The societies in Cinder are filled with secrecy and manipulation, the most obvious example being the Lunar people, who are able to telepathically manipulate the thoughts and actions of those around them using their “gift.” In addition, people like Cinder or Dr. Erland often try to conceal parts of their identity or the identity of others in order to paint themselves in a better light or to try and protect others. Yet in each of these instances, the secrecy and manipulation inevitably come to light and cause more harm than if characters were honest in the first place. Through these outcomes, the novel suggests that deception, even in service of a worthy goal, is self-defeating.
The Lunars, including Queen Levana and Sybil Mira, use their gift in order to appear more attractive to others as well to control others’ actions—but this has the opposite effect on those who are aware of their tactics, making Earthens (citizens of Earth) feel that Lunars are cruel and oppressive. Prince Kai describes seeing Queen Levana for the first time: “she was indeed beautiful, as if someone had taken the scientific measurements of perfection and used them to mold a single ideal specimen. […] She was unnatural.” He acknowledges her beauty, but because he recognizes the way she manipulates others, he instead views her as “cruel” and resists the impulse to adore her. Thus, in attempting to control him, Levana only makes Kai dislike her and want to defy her. When a crowd gathers to protest the Lunar queen’s arrival, Levana appears and immediately quiets them, making them believe that she is their savior. But the effect only lasts as long as Queen Levana appears—afterward, the crowd recognizes her brainwashing tactics and demands that Prince Kai go to war with Levana rather than marry and be brainwashed by her. The feeling of being manipulated only buoys their resistance, rather than quelling it.
Cinder experiences the fallout of concealing her identity when Prince Kai finally discovers that she is both a cyborg (a human/robot hybrid) and Lunar. Cinder spends much of the book concealing her cyborg identity from Kai: she doesn’t want him looking at her in disgust, because cyborgs are generally discriminated against. And when Dr. Erland tells Cinder that she’s actually Lunar fugitive (not an Earthen, as she believed), she likewise tries to hide this fact from Kai because she doesn’t want to be associated with people like Queen Levana. However, at the ball, Prince Kai discovers both of these aspects of her identity, and he confronts her: “It seemed he had to force himself to meet her gaze, and he flinched at first. Cinder could not read him, the ever-changing mix of disbelief and confusion and regret. […] ‘Was it all an illusion?’ he asked.” While Cinder worried about Kai’s perception of her, in reality, he is more hurt by the fact that she lied and hid her identity. This effectively ends their friendship in the book’s final chapters, illustrating that Cinder’s secrecy and manipulation was more detrimental than being open and honest about her identity.
The fact that Dr. Erland hides Cinder’s true identity and manipulates government policies for his own purposes also causes widespread harm. One of Dr. Erland’s primary goals in the book is to find Princess Selene, Queen Levana’s niece and the true heir to the Lunar throne. While many believe that Selene died in a fire when she was three years old, there are rumors that she survived the fire by becoming a cyborg and fleeing to Earth. As a result, Dr. Erland sets up the cyborg draft on Earth for letumosis research—picking out cyborgs to test antidotes for a deadly plague gripping the Eastern Commonwealth. While he does this to find Princess Selene in the hopes of overthrowing Queen Levana, Cinder notes that this caused the death of countless cyborgs in the name of letumosis research. His secrecy and manipulation, therefore, caused more harm than good to an already vulnerable population. Moreover, when Adri volunteers Cinder for the scientific research, Dr. Erland realizes that Cinder is Lunar and is therefore immune to the disease. However, he does not reveal this fact to her, in the hopes that she will continue to help him with his research for a cure—because he also realizes that Cinder is, in fact, Princess Selene, whom he and Prince Kai have both been trying to find. However, because he hides these facts from Cinder, she is unable to use this information to her advantage and stand up to Queen Levana. Together, these examples illustrate how regardless of intentions—good ones like Dr. Erland’s, or bad ones like the Lunars’—secrecy and manipulation tend to do more harm than good.
Secrecy and Manipulation ThemeTracker
Secrecy and Manipulation Quotes in Cinder
“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 why Queen Levana is so striking to look at. Some talented Lunars, such as the queen, keep their glamour up all the time. But just as she cannot trick the netscreens, neither can she trick a mirror.”
“So they don’t like mirrors because they don’t want to see themselves?”
“Vanity is a factor but it is more a question of control. It is easier to trick others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.”
She was indeed beautiful, as if someone had taken the scientific measurements of perfection and used them to mold a single ideal specimen. Her face was slightly heart-shaped, with high cheekbones barely flushed. Auburn hair fell in silken ringlets to her waist and her unblemished ivory skin shimmered like mother-of-pearl in the sunshine. Her lips were red red red, looking like she’d just drunk a pint of blood.
A chill shook Kai from the inside out. She was unnatural.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
On the fifth step, she heard the bolts snap. The wires tore loose, like tendons stretched to the max. She felt the loss of power at the base of her calf, sending a blinding warning signal up to her brain.
She fell, screaming, and tried to block her fall with her left hand. A shock of pain jolted up her shoulder and into her spine. Metal clattered against stone as she crashed down to the gravel pathway. […]
His eyes drunk her in—a gleam of metal fingers, the wires sparking at the end of her battered metal leg. His jaw fell, and he looked momentarily as if he might be sick.
“Was it all an illusion?” he asked.
Pain lanced through her chest, squeezing the air out of her. “Kai?”
“Was it all in my head? A Lunar trick?”
Her stomach twisted. “No.” She shook her head, fervently. How to explain that she hadn’t had the gift before? That she couldn’t have used it against him? “I would never lie—”
The words faded. She had lied. Everything he knew about her had been a lie.
Releasing the new prosthesis, Cinder covered her ears and buried her face against her knee. The draft. All those cyborgs. So many people convinced that it was the right thing. That it was better them than humans. Once a science project, always a science project.
And he’d only wanted to find her.
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.
As her hands stopped shaking, she slid the stiletto knife out from the new titanium-plated finger and maneuvered the blade against her wrist. The cut was still fresh where she’d started to remove her ID chip before, so they would not be able to track her. This time, there was no hesitation.
Soon, the whole world would be searching for her—Linh Cinder.
A deformed cyborg with a missing foot.
A Lunar with a stolen identity.
A mechanic with no one to run to, nowhere to go. But they would be looking for a ghost.