The Night Circus

by

Erin Morgenstern

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Night Circus can help.

Family, Community, and Belonging Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Rivalry and Competition Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Belonging Theme Icon
Time and Mortality Theme Icon
Magic and Illusion Theme Icon
Freedom and Agency Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Night Circus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family, Community, and Belonging Theme Icon

The Night Circus presents an unconventional view of family structures, as most of the characters have, for one reason or another, separated from their biological families and adopted the circus as a de-facto family unit. Set in Victorian London, the novel reflects the fact that historically, the circus was known as a refuge for performers who were shunned for their differences or unique abilities and, in turn, looked to the circus community for acceptance and shared experience. As Isobel the fortune-teller affirms, “I loved the circus. I felt like I finally had a home, a place I could belong.” This sense of community is played out in the novel not only in the relationships among the performers, but in the profound connection among the devoted fans of the circus as well. The community in The Night Circus provides the performers and organizers a sense of belonging that, for most of them, would not be available otherwise. That this bond is stronger than many blood relations suggests the power and importance of chosen families, which offer refuge to those who feel excluded from their own kin or otherwise marginalized in society.

The novel begins as a story of orphanhood, as neither Celia nor Marco has a mother figure in their life, and their paternal influences are distant and mission-oriented. Celia’s mother committed suicide once she realized that Hector Bowen was unable to love her; Celia recalls her mother “pine for him, steadfastly […] far beyond the time when he had lost what little interest in her he ever held.” Marco was rescued from an orphanage only to be abandoned by the cold and mysterious Mr. A.H. He describes his guardian as “distant and not terribly forthcoming, but he is the closest thing to family I have.” Despite being forced into competition, Celia and Marco find a family among the circus performers and organizers. Even the organizers of the circus, who plan the show from a distance and do not live together as the performers do, feel the same sense of family and solidarity. Mr. Barris, the engineer, tells his friend Lainie Burgess that she and her twin sister “are as dear as family to me, all of you. More dear, in some cases.” More than just business partners, they develop a sense of family that is based on mutual support, love, and shared experience. For Poppet and Widget, who were born to two performers on opening night, the concept of the circus as family is literal rather than metaphorical. Their birth within the magical confines of the circus has also bestowed supernatural powers on them, making them a more integral part of the circus than their own parents. They grow up among the tents and spectators, and Celia watches over them and encourages their special gifts. As an orphan herself, Celia has embraced the circus as family, and reinforces that family structure by playing a maternal role for the twins.

The circus also becomes a kind of extended family for a select group of spectators, known as rêveurs, many of whom “follow the circus wherever it may lead.” These devoted fans feel a deep connection to it that helps build a sense of community and belonging; for them, the circus “is wonder and comfort and mystery all together that they have nowhere else.” It is one of these rêveurs, the young Bailey, who becomes the new caretaker of the circus once the bonfire goes out and Celia and Marco pass into a different dimension. Enamored with the circus, Bailey runs away to join a community that immediately embraces him and offers him a place of value. And for this young man, with new family come new responsibilities: Celia asks him to hold part of the circus within him, which he understands as “an even greater commitment than inheriting responsibility for the family farm.” Bailey accepts this responsibility, which ties him to his new family and community indefinitely. The family that Bailey leaves behind is bound together by duty, responsibility, and expectation, symbolized each night by dinners filled with “silence broken by his mother’s attempts at polite conversation and [his sister’s] occasional sighs.” For this family, their connection is static and unchanging, with the expectation that each new generation will replace the previous one, in an infinite repetition of predetermined roles. There is no room for expressions of joy or the pursuit of dreams, and this is not enough for Bailey. His final farewell to his sister illustrates the ways in which traditional family structure can be both stifling and taken for granted: when Bailey tells his sister that he is running away, she does not believe him. She is unable to recognize the possibility of a fluid and changing family dynamic, and encourages her brother to grow up, associating maturity with a blanket acceptance of life’s circumstances. Bailey responds that growing up “is precisely what I am doing,” countering with his view that family and community can be created by choice.

The Night Circus reinforces the importance of chosen family: run by two orphans whose knowledge and power separate them from the rest of the world, Le Cirque des Rêves is much more than just a circus. The family and community that the circus provides is not just a form of refuge, but also a support system in which its members find meaning in their lives and are able to realize their full potential.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…

Family, Community, and Belonging ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family, Community, and Belonging appears in each chapter of The Night Circus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
chapter length:
Get the entire The Night Circus LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Night Circus PDF

Family, Community, and Belonging Quotes in The Night Circus

Below you will find the important quotes in The Night Circus related to the theme of Family, Community, and Belonging.
Part 1: Primordium Quotes

“You might be interesting.”

Related Characters: Hector Bowen / Prospero the Enchanter (speaker), Celia Bowen
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

“You would wager your own child?”

