chapter 3 Quotes

"Take pride in your pain," her mother had always told her. "You are stronger than those who have none."

Related Characters: Kira, Katrina
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kira remembers an important lesson her mother taught her: take pride in pain.

Again and again, Lowry will show us how Kira uses her pain as a learning tool. Kira encounters sadness, pain, and fear during the course of the novel, but she never allows her emotions to paralyze her. Instead, she uses her pain to become more calm and confident in the future. In this scene, for example, Kira doesn't allow her fear of appearing before the village Council intimidate her--instead, she embraces her fear, and prepares to appear before the Council.

Kira's philosophy of pain is also important because it shows why the philosophy of the village, "survival of the fittest," is ultimately wrong. While the majority of the villagers think that people who have endured a great deal of pain have nothing more to contribute to society, Kira knows better: people who've survived their pain have the invaluable gifts of wisdom and knowledge.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Now, secret in her hand, the cloth seemed to speak a silent, pulsing message to Kira. It told her there was danger still. But it told her also that she was to be saved.

Related Characters: Kira
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Kira clutches one of her prized possessions--a tiny piece of cloth. When Kira is feeling anxious or uncertain, she touches her cloth, and usually feels better. In this situation, Kira is preparing to listen to the Guardians' verdict about whether or not she'll be allowed to remain in the community.

Kira's cloth is an important symbol of the way her mind works. Unlike most of the people in the community, Kira is thoughtful and has an "inner life"--she has ambitions, sympathies, anxieties, etc. (It's hard to imagine Vandara, for example, thinking deep thoughts.) Kira's thoughtfulness and introspection seem closely tied to her talents as an artist. Many artists say that they have an "intuition" for creation--without knowing why, they're able to make artistic choices that lead them to create beautiful music, art, literature, etc. Kira's cloth, then, makes the artistic process something more literal and even fantastical. Kira doesn't know why her cloth is right, but she trusts it--in other words, Kira's cloth works in the same way as her creative intuition.

Chapter 9 Quotes

"It's a lovely thing," he said, seeing the small cloth. Kira stroked it before she closed the lid.
"It speaks to me somehow," she told him. "It seems almost to have life." She smiled, embarrassed, because she knew it was an odd thing and that he would not understand and could perhaps find her foolish.
But Thomas nodded. "Yes," he said to her surprise. "I have a piece of wood that does the same. One I carved long ago, when I was just a tyke.
"And sometimes I feel it in my fingers still, the knowledge that I had then.” He turned to leave.
That you had then? No more? The knowledge doesn't stay? Kira was dismayed at the thought but she said nothing to her friend.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira and Thomas compare their prized possessions--Kira has a cloth; Thomas has a piece of wood. Both possessions seem to serve (or have served) a similar purpose: they inspire the owner's creativity, in a way that's impossible to put into words. Thomas and Kira know that their possessions help them think creatively and intuitively, yet they could never teach their creative process to someone else--it's a mystery even to them.

It's important to notice that Thomas is speaking about his piece of wood in the past tense: he once had a strong creative streak, but his time working for the Guardians has restricted this creativity. The passage foreshadows Kira's realization that the Guardians control artists by limiting their creativity: if Kira spends enough time with Guardians, then her cloth will stop speaking to her, too. The passage also suggests that young people in particular have a natural creative tendency, which often vanishes when they get older (although there are many exceptions, of course).

Chapter 11 Quotes

The fabric gave a kind of answer but it was no more than a flutter, like a breeze across her that she would not remember when she woke at dawn. The scrap told her something of her father — something important, something that mattered — but the knowledge entered her sleep, trembling through like a dream, and in the morning she did not know that it was there at all.

Related Characters: Kira, Christopher
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Kira's creativity and intuition fail her. She's been told that the "beasts" that supposedly surround her village are just myths, and she's beginning to distrust Jamison and the other Guardians who rule her village. And yet Kira isn't sure what the future holds. Basically, she's beginning to doubt the reality of her community, but she doesn't know what to put in its place.

Because Kira's cloth is a symbol of artistic creativity and intuition, the quotation suggests that Kira, in spite of her obvious talent, isn't a full artist yet. Previously, Kira's creative instinct has helped her decide how to interact with the Guardians; now, however, she's clueless. By the time the novel is over, Kira will have discovered a way to use art to tell the truth, exposing the Guardians' lies to the villagers. For the time being, though, she'll have to wait for artistic inspiration to hit her.

Chapter 17 Quotes

"Why must there be such a horrible place?" Kira whispered to Thomas. "Why do people have to live like this?" "It's how it is," he replied, frowning. "It's always been."
A sudden vision slid into Kira's mind. The robe. The robe told how it had always been; and what Thomas had said was not true. There had been times — oh, such long ago times — when people's lives had been golden and green. Why could there not be such times again? She began to say it to him.
"Thomas," she suggested, "you and I? We're the ones who will fill in the blank places. Maybe we can make it different."

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver, The Singer
Page Number: 177-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Kira talks with Thomas about the Fen—a place that seems similar, but even worse than Kira's home village. Kira is well-aware of the horrors of life in her village: infants are murdered, children are beaten, the sick are left to die, etc. She asks Thomas why these things continue to happen, and Thomas offers the conventional wisdom: "that's just the way it is."

In effect, Thomas is saying that the force of routine (and, in a broader sense, tradition and history) keeps the villagers (and the people of the Fen) passive and complacent. They have no model for how life could be, other than the way it is now; thus, they continue hurting one another, unsure of any other kind of culture. Kira, on the other hand, thinks that she can use her artistry to make the village and Fen a better place: by exposing the people to happiness, peace, and cooperation, she can prove that life need not be harsh and cruel--in short, that constant pain is not necessarily "the way it is."