The City of Ember provides a clear depiction of a dystopia and examines in depth the ways authorities seek to keep people under subjugation, as well as the varying responses people have to their situation. The central conflict is between action and passivity, the forms taken by the opposing courses, and the relative merits and drawbacks of each.

Ember is a strictly ordered city. Life follows a predictable pattern. Children go to school until the age of twelve, after which they are assigned a job to serve the community. The Book of the City of Ember outlines the code of behavior that the government expects Ember's citizens to follow. It includes an exhortation to be satisfied with “enough,” which “is all that a person of wisdom needs." The government of Ember presents itself as the ultimate authority and emphasizes that the public “must have faith...that all is being done...for their own good." Curiosity is considered to be a dangerous quality, and the citizenry is expected to be unquestioning and law-abiding “for the good of all.” Thus relieved of the need to be accountable for their actions, the mayor and governing body themselves descend into corruption, assigning to themselves goods and privileges that rightfully should be shared by all.

The author explores a number of ways in which people might react under such conditions of oppression, reactions that are both passive and active. For the majority of the people, as long as the familiar patterns of life go on and their basic needs are met, nothing else really seems to matter. In another example of passive reaction, the Believers are aware that conditions are bad but approach their situation by seeking shelter in a belief system which allows them to exist in total detachment from earthly cares. Such escapism and passivity serve to perpetuate the dystopia, and contrast sharply with the active, constructive responses shown by characters such as Lina and Doon, Doon’s father...

(The entire section is 755 words.)