“She won’t lose.”

Related Characters: Alexander / Mr. A.H. (speaker), Hector Bowen / Prospero the Enchanter (speaker), Celia Bowen
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

“You will be coming to study with me […].”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Do you wish to remain here?”

“No.”

“Very well.”

Related Characters: Marco Alisdair (speaker), Alexander / Mr. A.H. (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

“My new game, as you so appropriately call it, is a circus.”

“A circus? How marvelous!”

“Like a carnival?”

“More than a carnival, more than a circus, really, like no circus anyone has ever seen.”

Related Characters: Chandresh Lefevre (speaker), Ethan Barris (speaker), Lainie Burgess (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

“[…] with whom have you studied?”

“With my father, Hector Bowen. Though perhaps he is better known as Prospero the Enchanter.”

Related Characters: Celia Bowen (speaker), Marco Alisdair (speaker), Hector Bowen / Prospero the Enchanter
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Illumination Quotes

“Working with others will only drag you down. These people are not your friends, they are inconsequential. And one of them is your opponent, don’t forget that.”

Related Characters: Hector Bowen / Prospero the Enchanter (speaker), Celia Bowen
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

“There is a great deal more going on than we are privy to, of that I’m quite sure. I tried to talk to Chandresh, but it was like we were speaking two different languages. I do not like sitting idly by when something clearly isn’t right.”

Related Characters: Tara Burgess (speaker), Chandresh Lefevre, Ethan Barris
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

“Do you like the circus, Bailey?”

“It’s like no place I’ve ever been […] Not that I’ve been many places. But I think the circus is wonderful. I like it very much.”

“That would help.”

“Help with what?”

Related Characters: Isobel Martin (speaker), Bailey Clarke (speaker)
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

“I spent the first several years of my life watching my mother pine for him, steadfastly. Loving and longing far beyond the time when he had lost what little interest in her he ever held. Until one day when I was five years old and she took her own life. When I was old enough to understand, I promised myself I would not suffer so for anyone. It will take a great deal more than that charming smile of yours to seduce me.”

Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Intersections Quotes

“Thirteen years with barely a word and now you wish to speak with me?”

Related Characters: Marco Alisdair (speaker), Celia Bowen, Alexander / Mr. A.H.
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:

“If you ever need anything from me, I would like you to ask. I am tired of everyone keeping their secrets so well that they get other people killed. We are all involved in your game, and it seems we are not as easily repaired as teacups.”

Related Characters: Lainie Burgess (speaker), Celia Bowen, Tara Burgess
Page Number: 340
Explanation and Analysis:

“You’re joking.”

“I’m not, I swear I’m not. I wanted to wait until I was sure it was the right thing to ask, the right thing to do, and I’m sure now. It’s important.”

“What do you mean? Important how?”

“I know you’re supposed to come with us. I know that part for certain.”

Related Characters: Poppet Murray (speaker), Bailey Clarke (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bonfire
Page Number: 356
Explanation and Analysis:

“Staying here won’t make me happy. It will make you happy because you are insipid and boring, and an insipid, boring life is enough for you. It’s not enough for me. It will never be enough for me. So I’m leaving.”

Related Characters: Bailey Clarke (speaker)
Page Number: 380
Explanation and Analysis:

“I tried. I thought I might be able to fix it. I’ve known him so long. That maybe it would be like setting a clock to make it tick again. I knew exactly what was wrong but I couldn’t make it right. He was so familiar but it… it didn’t work.”

Related Characters: Celia Bowen (speaker), Marco Alisdair, Friedrick Thiessen
Page Number: 385
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Incendiary Quotes

“You are willing to sacrifice me for this. To let me destroy myself just so you can attempt to prove a point. You tied me to this game knowing the stakes, and you let me think it was nothing but a simple challenge of skill.”

Related Characters: Celia Bowen (speaker), Hector Bowen / Prospero the Enchanter
Page Number: 397-398
Explanation and Analysis:

“You were not a diversion.”

“Did you ever love me?”

“No […] I thought perhaps I could, but…”

Related Characters: Marco Alisdair (speaker), Isobel Martin (speaker)
Page Number: 446
Explanation and Analysis:

“But I’m not […] special. Not in the way they are. I’m not anyone important.”

“I know. You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.”

Related Characters: Celia Bowen (speaker), Bailey Clarke (speaker), Widget Murray, Poppet Murray
Related Symbols: The Bonfire
Page Number: 478-479
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Divination Quotes

“You’d be better off letting the whole endeavor fade away into myth and oblivion. All empires fall eventually. It is the way of things. Perhaps it is time to let this one go.”

“I’m afraid I’m unwilling to do that.”

Related Characters: Alexander / Mr. A.H. (speaker), Widget Murray (speaker)
Page Number: 506
Explanation and Analysis: