The novel Cinder by Marissa Meyer reaches its peak and comes to a close in Chapters 29 through 38, when Cinder gains resolve, purpose, and independence. Instead of focusing on only her own problems, and instead of attempting to rescue only herself by running away, Cinder resolves to stay, to fight the Lunar invasion and Queen Levana, and thereby to save the citizens of the Eastern Commonwealth. Cinder’s eyes are opening to the chaos around her, an awakening heightened by her realization of her own true identity. She is Princess Selene.
(For more details about the events that transpire in Chapters 29 through 38, please refer to our chapter summaries.)
It’s true that the fantasy world in which Cinder takes place bears little resemblance to our own on its surface: a lunar colony is established, an intergalactic conflict is raging, Cinder is a cyborg, and a cybernetic interface implanted in her body feeds her relevant real-time information in a steady stream of green text. As readers, we find ourselves immersed in her story, hearing how it echoes the old tale of Cinderella even as it unfolds in a fabulous, technologically advanced future.
Still, the story itself is deeply relatable. For a cyborg, Cinder is remarkably human. Her struggles, her feelings, her reactions, her hopes and wishes—these characteristics shape her into someone we can all identify with, and so it’s easy to draw connections between Cinder’s situations and real-life situations.
Let’s explore some examples.
In Chapter 29, Adri punishes Cinder by grounding her, confining her to the apartment, and lecturing her on how her behavior has shamed the family. Cinder fumes: “[She] dug her fingers into her thighs, too incensed to argue.”
Here, we’re witnessing an angry, rebellious, fiercely determined teenager being grounded by her guardian—and roiling with resentment, hating the confinement, needing freedom and independence. We identify with Cinder. We feel that her anger is justified. We sympathize, because we are her. We’ve been there. By my estimation, this same situation has played out in most American households.
Let’s skip ahead to Chapter 30, where we’ll see another situation that connects to our real lives.
Kai visits Cinder to offer her a gift. Secretly thrilled, but ashamed to be missing one of her feet, Cinder stays behind her desk, hiding her deformity from him. Watch what happens when Kai leans closer to Cinder: “Her heart jolted.” And, a few minutes later: “Cinder’s entire body tingled at his words, but she gulped, forcing the giddiness away.”
What do we see in this exchange that’s relatable, that’s easy to envision as a real-life situation? We have a teenager in love, or at least with a raging crush. We see her eagerness and excitement to receive her crush’s attention, and yet her giddy elation is tempered by fear and shame: she doesn’t want her crush to see her flaws. She’s hiding parts of herself, letting her crush see only the parts of herself that she finds acceptable.
Every teenager does this—and so do most adults.
So far, we’ve seen how Cinder’s day-to-day life lines up with our own lived experiences. Let’s finish off this exploration by taking a broader view. What grander scheme is playing out in Cinder’s world that reminds us starkly of our own world?
In Chapter 36, as Queen Levana faces off against Cinder, we see how frightened and powerless Cinder behaves. The queen intimidates and controls Cinder, nearly forcing her to commit suicide. Here, notice how Cinder’s heart thuds, how her vision flickers, how she squirms, pleads, gasps, collapses, and slumps. We’re witnessing a citizen at the mercy of the government who controls her.
Sadly, Cinder’s suffering and powerlessness in this scene mirror hundreds of real-life situations across the world and throughout history. Think of the news, how we’ve seen videos of police abusing and even killing unarmed citizens, using their power, authority, and superior weaponry to scare, control, and harm those citizens. And think of our nation’s recent past, when, for example, in the 1960s, the authorities wielded their dogs and fire hoses against peaceful protestors. A government controlling and committing violence against its citizens: it’s a theme that’s as pervasive and real as it can get, and it pervades the fictional world of Cinder, too.
But let’s end on a high note.
In Chapter 38, as the novel ends, Cinder feels calm, resolved, and even powerful, ready to rise up and defeat the queen. Let’s hope that Cinder’s optimism and sense of empowerment prove deeply relatable to readers today.