Cinder is a futuristic retelling of the classic folktale “Cinderella.” Like the original, Cinder is a tale of good versus evil, as the teenage protagonist, Cinder, tries to escape the influence of her wicked stepmother, Adri. She also attempts to find a cure for letumosis (a deadly disease plaguing the Eastern Commonwealth, where Cinder lives) and tries to prevent Queen Levana (the ruler of Luna, the society on the moon) from marrying Prince Kai and brainwashing the Eastern Commonwealth’s citizens. To achieve these goals, Cinder, Kai, and their ally Dr. Erland all put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect others. In showing how the characters’ self-sacrifice and bravery benefit more vulnerable people and society as a whole—even at the cost of their own happiness—the novel suggests that these traits are virtues worth striving for.
Cinder puts the happiness and well-being of others over herself, which benefits her family, Prince Kai, and society as a whole. Cinder works as a mechanic in order to support her stepmother Adri and her stepsisters Pearl and Peony, even though Adri and Pearl take all of Cinder’s money for themselves. After Peony comes down with letumosis, and Dr. Erland (the head of the letumosis research team) informs Cinder that she is immune to the disease, Cinder allows him to do research on her to try and help her stepsister, which is both time-consuming and unpleasant. Cinder often feels pain and vulnerability as Dr. Erland runs tests on her. Through these actions, Cinder puts her own comfort and well-being at risk in order to try and save her stepsister—and others who would benefit from the research—from letumosis. Unfortunately, Peony ends up dying of letumosis—and after her death, Cinder plans to run away on the night of an upcoming ball, hoping to escape Adri’s cruelty once and for all. However, she learns that Prince Kai is planning to announce his engagement to Queen Levana, and that the queen will likely kill him in a power grab after their wedding. Learning of this plot, Cinder decides to go to the ball in order to warn Kai, even though she also knows that the Queen will likely try to kill her. In this way, she puts Kai’s well-being—and the well-being of the entire Eastern Commonwealth—above her own life. As Cinder warns Kai about Levana’s plan, Levana arrests Cinder at the ball and nearly has her killed, but Kai asks Levana to save Cinder. When Levana gives Kai a choice—hand Cinder over or risk starting a war—Cinder assures him that she isn’t worth it, and he surrenders her. The fact that Cinder saves Kai’s life and saves her country from potential war, even at the cost of her own life, are what define her as the hero of the story and frame her bravery and self-sacrifice as virtuous.
Prince Kai also exhibits self-sacrifice as he puts the needs of his country over his own happiness. Early in the book, Prince Kai grapples with the best way to support his people as he enters into peace negotiations with Queen Levana. Initially, he’s unwilling to marry her for the sake of forging an alliance, since Lunars have a reputation for being cruel and greedy. But after Kai’s father, Emperor Rikan, dies of letumosis, Levana reveals that her scientists have discovered a cure for the disease because they want to help Earthens—but only if Kai will marry her. With this information, Kai considers the marriage so that he can get the antidote. He knows that many people are suffering and dying from the plague and wants to alleviate this suffering, illustrating his willingness to put duty to his people over himself. Kai then makes the selfless choice to marry Levana despite knowing that she might try to kill him, because he hopes to stave off war between Luna and the Eastern Commonwealth. But when he realizes that his citizens would rather fight a war than be enslaved by the Queen, he then decides not to marry her for their sake. As Kai states in his coronation speech, “I will do whatever needs to be done to ensure the well-being of my country. I will do whatever needs to be done to keep you all safe.” The Prince exhibits a self-sacrificing impulse to put his country over himself, in spite of his youth (he is only 18) and the recent loss of his father, which marks him as a true and just leader.
Dr. Erland is another example of how bravery and kindness—even at the cost of one’s own well-being—are vital for the good of society as a whole. Dr. Erland is the head of the Kai’s letumosis research team. But toward the end of the book, it’s revealed that Dr. Erland is a Lunar fugitive, meaning that he is immune to the disease and has been using his own blood samples and doing time-consuming experiments on himself in order to find a cure. He, like Cinder and Prince Kai, chooses to sacrifice his own time for the sake of others. Moreover, because of the Earthens’ prejudice against Lunars, Dr. Erland must hide his Lunar identity by concealing his “gift” (the Lunar ability to telepathically control others’ thoughts and actions). This comes at great cost, as he notes, “My mental stability, my psychological health, my very senses are failing me because I refuse to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of those around me.” Even though Earthens discriminate against Lunars, Dr. Erland still chooses to take care of the Earthens—even if it means his own mental deterioration. Like Cinder and Kai, he puts himself in harmful situations for the good of society. Hundreds of thousands of people potentially stand to benefit from the protagonists’ selfless actions, illustrating the heroism of courage and voluntary self-sacrifice.
