The Maze Runner

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Themes and Colors
Memory and Identity  Theme Icon
Stability and Order vs. Change and Chaos  Theme Icon
Sacrifice  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Hope Theme Icon
Sexism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Maze Runner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Memory and Identity  Theme Icon

In The Maze Runner, all the characters lose their memories before arriving in the Glade. Without these memories, Thomas loses his sense of self. As such, recovering his memories becomes one of his main goals. During his struggle to discover his identity, Thomas questions whether people are the sum total of their memories and past experiences or if we have essential natures that exist regardless of our experiences. For example, early in the novel, Thomas mistakenly believes that the Glade is a prison and that all the Gladers are criminals. Thomas wonders if, were he a criminal before arriving, would that mean that he is an essentially violent or immoral person.

In the end, the novel suggests that none of the boys have truly lost their memories. Instead, their memories, buried deep within their minds, may still be determining their feelings and behaviors. For example, Thomas has a deep almost instinctual feeling that he should trust Teresa even though he doesn’t remember her. Later, we learn that they had a very close friendship before their memories were erased. Thus, the novel suggests that personal relationships are so ingrained in our identities that they become part of who we are and cannot be forgotten. Moreover, the novel suggests that people are defined by their actions in the present rather than their past actions. For example, Thomas learns that before arriving in the Glade, he knowingly helped design the Maze. As such, some of Gladers distrust Thomas, but the group ultimately accepts him because he proves himself to be a loyal and brave addition to their society.

Unlike Thomas’ desire to uncover his memories, some characters wish to further repress their memories of life before the Glade. During the Changing, Gladers have flashes of memories from their old life. These memories are so painful that most Gladers who go through the Changing refuse to discuss the memories they’ve recovered. In the most extreme case, Alby loses his ability to lead after getting some of his memories back. Since Alby was known for his effective leadership, his memories actually cause him to lose the most notable aspect of his identity. In contrast to Alby, Thomas goes through the Changing on purpose in order to get his memories back. Although his memories disturb him, Thomas is only able to save the Gladers by using these memories to find a way out of the Maze. The Maze Runner novel illustrates how some people need to repress traumatic memories in order to maintain hope and a sense of self, while others seek to uncover and learn from these memories in order to deal with the problems of the present.

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Memory and Identity Quotes in The Maze Runner

Below you will find the important quotes in The Maze Runner related to the theme of Memory and Identity .
Chapter 1 Quotes

And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. He didn’t even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.

Related Characters: Thomas
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel begins, we're introduced to Thomas. At the same time, in a way, Thomas is being introduced to himself. He's been thrown into a strange place, with no memories of who he is or where he comes from.

The novel uses Thomas--a character without a past, just a present--to pose questions about what makes a person a person. The fact that Thomas has lost his memories might suggest that he's a "blank slate," at the mercy of his environment as he grows up. And yet, as we'll come to see, Thomas does remember some things from his old life; he's developed instincts and a personality, both of which have survived the memories that shaped them.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

His memory loss was strange. He mostly remembered the workings of the world—but emptied of specifics, faces, names. Like a book completely intact but missing one word in every dozen, making it a miserable and confusing read. He didn’t even know his age.

Related Characters: Thomas
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the novel explores Thomas's memory loss in more detail. Thomas has had his memory wiped, but he remembers some basic things about the world. He still knows how to talk, walk, move, think, etc, And yet Thomas has lost all the specifics of his life--he'll spend most of the novel filling in the details. On one level, this makes Dashner's job easier--he doesn't have to show Thomas learning language or discovering how to interact with others--and it also suggests that Thomas does have a specific past, one that will presumably be revealed at some point.

The passage reminds us that the novel is a coming-of-age story, albeit with a sci-fi twist. Thomas is a young man, but because he has no memories, he can't learn from his experiences grow into a man; without a past, he's locked in the present. Thomas will have to remake himself, reinventing his own personality.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Out there’s the Maze,” Newt whispered, eyes wide as if in a trance. “Everything we do—our whole life, Greenie—revolves around the Maze. Every lovin’ second of every lovin’ day we spend in honor of the Maze, tryin’ to solve somethin’ that’s not shown us it has a bloody solution, ya know? And we want to show ya why it’s not to be messed with. Show ya why them buggin’ walls close shut every night. Show ya why you should never, never find your butt out there.”

