In The Maze Runner, all the characters lose their memories before arriving in the Glade. Without these memories, Thomas loses his sense of self. As such, recovering his memories becomes one of his main goals. During his struggle to discover his identity, Thomas questions whether people are the sum total of their memories and past experiences or if we have essential natures that exist regardless of our experiences. For example, early in the novel, Thomas mistakenly believes that the Glade is a prison and that all the Gladers are criminals. Thomas wonders if, were he a criminal before arriving, would that mean that he is an essentially violent or immoral person.
In the end, the novel suggests that none of the boys have truly lost their memories. Instead, their memories, buried deep within their minds, may still be determining their feelings and behaviors. For example, Thomas has a deep almost instinctual feeling that he should trust Teresa even though he doesn’t remember her. Later, we learn that they had a very close friendship before their memories were erased. Thus, the novel suggests that personal relationships are so ingrained in our identities that they become part of who we are and cannot be forgotten. Moreover, the novel suggests that people are defined by their actions in the present rather than their past actions. For example, Thomas learns that before arriving in the Glade, he knowingly helped design the Maze. As such, some of Gladers distrust Thomas, but the group ultimately accepts him because he proves himself to be a loyal and brave addition to their society.
Unlike Thomas’ desire to uncover his memories, some characters wish to further repress their memories of life before the Glade. During the Changing, Gladers have flashes of memories from their old life. These memories are so painful that most Gladers who go through the Changing refuse to discuss the memories they’ve recovered. In the most extreme case, Alby loses his ability to lead after getting some of his memories back. Since Alby was known for his effective leadership, his memories actually cause him to lose the most notable aspect of his identity. In contrast to Alby, Thomas goes through the Changing on purpose in order to get his memories back. Although his memories disturb him, Thomas is only able to save the Gladers by using these memories to find a way out of the Maze. The Maze Runner novel illustrates how some people need to repress traumatic memories in order to maintain hope and a sense of self, while others seek to uncover and learn from these memories in order to deal with the problems of the present.
Memory and Identity ThemeTracker
Memory and Identity Quotes in The Maze Runner
And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. He didn’t even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.
His memory loss was strange. He mostly remembered the workings of the world—but emptied of specifics, faces, names. Like a book completely intact but missing one word in every dozen, making it a miserable and confusing read. He didn’t even know his age.
“Out there’s the Maze,” Newt whispered, eyes wide as if in a trance. “Everything we do—our whole life, Greenie—revolves around the Maze. Every lovin’ second of every lovin’ day we spend in honor of the Maze, tryin’ to solve somethin’ that’s not shown us it has a bloody solution, ya know? And we want to show ya why it’s not to be messed with. Show ya why them buggin’ walls close shut every night. Show ya why you should never, never find your butt out there.”
“Think about it. Our memories are wiped. We live inside a place that seems to have no way out, surrounded by bloodthirsty monster-guards. Doesn’t that sound like a prison to you?” As he said it out loud, it sounded more and more possible. Nausea trickled into his chest.
Thomas rocked back on his heels, then ran his arm across his forehead, wiping away the sweat. And at that moment, in the space of only a few seconds, he learned a lot about himself. About the Thomas that was before. He couldn’t leave a friend to die.
“Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they’re so depressed at realizing their old life was no better than what we have now?”
Alby continued. “I hope the Changing doesn’t give us real memories—just plants fake ones. Some suspect it—I can only hope. If the world’s the way I saw it...” He trailed off, leaving an ominous silence.
“I remember remembering,” she muttered, sitting down with a heavy sigh; she pulled her legs up to wrap her arms around her knees. “Feelings. Emotions. Like I have all these shelves in my head, labeled for memories and faces, but they’re empty. As if everything before this is just on the other side of a white curtain. Including you.”
“No one ever understood what I saw, what the Changing did to me! Don’t go back to the real world, Thomas! You don’t...want...to remember!”
They needed more clues about the code. They needed memories.
So he was going to get stung by a Griever. Go through the Changing. On purpose.
“I’m telling you.” Alby sounded like he was begging—near hysterical. “We can’t go back to where we came from. I’ve seen it, remembered awful, awful things. Burned land, a disease—something called the Flare. It was horrible—way worse than we have it here…Better to die than go home.”
“After two years of being treated like mice, tonight we’re making a stand. Tonight we’re taking the fight back to the Creators, no matter what we have to go through to get there. Tonight the Grievers better be scared.”