Gathering Blue is set in a non-specific, dystopian (anti-utopian) future. Sometime in the distant past, a terrible catastrophe has occurred, forcing a once socially and technologically advanced civilization into a rapid disintegration that the people in Kira's village call the "Ruin." Fragments of that civilization survive in small, isolated enclaves of simple, superstitious people ruled by local oligarchic (governed by few) "Councils," whose primary task is to preserve a memory of the past and to guide the future of their people. It is in one of these enclaves that the action of Gathering Blue takes place.
Gathering Blue begins in the "Field of Leaving," as Kira awaits the "diggers" who will come to bury her mother once her mother's spirit has been given sufficient time to exit her body. The setting is a medieval-like village, isolated from the rest of the world by a dense and forbidding forest inhabited by awful beasts and creatures of the night. Life in the village is primitive and hard. Space is at a premium. The people in Kira's village live in small huts crudely built of tree limbs and mud, and are engaged in a day-to-day struggle for survival. The village people grow vegetables in small gardens and the village men hunt wild animals in the fields outside the village. The women carry water from the nearby river. There is no tolerance for people with physical handicaps who can no longer contribute their share of work to the good of the community. Those who are injured or diseased are removed from the village and taken.by, the "draggers" to the field outside the village to die.
After her mother's death, Kira becomes a ward of the "Council of Guardians." The compound to which Kira is taken to live is called the "Council Edifice." The Council Edifice is an island of safety, comfort, and mysterious anachronism. Outside the Edifice, there is hunger and primitive living conditions. Within the Edifice there is hot and cold running water, soap, and many of the personal comforts that we associate with a more modern setting. It is the only remaining structure from a time before the "Ruin," an event in the village's history that, some time in the distant past, nearly destroyed the civilization that evolved into Kira's culture. It is never made clear to the reader how wide-spread that destruction was, or whether it was of natural or man-made origins.
Within the village there is a subculture called the Fen. People who live here do the dirtiest, most difficult work of the village. Even though life in the village is difficult for all the people, for the people in the Fen it is all the more distressing, even more crowded, even more noisy, even more dirty. One of the young protagonists in the story, Matt, lives there. The children in the Fen are treated harshly by their parents and grow up quickly. At nine, Matt is, for all intents and purposes, on his own. His mother does not grow concerned when he disappears for days at a time. Matt has somehow found Kira and they have become friends. Before Kira's mother died, Kira regularly told stories to the children of the village, including Matt.
The most remarkable literary quality reflected in Gathering Blue is its readability. The language is chosen carefully so as not to insult young readers or adults while at the same time providing access for younger or less experienced readers. As is typical in her novels, Lowry uses dialogue as a key element in her character and plot development. The story is told from the third person, limited omniscient point of view, allowing the reader inside the mind of the main protagonist, Kira. Lowry also relies upon devices like foreshadowing, inference, allusion, careful diction, integrated motifs, and figurative language to enhance and enable her telling of Gathering Blue.
Lowry doesn't overuse the technique of foreshadowing; however, she does use it skillfully. Kira's resolution to rebuild her burned cottage in the face of almost insurmountable odds hints to her continued...
(The entire section is 2,019 words.)