Related Characters: Newt (speaker), Thomas
Related Symbols: The Maze
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn more about the Maze, the most important symbol in the novel. Thomas is gradually adjusting to his new life: a fellow youth, Newt, explains to him that the Maze is at the center of their lives. The maze is a sinister structure, as Newt is about to show Thomas: it contains the Grievers, dangerous, nocturnal beings that can attack Thomas and his peers.

It's been suggested that the Maze and the Grievers are symbols of the world of adolescence and young adulthood (they're at their most dangerous during the nighttime, not unlike certain teenagers, and they involve a passage beyond the idyllic, simpler world of the Glade). Taken as a symbol of the future, the Maze stands as an intimidating yet inevitable part of Thomas's life: just as he must inevitably grow up, he must inevitably face the mysteries of the Maze.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“Think about it. Our memories are wiped. We live inside a place that seems to have no way out, surrounded by bloodthirsty monster-guards. Doesn’t that sound like a prison to you?” As he said it out loud, it sounded more and more possible. Nausea trickled into his chest.

Related Characters: Thomas (speaker), Chuck
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

As Thomas spends more time in his new home, he comes up with more theories for why he's there. Thomas has no memories of the past, so his only option is to try to "fill in" the past with theories and educated guesses. Here, Thomas guesses that he's been sent to his new home because he's some kind of criminal--he and his new peers are being punished for their crimes.

It's interesting that Thomas immediately assumes that he's somehow "guilty"--because he's so unsure of his own identity, he assumes he's being punished for something. Thomas lacks a certain confidence in his own abilities and his own goodness. Thomas's struggle to understand his new environment parallels his struggle to grow into an adult--i.e., to find a stable identity for himself.

Chapter 18 Quotes

Thomas rocked back on his heels, then ran his arm across his forehead, wiping away the sweat. And at that moment, in the space of only a few seconds, he learned a lot about himself. About the Thomas that was before. He couldn’t leave a friend to die.

Related Characters: Thomas
Related Symbols: The Maze
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Trapped inside the Maze with Alby, Thomas refuses to give up on his peers. While the cowardly, selfish Minho runs away in a vain attempt to save himself, Thomas tries his best to save other people, as well as himself.

It's interesting that the passage describes Thomas as remembering his old self--the self that had been wiped away, along with his memories. In times of crisis, Thomas behaves instinctively--in other words, he defaults to his old behaviors. Thomas's memory is stronger than we'd given it credit for; there are certain things about his personality that trauma and amnesia can't erase, and they come out in scenes like this one, when Thomas is surrounded by danger.

Chapter 23 Quotes

“Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they’re so depressed at realizing their old life was no better than what we have now?”

Related Characters: Thomas (speaker), Alby, Newt
Related Symbols: The Changing
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Thomas sits with Newt and discusses the Changing, the mysterious mental transformation that Alby is now undergoing as he recovers from the Grievers' venom. Newt explains that the Changing can be intensely painful for some people--during the Changing, Gladers see flashes of their old lives, and then have to return to their present-day existences outside in the Glade. Newt takes the position that the Changing is depressing because Gladers get to remember the past, but then have to go back to their current lives, which are harder and sadder than their past lives. Thomas, however, suggests that the Changing is so traumatic because it illustrates that the Gladers never had a happy life--their pasts are no better than their presents.

The passage corresponds to two views about human development. If the Changing symbolizes puberty and maturity, then Newt is arguing that people are innately good and innocent--and they lose their innocence during puberty. Thomas, however, suggests that there is innate goodness, or an innate lack of goodness--childhood is no happier or better than adulthood.

Chapter 31 Quotes

Alby continued. “I hope the Changing doesn’t give us real memories—just plants fake ones. Some suspect it—I can only hope. If the world’s the way I saw it...” He trailed off, leaving an ominous silence.

Related Characters: Alby (speaker), Thomas
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alby tells Thomas that during his (Alby's) Changing he saw images (supposedly his own memories) of the outside world, beyond the Glade. Alby was frightened by such images, and hopes that they're just hallucinations, not real memories. Alby's reaction to the images is interesting, because he seems not to enjoy them in the slightest. If Alby's memories symbolize his old life, then the fact that Alby rejects such images might suggest that he'd prefer to hang onto his life in the Glade. Alby is a kind of Adam figure, trying to stay in the Garden of Eden for as long as possible before he gets knowledge of the outside world. One could say that he's also a quintessential "child" archetype as well, because he's trying to cling to his innocence and ignorance for as long as possible, and is afraid of the "Maze" and outside world of adolescence and adulthood.

