It’s clear from early on in Gathering Blue that the Council of Guardians wields a huge amount of power over the village. It presides over all trials, hosts the annual Gathering, and can expel anyone in the village at any time. What’s unclear, at least until the end of the novel, is the source of the Council’s great power. At any time, it would seem, the villagers could rise up and overthrow the Council—in fact, this seems like exactly the kind of wild, violent gesture the villagers specialize in.
Throughout the book, the Council of Guardians uses psychology and manipulation to stay in power. By holding an annual Gathering, which every villager must attend, the Council subtly persuades the villagers to abide by their rule. The Ruin Song that’s performed every year at the Gathering tells the story of the great civilizations of the past, with their tall buildings and powerful armies. By residing in the huge, imposing Council Edifice, and hosting the Gathering in the Edifice, the Council steals some of the respect the villagers feel for the civilizations of the past. In a different way, the Council encourages the villagers to accept their place in life. The Ruin Song describes how all civilizations inevitably die out, to be replaced by other civilizations. The pessimism of this song is so great that it teaches the villagers, from the time that they’re children, to view their lives pessimistically, believe that no real change is possible, and therefore accept that’s it every man for himself. With no alliances or friendships, the villagers are too weak to rise up against the Council.
Another way the Council wages psychological war on the villagers is by spreading the myth of wild beasts. The villagers are told to be afraid of the wild beasts that surround the village. Partly because they’re afraid of beasts, they don’t help one another—in dangerous times, it’s every man for himself. The Council clearly profits from the villager’s fear and confusion. Indeed, when the Council learns that people don’t believe in beasts, it has them killed.
It’s clear the Council stays in power by “persuading” the villagers to accept their rule—in essence, by frightening or intimidating them into submission. The Council controls people’s freedom by controlling what they think, not what they do. A good example of this is Kira. Though she’s summoned to live in the Council Edifice, she can—and often does—leave at any time. Yet she always returns—in part because she likes the life the Council provides her, but also because the Council has intimidated her into thinking that she must respect their wishes and continue working on the robe.
Nevertheless, it’s possible to achieve freedom simply by recognizing the source of power. At the end of the novel, Kira understands how the Council uses the Ruin Song and her robe to control the village. Yet she doesn’t leave the village with her father; instead, she stays behind to alter the robe’s message. Seemingly, Kira is as much of a slave as she was before—she’s still working for the Council, after all. Yet Kira has gained freedom for herself—she’s not intimidated by the Council anymore, and she’ll work as a “secret agent,” dismantling the Council’s power from the inside. Because power consists of mental control as much as physical control, Lowry concludes, there is freedom simply in taking control of one’s mind.
Power and Freedom ThemeTracker
Power and Freedom Quotes in Gathering Blue
Kira had always had a clever way with her hands. When she was still a tyke, her mother had taught her to use a needle, to pull it through woven fabric and create a pattern with colored threads. But suddenly, recently, the skill had become more than simple cleverness. In one astounding burst of creativity, her ability had gone far beyond her mother's teaching. Nov/, without instruction or practice, without hesitancy, her fingers felt the way to twist and weave and stitch the special threads together to create designs rich and explosive with color. She did not understand how the knowledge had come to her. But it was there, in her fingertips, and now they trembled slightly with eagerness to start. If only she was allowed to stay.
Matt heard him and looked up toward Kira in dismay. "No. Me and Branch, we be going now," he said. Then with an expression of concern, he asked, "You don't be captive here, do you?" "No, she's not a captive," Jamison reassured Matt. "Why would you think that?
"This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact."
She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer's shoulders.
"The future will be told here," he said. "Our world depends upon the telling.”
When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.
As Kira prepared for bed, she thought about the frightened, lonely tyke below. What songs were they forcing her to learn? Why was she here at all? Ordinarily an orphaned tyke would be turned over to another family. It was the same question that she and Thomas had discussed the day before. And the answer seemed to be the conclusion they had reached: they were artists, the three of them. Makers of song, of wood, of threaded patterns. Because they were artists, they had some value that she could not comprehend. Because of that value, the three of them were here, well fed, well housed, and nurtured.
Kira did too. She wanted her hands to be free of the robe so that they could make patterns of their own again. Suddenly she wished that she could leave this place, despite its comforts, and return to the life she had known. She buried her face in the bedclothes and for the first time cried in despair.
The three of them — the new little Singer who would one day take the chained Singer's place; Thomas the Carver, who with his meticulous tools wrote the history of the world; and she herself, the one who colored that history — they were the artists who could create the future.
The guardians with their stern faces had no creative power. But they had strength and cunning, and they had found a way to steal and harness other people's powers for their own needs. They were forcing the children to describe the future they wanted, not the one that could be.