In the Kingdom of Norta, where Mare Barrow lives, everyone’s destiny is determined by the color of their blood. Those with silver blood, called “Silvers,” live a life of luxury that is made possible by the hard work of the “Reds,” who are conditioned to believe that their red blood makes them suited to poverty and grueling labor in the service of the Silvers. The Silvers are able to keep the Reds in their service because Silvers have special abilities, such as manipulating minds or producing flames out of thin air. Mare does not like the fact that she and her family are treated as second-class citizens, but she nevertheless accepts that this is simply the way of things until she discovers that she has both red blood and special abilities that a Silver might have. This discovery destabilizes the dichotomy between Reds and Silvers. Throughout the novel, the biological distinction between Reds and Silvers is revealed to be more complicated than Mare used to think; eventually, Mare’s own position between Silver and Red leads Mare to believe, and the novel to suggest, that regardless of biological differences, social inequality among Silvers and Reds is unjust and worth combatting.
Early on in the novel, Mare is resigned to a life of poverty. Her assumption that there is no room for her social mobility is not only because she is a Red but also because her family has long ago lost hope of a better life. Mare, and the community of Reds in which she has grown up, live in the Stilts. Jobs there are scarce. Children must nevertheless find ways to support their families because older siblings are drafted into the army at age eighteen, and most of them either die on the front lines or return home severely injured. Mare’s younger sister, Gisa, has a job sewing for the Silvers, but Mare must support her family by picking the pockets of other Reds who are doubtless struggling to make ends meet as well. Mare’s father, meanwhile, is permanently disabled from his own time in the Silver king’s army. He is now very pessimistic and rarely leaves the house. One night, Mare finds him outside working on the fuse box; on going back inside, he asks her not to tell her mother about the outing in case it gives her a false sense of hope for the future.
Having Red blood in a society that treats Reds as second-class citizens and free wartime labor determines the fate of each individual in Mare’s family. All these individual fates compound into the family history Mare inherits, making her feel even more pessimistic about her outlook than she otherwise might. When Mare discovers that she can produce electricity despite her red blood, her newfound power is twofold: first, she can overpower some of the Silvers’ special abilities, and second, she can reveal to the rest of Norta that it is possible for a Red to have Silver powers. The Silvers do their utmost to keep Mare from revealing the latter publicly because the notion that Silvers are biologically more powerful than Reds allows the Silvers to maintain political power. However, in their attempt to keep Mare’s identity secret, they bring Mare into their community, and she begins to understand that it is not blood so much as an imbalance of wealth and power that divide the Reds and Silvers.
The royal family hides Mare as one of their own when they discover her powers. This tactic prevents the public from knowing that a Red has the ability to produce electricity, but it also allows Mare to interact with Silvers. Observing firsthand the luxurious lifestyle of the Silvers, the poverty in which Mare’s family lives seems even more exaggerated. While effectively imprisoned at the palace, Mare also realizes that the only reason she always defers to Silvers is that she has been taught to do so for her own safety. When asked to act like one of them, she feels disgust for her own actions, realizing how deplorably the Silvers treat her community.
Mare eventually finds out that there are other Reds like her, all of whom seem to carry a genetic marker suggesting that they are gifted with Silver powers. By that time, however, her insider-view of how little regard the Silvers have for Red lives has led her to cast off her pessimistic resignation to a life of poverty. She believes that Reds, irrespective of their potential to wield Silver gifts, should be treated as equal citizens whose lives carry the same value as those of Silvers. She commits herself to making a more just world, however high the odds are stacked against that goal.
The biological difference between Reds and Silvers is less clear at the end of the novel than at the beginning, begging further investigation by Mare and her fellow revolutionaries. There is no outright rejection in the novel of the idea that biological factors might influence a person’s aptitudes, but Mare’s shift from a pessimistic to a visionary worldview, regardless of the idea that it might not be possible for most Reds to have the talents of a Silver, shows that she has rejected the idea that biology should determine social status and opportunity. The novel ends with the sense that whatever influences a person’s biology has over that person’s innate abilities, everyone should be afforded the same opportunities, political representation, and access to wealth.
Biological Determinism and Social Inequality ThemeTracker
Biological Determinism and Social Inequality Quotes in Red Queen
Families can go years without hearing a thing, only to find their sons and daughters waiting on the front doorstep, home on leave or sometimes blissfully discharged. But usually you receive a letter made of heavy paper, stamped with the king’s crown seal below a short thank-you for your child’s life. Maybe you even get a few buttons from their torn, obliterated uniforms.