Chapter 36 Quotes

“I remember remembering,” she muttered, sitting down with a heavy sigh; she pulled her legs up to wrap her arms around her knees. “Feelings. Emotions. Like I have all these shelves in my head, labeled for memories and faces, but they’re empty. As if everything before this is just on the other side of a white curtain. Including you.”

Related Characters: Teresa (speaker), Thomas
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

Teresa and Thomas seem to have known each other before they arrived in the Glade--how, exactly, they knew each other isn't remotely clear, though. Teresa has some extremely vague memories of spending time with Thomas--as she puts it, she can't remember how she knew Thomas, but she can remember remembering itself.

The passage is interesting because it suggests how important it is to remember the past when growing in the present. Teresa and Thomas may have had an entire life together--they're trying to rediscover their memories of each other so that they can make sense of their present situations, too. Without memories, Teresa and Thomas are trapped in a permanent state of emptiness, lacking strong identities based on past experiences.

Chapter 39 Quotes

“No one ever understood what I saw, what the Changing did to me! Don’t go back to the real world, Thomas! You don’ remember!”

Related Characters: Gally (speaker), Thomas
Related Symbols: The Changing
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gally--previously, a bullying, antagonistic character--suddenly reappears to give Thomas some serious advice. Gally runs around, raving like a madman, yelling about how the Grievers will attack one Glader per night until everyone is dead. Gally, who's previously been rude and tough on Thomas, now tells Thomas to reject his memories--he might not like what he finds.

Gally's behavior reminds us that memory, while clearly important to the characters' identities, might not be a solution to their problems. On the contrary, memory can cause as many problems as it solves. Some characters, such as Alby, seem content to live without memories; i.e., to live in a perpetual present, blissfully ignorant of reality. Thomas, on the other hand, seems eager to reclaim his own memories--but Gally's warning suggests that he might want to rethink his goal, particularly since knowledge often brings pain as much as it brings hope.

Chapter 45 Quotes

They needed more clues about the code. They needed memories.

So he was going to get stung by a Griever. Go through the Changing. On purpose.

Related Characters: Thomas
Related Symbols: The Changing
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Thomas endangers his life for a greater good: knowledge. Thomas knows that he needs to solve the mysterious code of the Maze, and he knows that doing so will require him to remember things that happened to him before he arrived in the Glade. The only way to relive his past life is to get stung by the dangerous Grievers.

Thomas is willing to risk his own safety in order to solve the Maze and help the other escape. While other characters regard getting stung as a frightening thing--since it causes the Changing, a series of vivid flashbacks that are either painful or pleasant (and thus painful to wake up from)--Thomas accepts that he must undergo the Changing. Thomas shows that he's becoming a brave, confident young man, giving up his own ignorant happiness for enlightenment. This is the kind of sacrifice necessary in growing up--experiencing pain and gaining painful knowledge, but maturing and developing in the process.

Chapter 51 Quotes

“I’m telling you.” Alby sounded like he was begging—near hysterical. “We can’t go back to where we came from. I’ve seen it, remembered awful, awful things. Burned land, a disease—something called the Flare. It was horrible—way worse than we have it here…Better to die than go home.”

Related Characters: Alby (speaker), Thomas, Newt
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, it's revealed that Alby doesn't want Thomas and his friends to go back to the outside world--he wants everyone to remain in the Glade, where life is dangerous and strict, but at least ordered and familiar. Alby has been sabotaging any plans that could potentially lead to an escape--he's absolutely desperate to remain in his current home. Alby explains that he's seen visions of the outside world, in which existence looks cruel and frightening.

In spite of--or perhaps, because of--the fact that he's a leader among the Gladers, Alby is too afraid to leave the Glade forever. For all his pretensions of maturity and control, he's a child--too frightened of the outside world to explore it on his own, and longing to remain in his state of "ignorant bliss."

Chapter 54 Quotes

“After two years of being treated like mice, tonight we’re making a stand. Tonight we’re taking the fight back to the Creators, no matter what we have to go through to get there. Tonight the Grievers better be scared.”

Related Characters: Newt (speaker)
Page Number: 328
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Newt sums up everything the Gladers are going to achieve. For too long, Newt and his friends have been forced to run through the Maze like mice--now, they're going to track down the people who designed the Maze and kidnapped them in the first place.

Notice that it's Newt, not Alby, the group's supposed leader, who's speaking to his friends here. Newt, in spite of his dogmatic reliance on the rules, is brave and optimistic enough to inspire his friends--unlike Alby, his commander, he's not really afraid of the outside world. Newt inspires his peers to stand up for themselves and explore the unknown--in short, to grow up.