In the fairytale “Cinderella,” characters largely overlook the titular protagonist because of her poverty. In Cinder, a futuristic adaptation of the original classic, people avoid Cinder because she is a cyborg—that is, part robot, with a computerized brain interface and several mechanical limbs. Cyborgs are widely discriminated against on Earth in the novel, but they aren’t the only group that’s stereotyped. Humans on Earth, or “Earthens,” also despise those who live on Luna (the moon): they view Lunars as greedy and self-serving people because they have the ability to telepathically control others’ minds and thoughts (called their “gift”). In turn, Lunars discriminate against shells (people who do not possess this gift and who are immune to it). With this two-sided discrimination, the book suggests that it’s easy to prey on people for qualities that differ from the norm, particularly for those who do not belong to that minority. But sometimes, the qualities for which people are singled out are the very qualities that give them advantages in society or make them special.
Cinder faces discrimination as a cyborg, because the majority of Earthens (who are not cyborg) view her as unnatural or subhuman. Cinder received surgery to become a cyborg at 11 years old, after getting in a severe hover crash. She has a prosthetic hand and foot, which she tries to cover up, as well as a computerized interface in her brain. While Cinder is largely a normal teenager, her stepmother Adri still treats her cruelly because, as she notes, Cinder “[isn’t] even human anymore.” Although Cinder is still a regular teenage girl despite her cyborg elements, Adri feels that she can mistreat her stepdaughter because she believes Cinder is abnormal and subhuman. Furthermore, the government discriminates against cyborgs on an institutional level as well: they are drafted as involuntary research subjects for scientists to experiment on as they develop a cure for letumosis (an infectious disease that’s plaguing Earth). Cyborgs are not immune to the disease; the general population simply believes that they are “lucky to have lived this long,” and that they should help the scientists who helped them survive. Cinder thinks that the draft is “it was really just a reminder that cyborgs [are] not like everyone else,” suggesting that the general non-cyborg population views them as more expendable simply because of their differences.
Even though Cinder experiences discrimination as a cyborg, she (and Earthens at large) discriminate against Lunars, reinforcing the ease of buying into stereotypes about a group to which one doesn’t belong. Cinder provides some backstory on Lunars early in the novel, explaining that “Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race, and Queen Levana was the worst of all of them.” Though Cinder understands the pain of stereotypes, she is equally willing to buy into them when the bias is turned against others. Cinder even maintains this belief about Lunars when she discovers that she herself is a Lunar fugitive who was brought to Earth as a child. She thinks, “Lunars were a cruel, savage people. They murdered their shell children. They lied and scammed and brainwashed each other because they could. They didn't care who they hurt, so long as it benefitted themselves. She was not one of them.” Cinder’s staunch opinions highlight the difficulty of counteracting stereotypes, as she would rather distance herself from the group than reconsider her biases.
Lunars, in turn, have their own minority that they discriminate against: shells, Lunars who do not possess the gift and who are impervious to it. Lunars kill their “ungifted” children because the Queen believes it is dangerous to have Lunar citizens who cannot be brainwashed. Dr. Erland, who escaped Luna when his shell daughter was killed, explains, “I 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.” This situation illustrates how easy it is to discriminate when someone is not affected by discrimination—but when someone identifies with minorities, the injustice becomes clear.
Yet, sometimes, it is precisely the qualities that make people different that enable them to help others and themselves—suggesting that people should not be victimized for differences but celebrated for them. Cinder’s skill as a mechanic, which allows her to help Prince Kai (the prince of the Eastern Commonwealth, where Cinder lives) fix his android and enables her to escape from New Beijing, is only due to the fact that she is a cyborg and has had to fix many problems with her prosthetics and interface over the years. Because of this, people call Cinder the “best mechanic in New Beijing,” suggesting that being a cyborg has given her skills that are of high value to others. Additionally, when Cinder eventually learns that she is Lunar, the combination of her identity as Lunar and a cyborg means that she is both immune to letumosis and immune to the Lunars’ gift—as Dr. Erland explains, her cybernetic surgery prevents others from controlling her thoughts and actions. This allows her to take on challenges that non-cyborg and non-Lunar people wouldn’t be able to: for instance, she can try to save Kai from Queen Levana’s influence without falling under the Queen’s control, hide weapons and other things in her prosthetic compartments, and use her retina display to know when people are lying (enabling her to see through Lunar ruses). Thus, while Cinder and many others experience discrimination for their differences, such differences can also be the very qualities that make people special and uniquely capable of helping others.
Stereotypes and Discrimination ThemeTracker
Stereotypes and Discrimination Quotes in Cinder
“They say you’re the best mechanic in New Beijing. I was expecting an old man.”
“Do they?” she murmured.
He wasn’t the first to voice surprise. Most of her customers couldn’t fathom how a teenage girl could be the best mechanic in the city, and she never broadcast the reason for her talent. The fewer people who knew she was cyborg, the better. She was sure she’d go mad if all the market shopkeepers looked at her with the same disdain as Chang Sacha did.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.