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.
Power and Freedom Theme Icon

It’s clear from early on in Gathering Blue that the Council of Guardians wields a huge amount of power over the village. It presides over all trials, hosts the annual Gathering, and can expel anyone in the village at any time. What’s unclear, at least until the end of the novel, is the source of the Council’s great power. At any time, it would seem, the villagers could rise up and overthrow the Council—in fact, this seems like exactly the kind of wild, violent gesture the villagers specialize in.

Throughout the book, the Council of Guardians uses psychology and manipulation to stay in power. By holding an annual Gathering, which every villager must attend, the Council subtly persuades the villagers to abide by their rule. The Ruin Song that’s performed every year at the Gathering tells the story of the great civilizations of the past, with their tall buildings and powerful armies. By residing in the huge, imposing Council Edifice, and hosting the Gathering in the Edifice, the Council steals some of the respect the villagers feel for the civilizations of the past. In a different way, the Council encourages the villagers to accept their place in life. The Ruin Song describes how all civilizations inevitably die out, to be replaced by other civilizations. The pessimism of this song is so great that it teaches the villagers, from the time that they’re children, to view their lives pessimistically, believe that no real change is possible, and therefore accept that’s it every man for himself. With no alliances or friendships, the villagers are too weak to rise up against the Council.

Another way the Council wages psychological war on the villagers is by spreading the myth of wild beasts. The villagers are told to be afraid of the wild beasts that surround the village. Partly because they’re afraid of beasts, they don’t help one another—in dangerous times, it’s every man for himself. The Council clearly profits from the villager’s fear and confusion. Indeed, when the Council learns that people don’t believe in beasts, it has them killed.

It’s clear the Council stays in power by “persuading” the villagers to accept their rule—in essence, by frightening or intimidating them into submission. The Council controls people’s freedom by controlling what they think, not what they do. A good example of this is Kira. Though she’s summoned to live in the Council Edifice, she can—and often does—leave at any time. Yet she always returns—in part because she likes the life the Council provides her, but also because the Council has intimidated her into thinking that she must respect their wishes and continue working on the robe.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to achieve freedom simply by recognizing the source of power. At the end of the novel, Kira understands how the Council uses the Ruin Song and her robe to control the village. Yet she doesn’t leave the village with her father; instead, she stays behind to alter the robe’s message. Seemingly, Kira is as much of a slave as she was before—she’s still working for the Council, after all. Yet Kira has gained freedom for herself—she’s not intimidated by the Council anymore, and she’ll work as a “secret agent,” dismantling the Council’s power from the inside. Because power consists of mental control as much as physical control, Lowry concludes, there is freedom simply in taking control of one’s mind.

Power and Freedom ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Gathering Blue related to the theme of Power and Freedom.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Kira had always had a clever way with her hands. When she was still a tyke, her mother had taught her to use a needle, to pull it through woven fabric and create a pattern with colored threads. But suddenly, recently, the skill had become more than simple cleverness. In one astounding burst of creativity, her ability had gone far beyond her mother's teaching. Nov/, without instruction or practice, without hesitancy, her fingers felt the way to twist and weave and stitch the special threads together to create designs rich and explosive with color. She did not understand how the knowledge had come to her. But it was there, in her fingertips, and now they trembled slightly with eagerness to start. If only she was allowed to stay.

Related Characters: Kira, Katrina
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Lowry vividly describes the nature of Kira's creativity. Kira is a fantastic weaver: she instinctively knows how to manipulate thread to make beautiful, elaborate patterns. The key word here is "instinctive"--although Lira has had her fair share of training, thanks to Katrina, even she doesn't really know how she does it--her talent for weaving is like a magical power, beyond the limits of human comprehension.

It's interesting to note that Kira almost seems more concerned with continuing to weave than with continuing to live in the village at all; put another way, she only cares about her life insofar as she's allowed to continue pursuing her passion of weaving.


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Chapter 6 Quotes

Matt heard him and looked up toward Kira in dismay. "No. Me and Branch, we be going now," he said. Then with an expression of concern, he asked, "You don't be captive here, do you?" "No, she's not a captive," Jamison reassured Matt. "Why would you think that?

Related Characters: Matt (speaker), Jamison (speaker)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Matt--Kira's young, boastful friend--visits Kira in her new home among the Guardians. Although Kira's home is beautiful and luxurious, Matt is suspicious that Kira is a prisoner, a suggestion that Jamison immediately rebuts.

