Scythe introduces the reader to a world several hundred years in the future, in which humanity has conquered death, illness, and poverty. When a person decides they've become too old, they can have their bodies "reset" down to a younger age and go through the physical aging process again. Because nobody dies a natural death and the population growth is spinning out of control, society has come up with a worldwide system of "scythes," people whose job it is to "glean" (permanently kill) several hundred people per year. The story of Scythe focuses on two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who are selected by Scythe Faraday to train as his apprentices. This entails a year of training, at the end of which one will be chosen and licensed as a scythe, while the other will be allowed to return to their previous life. As Citra and Rowan train and begin to come of age, the novel suggests that for them as future scythes, coming of age differs significantly from what their friends go through on their way to adulthood. For Citra and Rowan, coming of age entails becoming a part of a community, rather than just achieving "adult" status in the world.
It's important to note that though people in the world that Scythe presents can reset down to as young as age 21 (and the research to reset people to even younger ages is in progress), people only truly come of age once, as "turning the corner" doesn't mean that one's maturity or memories also revert to what they'd normally be at 21. This reminds the reader that while age has mostly been rendered useless by scientific advancements, coming of age as a teenager has become one of the few once-in-a-lifetime experiences that remain (a person's gleaning being the other one). However, even as Rowan and Citra continue to grow, develop, and move closer to becoming real scythes, the way that they speak about what their lives would've been like had they not been selected as apprentices is illuminating. Specifically, though they talk about how they wanted eventually to reach typical milestones—getting a college degree, getting married, and having a family—they talk about doing those things in a way that's distinctly lacking in any emotional investment. Essentially, as Citra and Rowan move closer to coming of age as scythes, they begin to see coming of age in the conventional sense as increasingly less meaningful.
This becomes especially pronounced when Rowan runs into his childhood friend Tyger at one of Scythe Goddard's lavish parties, Tyger having fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a "professional partier." Though Rowan understands at this point that Tyger has always been somewhat shallow, seeing Tyger actually live this kind of life impresses upon Rowan that society offers young people little incentive to actually grow up in the first place, while also offering jobs like this that rely entirely on a sustained existence as a young person in both mind and body. In other words, there is little purpose in growing up, becoming mature, or coming of age, as there's little purpose to life itself in this society.
Entering into their apprenticeships, however, gives Citra and Rowan purpose, goals, and a roadmap for coming of age that the novel suggests is only available to scythes—and, possibly, the Tonists, a fringe religious group that's thought of as a joke by the general populace, but whose followers are able to dedicate their lives to learning about and promoting Tonist beliefs in a way that's unheard of in the world of the novel. Through excerpts from their apprentice journals, the reader sees both Citra and Rowan transform from beings with little purpose into young adults with goals, ambitions, and a keen understanding of their place in the world. Notably, the Scythedom (the organization governing scythes) is arranged in such a way as to deny scythes the classic markers of adulthood and maturity: marriage, children, and even romantic partnerships. Instead, it focuses on bringing young scythes to maturity on an emotional level and instilling in them a sense of their own purpose in the world—after all, within the logic of the world the characters inhabit, scythes are the only people who actually have a purpose, as an out-of-control population is the world's only real issue. In a broader sense, Scythe offers readers the suggestion that considering coming of age in terms of meeting traditional milestones just for the sake of doing so is effectively meaningless. Instead, young readers should endeavor to come of age by finding a purpose or a calling, dedicating oneself to it, and developing emotional maturity in the process.
Coming of Age ThemeTracker
Coming of Age Quotes in Scythe
Suddenly Kohl thrust his hand out, grabbing Rowan's and holding it tightly. Rowan allowed it. He wasn't family; he wasn't even Kohl's friend before today—but what was the saying? Death makes the whole world kin. Rowan wondered if a world without death would then make everyone strangers.
She assumed she would go to college, get a degree in something pleasant, then settle into a comfortable job, meet a comfortable guy, and have a nice, unremarkable life. It's not that she longed for such an existence, but it was expected. Not just of her, but of everyone. With nothing to really aspire to, life had become about maintenance.
The idea that not all scythes were good was something neither Rowan or Citra had ever considered. It was widely accepted that scythes adhered to the highest moral and ethical standards. They were wise in their dealings and fair in their choices. Even the ones who sought celebrity were seen to deserve it. The idea that some scythes might not be as honorable as Scythe Faraday did not sit well with either of his new apprentices.
He clicked on each name and brought up four pictures. He immediately regretted it, because the moment those names had faces, they became people instead of parameters.
They removed their raincoats to reveal robes of all colors, all textures. It was a rainbow that summoned forth anything but thoughts of death. This, Citra realized, was intentional. Scythes wished to be seen as the many facets of light, not of darkness.
"We believe in the Great Vibration, and that it will free us from being stagnant."
It was the word Scythe Curie used to describe the people she chose to glean.
"Embrace it, Rowan. Suckle at its transformative breast. You may think gleaning is an acquired taste, but it's not. The thrill of the hunt and the joy of the kill simmers in all of us. Bring it to the surface and then you'll be the kind of scythe this world needs."
"I was headstrong and stupid in my early days. I thought that by gleaning just the right people at just the right time, I could change the world for the better. I believed, in my arrogance, that I had a keen grasp of the big picture that others lack. But of course, I was just as limited as everyone else."
Tyger left with the other professional party people, with whom he seemed to share much more in common now than with Rowan. Rowan wondered if there was anyone from his old life he could relate to anymore.
"But if this really is a scandal in the Scythedom—"
"—then your best possible position would be to achieve scythehood yourself, and fight it from the inside."
With each gleaning I commit, with each life taken for the good of humanity, I mourn for the boy I once was, whose name I sometimes struggle to remember. And I long for a place beyond immortality where I can, in some small measure, resurrect the wonder, and be that boy again.
It was then it occurred to her that every scythe, since the Scythedom began, had to take this test. Every single one of them was forced to take the life of someone they loved. Yes, that person would be revived, but it didn't change the cold-blooded act. A person's subconscious mind can't differentiate between permanent and temporary killings.
"Had she lived, who knows what she might have done. Perhaps she could have changed the world and redeemed her family name. I choose to be Scythe Anastasia. I vow to become the change that might have been."