Bravery and Sacrifice ThemeTracker
Bravery and Sacrifice Quotes in Cinder
The cyborg draft had been started by some royal research team a year ago. Every morning, a new ID number was drawn from the pool of so many thousand cyborgs who resided in the Eastern Commonwealth. Subjects had been carted in from provinces as far-reaching as Mumbai and Singapore to act as guinea pigs for the antidote testing. It was made out to be some sort of honor, giving your life for the good of humanity, but it was really just a reminder that cyborgs were not like everyone else. Many of them had been given a second chance at life by the generous hand of scientists and therefore owed their very existence to those who had created them. They were lucky to have lived this long, many thought. It’s only right that they should be the first to give up their lives in search for the cure.
“No, we’re talking about her daughter. Kai, the entire bloodline, every last one of them has been greedy, violent, corrupted by their own power. It’s in their blood. Believe me when I say that Princess Selene, even if she were alive, would be no better.”
Kai realized his arms were aching from squeezing them so hard, his skin gone white around his fingertips. “She can’t very well be worse,” he said. “And who knows? If the rumors are right, and she has been on Earth all this time, maybe she would be different. Maybe she would be sympathetic to us.”
And maybe she’d been right to do it. Maybe it was Cinder’s duty as a cyborg to sacrifice herself so all the normal humans could be cured. Maybe it did make sense to use the ones who had already been tampered with. But Cinder knew she would never forgive Adri for it. The woman was supposed to be the one to protect her, to help her. If Adri and Pearl were her only family left, she would be better off alone.
“It is a most useful trick,” said Sybil, sitting on the edge of the chaise lounge by the holographic fire. “Particularly when dealing with unruly citizens, which are never tolerated on Luna.”
“I’ve heard that when citizens are unruly, there’s usually a good reason for it,” said Kai. Torin flashed him a warning frown, but he ignored it. “And brainwashing doesn’t exactly seem like the proper solution.”
Sybil folded her hands politely in her lap. “Proper is such a subjective word. This solution is effective, and that can hardly be argued with.”
Levana folded her hands in her lap. “That vial is your gift. I hope you will find it helpful, young prince. I believe it is in both of our interests to rid your planet of this disease. My scientists could have thousands of dosages prepared by month’s end. However, such an undertaking, coupled with six years’ worth of work and resources, has put quite a strain on my own country, and so I’m sure you’ll understand the need for compensation. That will require further negotiations.”
Kai’s lungs constricted. “You would withhold this? When so many are dying?” It was a stupid question. She’d already withheld it long enough—what was it to her if more Earthens suffered in the meantime?
Instead of kissing her, he whispered, “Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would. you do?”
The warm air enclosed her. So close, she could catch a faint soapy smell coming from him.
His eyes bored into hers, waiting, a tinge desperate.
Cinder wet her mouth. “Ruin my life to save a million others? It’s not much of a choice.”
His lips parted—she had no choice but to look at them and then immediately back into his eyes. She could almost count the black lashes around them. But then a sadness filtered into his gaze.
“You’re right. There’s no real choice.”
Squinting, she jutted a finger at the doctor. “You did use your mind control on me. When we met. You…you brainwashed me, just like the queen. You made me trust you.”
“Be fair. You were attacking me with a wrench.”
Her anger wavered.
Dr. Erland opened his palms to her, “I assure you, Miss Linh, in the twelve years that I have been on Earth, I have not abused the gift once, and I am paying the price for that decision every day. My mental stability, my psychological health, my very senses are failing me because l refuse to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of those around me. Not all Lunars can be trusted—I know that as well as anyone—but you can trust me.”
Levana knew he had been searching for Princess Selene. She would kill him. She would take over the Commonwealth. She would wage war on…on the whole planet.
She grasped her head as the world spun around her.
She had to warn him. She couldn’t let him make the announcement.
She could send him a comm, but what were the chances he was checking them during the ball?
Cinder peered down at her drab clothes. Her empty ankle. Peony’s dress. The old foot that Iko had saved. The silk gloves. Her head bobbed before she knew what she was agreeing to, and she used the shelves to pull herself to standing. “I’ll go,” she muttered, “I’ll find him.”
Dropping his hand, Kai met Konn Torin’s gaze, his eyes hollow. “I know,” he said. “I will do what is best for them.”
Cinder gathered up the material of her skirt in both hands, hope stirring inside of her. He understood her warnings. He understood the mistake he would be making if he agreed to marry Levana. She had succeeded.
But then he turned toward her, and the hope shattered at seeing the helplessness etched in deep lines across his brow.
“Thank you for warning me, Cinder. At least I won’t be going into this blindly.”
If she didn’t try to stop Levana, what would happen to Kai? Though she tried to block out the question, it continued to plague her, echoing in her thoughts.
Maybe Dr. Erland was right. Maybe she had to run. Maybe she had to try.
She felt for the prosthetic limbs in her lap and wrapped her hands around them. Lifting her head, she looked up at the grate in the prison door. The guard had never closed it.
A tingle passed down her spine. A strange new electricity was thrumming beneath her skin, telling her she wasn’t just a cyborg anymore. She was Lunar now. She could make people see things that weren’t there. Feel things they shouldn’t feel. Do things they didn’t mean to do.