Not all of the Silvers in Red Queen want to oppress the Reds. Cal, for example, sees that the Reds live in terrible conditions, but he does not find these conditions so unacceptable that he wants to upset political order in order to effect change. Maven, on the other hand, tells Mare that the change he wants to see is worth disorder and even violence. Mare, faced with the opportunity to involve herself in a Red resistance effort, must evaluate how much social stability and how many lives she is willing to put on the line in the short-term in order to bring about a more just world in the long-term. She is then drawn into an assassination plot that she thinks will serve the greater good of liberating the Reds. When she eventually realizes that she has been duped by a power-hungry subset of the royal family, she must grapple with the fact that she is implicated in several murders that have not even changed the world for the better. Revolution thus proves to be trickier than it first seems. It requires Mare to sacrifice a known (if imperfect) status quo in order to empower political groups that have yet to prove how they will govern. Perhaps even more than this political uncertainty, Mare must come to grips with the moral uncertainty and compromise that both revolution and political stability entail.
Mare’s relationships with Cal and Maven respectively symbolize the attractiveness of stability and the attractiveness of revolution. But as she discovers more about each of them, she discovers that she may have been quick to judge both. Mare’s greatest disagreement with Cal for most of the novel is over his unwillingness to pioneer the same kind of political upheaval as Maven. Whereas Maven advocates revolution, Cal advocates keeping the status quo.
Mare initially thinks that Cal’s willingness to go along with the political regime in place makes him an inherently violent person, willing to strongarm Reds into their “rightful” place as the Silvers have designated. Still, she finds him attractive and likes him in part because he got her a job at the palace. If Mare operates within the confines of the system Cal upholds, she knows that she can occupy a comfortable position relative to the members of the Scarlet Guard, who are fugitives now that they have publicly revealed their plot to overthrow the Silver government.
Maven, meanwhile, tells Mare that he is secretly part of the Scarlet Guard because he wants to see Reds treated as equal citizens. This attitude makes Mare feel worthy and respected, and she begins to fall for him. Because of her resistance to violence, however, Mare is at first hesitant to be party to an assassination plot in order to bring about the change she wants to see. Maven convinces her that because the Silvers are already killing far more Reds than the number of elite Silvers the Scarlet Guard is proposing to kill, the assassination will amount to a net moral positive. Maven’s commitment to the ideal of social equality is ultimately more attractive to Mare than the individual comfort and security Cal has offered to her.
Yet just when Mare has decided to reject Cal and fully trust Maven, she discovers that Maven has been working the whole time to put himself on the throne. This discovery makes her realize that she has been party to murder without knowing that she was simply enabling a coup by yet another power-hungry individual. Maven, as it turns out, does represent a kind of revolution, but not the kind Mare wants. She realizes that she may have had more luck effecting change had she trusted Cal and convinced him to treat Reds more fairly upon ascending to the throne.
This realization helps Mare understand that overthrowing a government is a complex process that can easily backfire. Now that it has, she and Cal have no choice but to accept Maven’s new, unjust regime, or engage in revolution in order to either restore the status quo or bring about a brighter future for the Reds. What they decide will not determine whether or not people die but, rather, which people will die. Mare and Cal, as potential leaders of a new revolution, will have to accept some of the responsibility for the moral atrocities that are sure to occur in the process.
The novel’s exploration of revolution and its moral ambiguity also connects its fantasy world to the real world in a sometimes-explicit way. History has framed many of the real world’s successful revolutions as inevitable and for the best, but the political thinkers who were active during these revolutions did not necessarily see things in such a clear light. By dramatizing Mare and Cal’s moral dilemmas, Aveyard demonstrates that social justice in any situation can be tricky and requires both risk and care in order to implement.
In the 1790s, for example, British politicians who had seen the bloody but successful French revolution disagreed on how to proceed with social reform in their own country. Radical reformers such as William Godwin and Thomas Paine advocated empowering the masses and divesting the monarchy of its power. Conservatives such as Edmund Burke worried that doing so would so disregard the precedents set by the long-standing Magna Carta, England’s foundational political document, that it would become dangerously impossible to control the course of the revolution. Like Mare and Cal’s disagreement, the disagreement between conservative and radical thinkers during this period was due not to inherent good on one side and inherent evil on the other, but rather to a difference of opinion on what course of political action would do the most good.
The political questions of the novel have a unique context, but they are not far off from the questions posed by Burke, Godwin, Paine, and their contemporaries—or revolutionaries and reformers throughout history and the present day. Imagining the experience of Mare and her fellow fictional characters draws the reader into engagement with the broader questions of revolution beyond the confines of fiction. By creating sympathetic and morally good characters on both sides of the revolution in the novel, Aveyard helps the reader to understand that responsible political reform requires engagement from all perspectives.
In the novel, Mare and Cal both strive for what they think is best, and they both make mistakes that have a high cost. Mare jumps at the chance for change without knowing everything about the revolutionary group she is joining, whereas Cal is too afraid of the unknown to attempt to make real change happen. They eventually learn than they need a happy medium of their two strategies, taking care to research and plan before acting, but accepting that they will need to surrender some control in order to pursue justice.
Revolution vs. Stability ThemeTracker
Revolution vs. Stability 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.
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.
“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.
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?
It’s not long before I find myself standing in the doorway of Julian’s old classroom, and the sight shocks me. The stacks of books, the desk, even the maps are gone. The room looks larger but feels smaller. It once held whole worlds but now holds only dust and crumpled paper. My eyes linger on the wall where the huge map used to be. Once I couldn’t understand it; now I remember it like an old friend.
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.