The people of the town in which Kira lives are marked by their anger, greed, and profound self-interest. Healthy villagers dispassionately drag the sick, dying, and deformed to die in the Field of the Living—it doesn’t matter if the sick are the villagers’ own family or friends. The villagers do this because resources are so scarce in the town that they are afraid that it costs too much time and food to nurse the sick back to health. The implication is that the villagers’ behavior is a product of their environment: they can’t afford to have feelings for the sick, because caring for them would cause other people to go hungry.
This idea that behavior is a product of one’s environment is supported also by characters that do act compassionately. Kira freely admits that she’s kind and nurturing because she was born with a lame leg—if she’d been born healthy, she’d be no kinder than the other villagers. Even the village of “the wounded” that Matt discovers later in the book as he searches for a plant that can aid Kira in producing a blue dye is compassionate because it has to be: compassion and generosity are qualities that help the disabled people who live there survive.
And yet as the novel continues, particularly after Kira’s father, Christopher, returns to the town and reveals the secrets of the Council of Guardians and Jamison’s selfish actions in particular, it becomes clear that the behavior of the townspeople is actually by design. The Council of Guardians has designed its story of history, with its cyclical rise and falls and lack of any real change of progress, precisely to create in the townspeople the sense that it makes no sense to act in any way other than selfishly. Such selfishness ensures the continued power of the Council, as it eliminates the possibility of the townspeople ever working together to try to create something better than they have.
Similarly, a few characters in the novel show signs of innate compassion without any practical, environmental motives. Matt frees his dog, Branch, from underneath a cart, and nurses it back to health, and Kira’s mother, Katrina, saves Kira from infanticide when Kira is a baby. Taken together, these examples suggest some people—and maybe all people—have the innate desire to love and care for others. The idea that people can be taught to access their innate feelings of compassion is a key part of Kira’s decision to stay behind at the end of the novel. Kira wants to undermine the Council of Guardians by teaching her village “blue,” which has been a symbol of love and compassion throughout the novel. Thus, Kira will use her skills as a weaver to weave blue threads into the robe and, it’s suggested, teach the villagers to act out of love and compassion.
Gathering Blue ends on a note of cautious optimism. It will be difficult for Kira to educate the stubborn, selfish village in compassionate behavior, but her experiences in the novel have convinced her that it’s possible to do so, and therefore worth trying.
Self-Interest versus Compassion ThemeTracker
Self-Interest versus Compassion Quotes in Gathering Blue
She felt a small shudder of fear. Fear was always a part of life for the people. Because of fear, they made shelter and found food and grew things. For the same reason, weapons were stored, waiting. There was fear of cold, of sickness and hunger. There was fear of beasts. And fear propelled her now as she stood, leaning on her stick. She looked down a last time at the lifeless body that had once contained her mother, and considered where to go.
"Of course not. Your strong hands and wise head make up for the crippled leg. You are a sturdy and reliable helper in the weaving shed; all the women who work there say so. And one bent leg is of no importance when measured against your cleverness. The stories you tell to the tykes, the pictures you create with words — and with thread! The threading you do! It is unlike any threading the people have ever seen. Far beyond anything I could do!"
Nodding in agreement, the women turned their backs on Kira and moved away, scolding and kicking at the small tykes by their sides. The sun was low in the sky now. They would attend to their evening tasks, preparing for the return of the village men, who would need food and fire and the wrapping of wounds. One woman was soon to give birth; perhaps that would happen tonight, and the others would attend her, muffling her cries and assessing the value of the infant. Others would be coupling tonight, creating new people, new hunters for the future of the village as the old ones died of wounds and illness and age.
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.
The Singer's robe contained only a few tiny spots of ancient blue, faded almost to white. After her supper, after the oil lamps had been lit, Kira examined it carefully. She lay her threads — the ones from her own small collection and the many others that Annabella had given to her — on the large table, knowing she would have to match the hues carefully in daylight before she began the repairs. It was then that she noticed — with relief because she would not know how to repair it; and with disappointment because the color of sky would have been such a beautiful addition to the pattern — that there was no real blue any more, only a hint that there once had been.
Ruin. Rebuilding. Ruin again. Regrowth. Kira followed the scenes with her hand as larger and greater cities appeared and larger, greater destruction took place. The cycle was so regular that its pattern took on a clear form: an up-and-down movement, wavelike. From the tiny corner where it began, where the first ruin came, it enlarged upon itself. The fires grew as the villages grew. All of them were still tiny, created from the smallest stitches and combinations of stitches, but she could see their pattern of growth and how each time the ruin was worse and the rebuilding more difficult.
But the sections of serenity were exquisite. Miniature flowers of countless hues flourished in meadows streaked with golden-threaded sunlight. Human figures embraced. The pattern of the peaceful times felt immensely tranquil compared to the tortured chaos of the others.
Tracing with her finger the white and pink-tinged clouds against pale skies of gray or green, Kira wished again for blue. The color of calm.
"Why must there be such a horrible place?" Kira whispered to Thomas. "Why do people have to live like this?" "It's how it is," he replied, frowning. "It's always been."
A sudden vision slid into Kira's mind. The robe. The robe told how it had always been; and what Thomas had said was not true. There had been times — oh, such long ago times — when people's lives had been golden and green. Why could there not be such times again? She began to say it to him.
"Thomas," she suggested, "you and I? We're the ones who will fill in the blank places. Maybe we can make it different."
"Them be all broken, them people. But there be plenty of food. And it's quiet-like, and nice."
"What do you mean, broken?"
He gestured toward her twisted leg. "Like you. Some don't walk good. Some be broken in other ways. Not all. But lots. Do you think it makes them quiet and nice, to be broken?"
Puzzled by his description, Kira didn't answer. Pain makes you strong, her mother had told her. She had not said quiet, or nice.
"Anyways," Matt went on, "them got blue, for certain sure."
"Kira," he said, but he did not need to tell her now, because she knew, "my name is Christopher. I'm your father."
In shock, she stared at him. She watched his ruined eyes, and saw that they were able, still, to weep.
“We have gardens. Houses. Families. But it is much quieter than this village. There is no arguing. People share what they have, and help each other. Babies rarely cry. Children are cherished."
Kira looked at the stone pendant that rested against his blue shirt. She touched her own matching one.
"Do you have a family there?" she asked hesitantly.
"The whole village is like a family to me, Kira," he replied.