Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Kira is lucky to be alive. Babies born with deformities such as Kira's crooked leg are almost always taken away from the mother and left in the field outside the village to die; it is the Way of her people. The Way is harsh and impersonal. The Way is their law. It demands that everyone in the village be able to work, to contribute, to earn the right to live. Those that can not are weeded out and disposed of. However, due partly to a stubborn mother, partly to an influential grandfather, and partly to her own stubborn refusal to be separated from her mother, Kira survives to grow into an intelligent and talented young woman. Both Kira's grandfather and her mother are respected people in the village. Kira's grandfather had once been a member of the Council of Guardians, the ruling body of the village. Kira's mother, Katrina, had a special and valuable talent. She knew how to extract dyes from plants and how to embroider colorful images into the weave of the otherwise colorless, prosaic textiles that are the norm in the village. Because of Katrina's skills, she is chosen to maintain the "Singer's Robe," a unique and very important ceremonial garment worn only once a year at a celebration called the Gathering.

One of the significant themes in Gathering Blue is the way society reacts to people with handicaps. The people in Kira's village shun and resent handicapped people. Villagers who become handicapped, either through injury or disease, and children who are born with physical imperfections are almost always condemned to death. There seems to be no compassion or sympathy for others. The people seem only concerned with their own well being and survival.

Another significant theme is control. In the village, the instruments of control are the Council of Guardians and the bell in the tower of the Council Edifice. The bell tells the people when to start work, when to stop, and when to gather for meetings, when to celebrate, and when to arm against danger. The Council of Guardians is the governing body of the village. The Guardians control the tower bell, interpret and enforce the Way, mediate disputes, and preserve the history of the people. The Guardians live and meet in the Council Edifice, an ancient stone structure in the center of the village. The Edifice is the only structure known to survive the Ruin. It was once a church, and the guardians have adopted a role similar to that of clergy. Once a year, the people of the village are called to the Edifice for a Gathering, where they hear the story of their history sung to them by the Singer. As the Singer sings the narrative, he points to corresponding places on the Robe where the story is embroidered. In his hand, he holds a staff into which the same story has been carved in relief. The "Ruin Song" tells the way it has always been, demonstrating a never-ending pattern of ruin and rebuilding, perpetuating the Way and validating the role and the authority of the Guardians.

The Guardians also use fear to control the people and discourage them from venturing away from the isolation of the village. They perpetuate a lie that there are awful beasts lurking in the forests and fields surrounding the village. In truth, the most ferocious animals are rabbits and deer. They use force to protect their secret. Annabella, one of Kira's teachers, and a symbol of learning and wisdom, dies mysteriously after telling Kira the truth about the beasts of the forest.

Control is also evident in the rigid separation of the classes, the definition of strict male and female roles, and the isolation of family units. Women had certain jobs like making cloth, raising children, and tending the family garden. Men had different jobs like being a butcher and going on hunts to gather meat for the village. Only certain people were allowed to learn reading and writing. Kira was frightened and felt guilty when she realized she was inadvertently learning to read Thomas's record of plants and dyes. The most privileged and...

(The entire section is 1,606 words.)