Although Matt's comment seems childish and objectively wrong, there's actually something very perceptive about it. Matt seems to sense that Kira is now under the close control of the Guardians--although she has a nice home, and is even allowed to leave it when she wants, she's being forced to work for the Guardians, repairing the Singer's robe for the Ruin Ceremony. Matt's question foreshadows Kira's realization at the end of the novel: she really is a prisoner to the Guardians--year after year, she'll be forced to work for them to ensure that the all-important Ruin Ceremony goes off without a hitch. Kira lives in the nicest prison cell ever built--but she's still a prisoner.

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.

Chapter 9 Quotes

When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira watches as Thomas the Carver reads from a book. Kira, as a woman, hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--her community forbids women from educating themselves in any meaningful way. Although Kira can't understand the words she's looking at, she gets pleasure from the pictorial quality of the letters--the fact that certain words and letters look like the things they're describing.

The fact that Kira hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--something we weren't aware of until this moment--reinforces the repressive, sexist nature of her community. Women, because they're physically weaker, are considered less important than men--they can't hunt, so they're certainly not worth educating. And yet Kira's ability to partially grasp the meaning of language, even if she doesn't understand the specific words, shows that her intelligence and creativity are stronger than the restrictions the community has placed on her existence.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Annabella laughed. "There be no beasts," she said.

Related Characters: Annabella (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Annabella tells Kira a surprising truth about her community. Like everyone else she knows, Kira has been brought up to believe that the village is surrounded by dangerous beasts. The existence of these beasts requires that everyone live in fear, compete with one another for limited food and shelter, and depend on the protection of the Guardians to survive.

Lowry suggests that the constant sense of fear in Kira's village is just an illusion--Kira and her neighbors have nothing to be afraid of. So although Kira doesn't yet realize it, the nonexistence of the beasts tells us a lot about how the Guardians maintain power over their people. By creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, the Guardians ensure that the villagers remain weak, disorganized, and above all, dependent on the Guardians' authority.

Chapter 16 Quotes

As Kira prepared for bed, she thought about the frightened, lonely tyke below. What songs were they forcing her to learn? Why was she here at all? Ordinarily an orphaned tyke would be turned over to another family. It was the same question that she and Thomas had discussed the day before. And the answer seemed to be the conclusion they had reached: they were artists, the three of them. Makers of song, of wood, of threaded patterns. Because they were artists, they had some value that she could not comprehend. Because of that value, the three of them were here, well fed, well housed, and nurtured.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver, Jo
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

Kira has discovered that there's a small child living in the Guardians' building: Jo. Like Kira and Thomas, Jo is a talented artist--her singing will be featured at the annual Ruin Ceremony, alongside Kira's weaving and Thomas's woodcutting. Strangely, thinking about Jo's situation--locked away in a strange building--makes Kira more aware of her own. She and Jo are no different: they've both been ripped away from their old homes and "imprisoned" in the Council Edifice. Although Kira is allowed to leave the building at any time, she's only offered such freedom because the Guardians are confident that she'll come back every time: she's too frightened of beasts, and too addicted to nice clothes and warm baths to run off. Jo, a younger and less complacent child, might run away without warning; as a result, she has to be locked up. Kira realizes that she, Jo, and Thomas are being imprisoned because of their artistic abilities--her task is now to find out what use the Guardians have for them.

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.

The guardians with their stern faces had no creative power. But they had strength and cunning, and they had found a way to steal and harness other people's powers for their own needs. They were forcing the children to describe the future they wanted, not the one that could be.

Related Characters: Kira, Thomas the Carver, Jo
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Kira comes to realize how the guardians use art and performance to control their society. Kira, along with her friends Thomas and Jo, are inadvertently using their gifts to tell a story about society: a story in which there is no progress; just continuous death and destruction. By telling this story at the Ruin Ceremony, year after year, Kira and her fellow artists contribute to the culture of the village--in other words, they're helping reinforce the idea that the universe is dark and dangerous, and it's every man for himself. The guardians want to maintain this worldview, because it allows them to control society, knowing that the villagers are too competitive, disorganized, and afraid to revolt. Throughout the novel, Kira has been told that her gifts are both useful and useless. Here, at the novel's end, she finally realizes why art is so important: it creates attitudes and mindsets. By upholding the wrong status quo with her art, Kira accidentally keeps evil people in power.