This is the true division between Silvers and Reds: the color of our blood. This simple difference somehow makes them stronger, smarter, better than us.
In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that.
The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.
I’ve always wanted her hair, though I’d never tell her that. Where hers is like fire, my hair is what we call river brown. Dark at the root, pale at the ends, as the color leeches from our hair with the stress of Stilts life. Most keep their hair short to hide their gray ends but I don’t. I like the reminder that even my hair knows life shouldn’t be this way.
He’s right. It’s cruel to give hope where none should be. It only turns into disappointment, resentment, rage—all the things that make this life more difficult than it already is.
As more and more footage rolls, showing the marble façade of the courthouse explode into dust or a diamondglass wall withstanding a fireball, part of me feels happy. The Silvers are not invincible. They have enemies, enemies who can hurt them, and for once, they aren’t hiding behind a Red shield.
There are worse lives to live. Don’t feel sorry for me.
I don’t know who hired you or what they told you about the job, but it starts to wear on you. It’s not all changing bedsheets and cleaning plates. You have to look without seeing, hear without listening. We’re objects up there, living statues meant to serve….Especially now, with this Scarlet Guard business. It’s never a good time to be a Red, but this is very bad.
From my vantage point, hidden behind the flowers, I’m level with the king’s box and slightly behind it. Mare Barrow, a few yards from the king. What would my family think, or Kilorn for that matter? This man sends us to die, and I’ve willingly become his servant. It makes me sick.
So this is a pageant.
A violent one, meant to showcase a girl’s beauty, splendor—and strength. The most talented daughter. This is a display of power, to pair the prince with the most powerful girl, so that their children might be the strongest of all. And this has been going on for hundreds of years.
I shudder to think of the strength in Cal’s pinkie finger.
“I’d bow, but I might fall over,” I say to Queen Elara, and immediately I wish I could call back the words. She’s a Silver, I can’t talk to her that way. She could put me in the stocks, take away my rations, punish me, punish my family. No, I realize in my growing horror. She’s the queen. She could just kill me. She could kill us all.
You have no occupation and are scheduled for conscription on your next birthday. You attend school sparingly, your academic test scores are low, and you have a list of offenses that would land you in prison in most cities. Thievery, smuggling, resisting arrest, to name but a few. All together you are poor, rude, immoral, unintelligent, impoverished, bitter, stubborn, and a blight upon your village and my kingdom.
Remember the person you’re supposed to be, and remember well…You are pretending to be raised Red, but you’re Silver by blood. You are now Red in the head, Silver in the heart….From now until the end of your days, you must lie. Your life depends on it, little lightning girl.
Thinking all Silvers are evil is just as wrong as thinking all Reds are inferior….What my people are doing to you and yours is wrong to the deepest levels of humanity. Oppressing you, trapping you in an endless cycle of poverty and death, just because we think you are different from us? That is not right. And as any student of history can tell you, it will end poorly.
The rage rises again, and I don’t even want to control it. But what can I do about it? What can I do to avenge my brother, or even try to save the others?
My legs move on their own, swinging out in a maneuver I’ve used in the back alleys of the Stilts a hundred times. Even on Kilorn once or twice. My foot connects with her leg, sweeping it out from under her, and she crashes to the floor next to me. I’m on her in a second, despite the exploding pain in my back. My hands crackle with hot energy, even as they collide against her face. Pain sears through my knuckle-bones but I keep going, wanting to see sweet silverblood.
Think what their lives will buy, what their deaths will accomplish. How many of your people could be saved?
Walsh hugs me, taking me by surprise. “I don’t know how,” she mutters, “but I hope you become queen one day. Imagine what you could do then? The Red queen.”
Trees and bushes grow over concrete, reclaiming little pockets and corners, but even more have been cleared away. Shattered glass crunches under my feet and clouds of dust drift in the wind, but somehow this place, the picture of neglect, doesn’t feel abandoned. I know this place from the histories, from the books and old maps.
The king’s corpse lands with a thud, his head rolling to a stop a few feet away. Silverblood splashes across the floor in a mirrored puddle, lapping at Cal’s toes. He drops the melting sword, letting it clang against stone, before falling to his knees, his head in his hands. The crown clatters across the floor, circling through the blood, until it stops to rest at Maven’s feet, sharp points bright with liquid silver.