While Cinder portrays bravery and self-sacrifice as essential forces of good, greed and a thirst for power become the cornerstones of evil for the book’s antagonists. The Lunar Queen Levana, Levana’s advisor Sybil Mira, and Cinder’s stepmother Adri are all in positions of power and are supposed to care for others—their citizens or their family, respectively. But instead of caring for others, they instead focus on their own desires and needs, to the point where they are willing to treat others cruelly, destroy governments, and even kill innocent people. Their power thus only leads them to abuse their positions and seek more wealth and status at the expense of those who are vulnerable. With this, the book suggests that power has the potential to make people greedy and power-hungry—and when these impulses are indulged, people in power can destroy individuals, governments, and even society as a whole.
While Adri is supposed to be a motherly figure for Cinder and take care of her, her powerful position as the head of the family enables her to abuse Cinder—and nearly kill her—for Adri’s own benefit. Adri constantly reminds Cinder that she never wanted her—it was Adri’s late husband Garan who adopted Cinder before he died. As a result, Adri resents Cinder and essentially uses her as a slave: Cinder is the only one in the household that works, but because Adri is her legal guardian, Adri takes all of Cinder’s money to use for herself and her daughters, Pearl and Peony. Unlike Cinder, who puts others above herself, Adri clearly cares only about her own needs and uses her power to further subjugate her stepdaughter. Adri even goes so far as to volunteer Cinder for research for letumosis—the deadly disease ravaging the Eastern Commonwealth—even though she knows the dangerous tests will likely kill Cinder. Adri does this because she will receive a stipend for Cinder’s contribution to the research. Thus, Adri’s greed spurs her to sacrifice her powerless stepdaughter, for whom she’s supposed to be responsible, simply because it will benefit her financially.
Queen Levana, the ruler of the colony on Luna (the moon) is the epitome of evil, as she uses her power to take advantage of the vulnerable Earthens and even to try to take over the Eastern Commonwealth, where Cinder lives. Queen Levana initially visits Earth just after Emperor Rikan dies of letumosis, eager to initiate an alliance negotiation with Prince Kai, who is soon to ascend the throne. Upon arrival, however, Levana reveals that her research team found a cure for letumosis only hours before her departure, though Kai knows that she’s lying—they found a cure long before this. This indicates Levana’s desire for power: she could have saved Rikan, but she thinks that she will have more success negotiating with Kai, and so she withholds the antidote for her own political gain at the cost of Rikan’s life and political upheaval in the Eastern Commonwealth. Levana also brings one dosage of the antidote with her to Earth, but she says that for more doses, her country will need further compensation—a marriage to Kai. Kai is horrified by her selfishness: “You would withhold this? When so many are dying?” But Levana is uninterested in doing what is morally right; instead, she only seeks greater wealth and power and uses the cure as a bargaining chip. She also threatens war if Kai doesn’t accept her marriage, showing how she is willing to abuse her power to the point that she would even destroy an entire society.
Both Queen Levana and Sybil Mira, the queen’s advisor, even control or kill their own innocent citizens, compromising their integrity as leaders as they use their power to benefit themselves. Queen Levana and Sybil Mira both have the Lunar “gift,” meaning that they are able to telepathically control the thoughts and actions of those around them. This is how Queen Levana maintains power and quells unrest on Luna, because she brainwashes Lunars into following whatever she says. Kai counters that brainwashing isn’t a just way to deal with unhappy citizens—but rather than work in the interest of the common people, as Kai does, Levana only pursues further political power. Queen Levana also instates a policy to imprison and kill “shells” (Lunars who do not have this gift and are also immune to it), as she views the shells as dangerous because she cannot control them. As Dr. Erland puts it, “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance.” This reinforces the fact that she is so power-hungry that she will even kill her own citizens in order to maintain that power, completely counteracting the purpose of a political leader. Levana and Sybil both display this tendency toward control and violence in disturbing ways: when a servant unknowingly gives a mirror (which Levana hates) to the Lunar queen, Sybil Mira almost forces the servant to stab herself in the eye before Kai takes the blame for the insult. Later, at the ball, when Cinder tries to tell Kai that Levana plans to murder him, Levana controls Cinder’s body. She forces Cinder to take a gun from one of the guards and point it at her own temple, until Cinder’s cyborg interface resists the queen, and she is able to drop the gun. The antagonists’ willingness to even make others harm themselves against their will shows how power has the potential to corrupt, as they will risk innocent people’s lives if it means getting what they want and furthering their power. While selflessness is the primary driver of good in Cinder, power can spur people to horrific, selfish actions in the name of maintaining their influence.
Power, Greed, and Evil ThemeTracker
Power, Greed, and Evil Quotes in Cinder
Irritation hardened in Cinder’s gut. She might have pointed out that Pearl and Peony could have been given ready-made rather than custom dresses in order to budget for Cinder’s as well. She might have pointed out that they would only wear their dresses one time too. She might have pointed out that, as she was the one doing the work, the money should have been hers to spend as she saw fit. But all arguments would come to nothing. Legally, Cinder belonged to Adri as much as the household android and so too did her money, her few possessions, even the new foot she’d just attached. Adri loved to remind her of that.
Lunars were a society that had evolved from an Earthen moon colony centuries ago, but they weren’t human anymore. People said Lunars could alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race, and Queen Levana was the worst of all of them.
“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.”
“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?
“Because she was a shell.” He picked his hat off the desk and analyzed it while he spoke, his fingers tracing the herringbone pattern. “I’d agreed with the laws in the past, thought the shells were dangerous. That our society would fall apart if they were allowed to live. But not my little girl.” An ironic smile twisted up his lips. “After she was born, I wanted to run away, to bring her to Earth, but my wife was even more devoted to Her Majesty than I had been. She wanted nothing to do with the child. And so my little Crescent Moon was taken away, like all the others. He stuffed the hat back onto his head and squinted up at Cinder. “She would be about your age now.”