The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Maze Runner is a young-adult science-fiction adventure set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world.  It follows the exploits of a group of teenagers trapped in what they call the Glade.  Surrounding the Glade is a gigantic ever-changing maze that seemingly leads to freedom.  Every day members of the group, or “Gladers,” run through the maze in an attempt to map out an exit.  These individuals, called maze runners, have to be quick and sure-footed, as the maze contains frightening creatures called Grievers.  The story, told through the perspective of a newcomer named Thomas, follows a series of strange events that change everything.

The Maze Runner contains both man vs. man and man vs. society conflicts.  At the beginning of the story, the Gladers are very much divided by their capabilities in a kind of class system.  This defines them and affects how they are treated.  Boys that cannot do much are relegated to the lower class, ignored, and alienated.  Maze runners and individuals with high-capability positions constitute the upper class and receive prominence and praise.  Conflict also exists between the Gladers and their mysterious benefactors, the Creators, who supply them with food at regular intervals.  The Creators represent the supreme upper crust; they are responsible for the Gladers' care and survival, and when that care ceases, it leads to revolution.  The conflict present in the classes of the Glade, as well as the relationship between the Gladers and the Creators, is an example of conflict theory.  When support from the Creators ceases, following the tenets of conflict theory, the resulting upheaval prompts social change.  This leads to the lower class gaining prominence, leadership changing hands, and a shift of societal goals.  It also propagates man vs. man conflict as it pits Gladers against each other.  Most prominent are Thomas and Gally.  Gally dislikes Thomas from the beginning and becomes his chief antagonist.  As things begin to change and upset the status quo, this dislike becomes mutual.  In the end, Gally becomes an obstacle, as dangerous as the Grievers and the maze, and Thomas has to overcome him as well.

The Maze Runner is also a look at the effects of leadership.  Alby is the leader at the beginning of the book, and although he is effective, he is also content.  Every week food arrives via the elevator, and every night the maze walls close, protecting the Glade from Grievers.  This status quo is comfortable and when it changes, Alby does not know what to do.  He represents the type of leader that does not affect change, while Thomas is the revolutionary willing to risk everything in order to make a difference.  Gally is an example of destructive leadership, as his input creates dissension.  He likes everything as it is and will get violent to keep it that way.  In many ways, one could compare The Maze Runner to the Revolutionary War, wherein a faraway benefactor mistreats an isolated people, leading them to revolt.  The people, split between those that wish to remain loyal and those that seek escape, take a long shot at independence that, despite all odds, achieves freedom from tyranny.

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