Why would anyone choose to go Above if you die so young and have to work so hard? the children of the Below used to ask each other when we were smaller. And I never answered, but I kept a long list at home of all the reasons I could think of to go Above. You can see the stars. You could feel the sun on your face. You could touch a tree that had roots in the ground. You could walk for miles and never come across the edge of your world.
During the Ceremony of the Divide, Rio meditates on the choice she must make - continue with her safe but dull life Below, or take her chances Above. People Above live short lives harvesting food and other resources for people Below, but this life still appeals to Rio more than staying in her home.
This quotation emphasizes the importance of adventure, freedom, experience, and truth for Rio. She is not content with the safe but sterile world of Atlantia. Whereas other people are content to spend their whole lives in this place, Rio is willing to leave behind everyone she has ever known for the chance to walk on solid ground and touch a tree.
She saw the temple as the house of the gods and the people, the place where they could come together, and she thought it wrong that some were excluded from that opportunity. "They say that the sirens are miracles, not people," she told Bay and me once, in a rare moment of frustration with her work. "Can you imagine believing such a thing? People can be miracles."
After her sister abandons her for the Above, Rio goes to the temple and recalls her mother, who died six months ago. Her mother was beloved by the people of Atlantia, but kept her daughter's siren identity a secret.
This passage indicates Oceana's generous and spiritual character. This welcoming and loving attitude may be part of the reason why she is considered a deity after her death. It also indicates her opinions about the sirens - she believes that they should be welcomed rather than excluded. This may foreshadow Rio's later discovery of the close relationship between her mother and her aunt; perhaps Oceana wanted the sirens to be more included in the life of the temple in order to be closer to her sister.
I hear Maire in my mind again. You think I'm the evil sister, and that your mother was good.
Must there always be one of each? That's what I've always secretly wondered. If so, I know which sister I am. Bay is not perfect, but she is good. She believes in the gods. She loves our city and our people. She meant to stay Below and serve them all her life.
So if everything is reversed, if she's gone Above and I'm trapped Below, and perhaps I am the good sister after all.
After her encounter with True in the temple and Maire in the deepmarket, Rio begins to ponder some of the deepest truths she believes about herself. She knows that she is not the selfless, good sister - that was always Bay, who would likely have followed in their mother's footsteps and become minister. But Bay has committed an act of unbelievable cruelty (leaving for the Above unexpectedly and trapping Rio in a place she hates), and Rio has reason to believe she was hiding a number of other secrets. Perhaps Rio can be a hero after all.
This quote also highlights the importance of sisterhood in the novel. Bay and Rio were extremely close, but Bay also wounded Rio more deeply than anyone else possibly could. However, by abandoning her, she also offered Rio the chance to forge her own identity separate from a sister's influence. Likewise, is it possible that Maire the sea witch may not be as evil as she seems, and Oceana the beloved Minister might not be the paragon of virtue that everyone believed her to be?
Under star-dark skies and skies of gold
Live those Above and those Below
They sing and weep, both high and deep
While over and under the ocean rolls.
Oceana used to sing this song to her daughters when they were young. The song suggests the unity between the people Below and those Above, despite the distance between them. Rio later wonders if it also describes sirens, whose voices are both high and deep. Rio listens to Bay's voice singing this song in the seashell she left for her, and Maire tells Bay that she also sang this song to the girls when they were young. The song emphasizes the connections between the women of the Conwy family.
When Justus looks at me, I know he wants me to realize what he means, but he doesn't want to actually say it. Everyone holds things back when they speak, not just me. Everyone expects and needs other people to give part of the meaning, to make inferences, to put the rest into the little they manage to convey.
After Nevio's monthly address in which he says that the age of the sirens is at an end, Justus meets with Rio in the temple. He reveals the fact that he lost his chance to be Minister due to his inability to resist Maire's siren powers, and he says that Maire also brought down Oceana. Rio realizes that he is implying that Maire killed her sister.
Rio has always felt different because of her inability to fully speak her thoughts and feelings to due the necessity of controlling her siren voice. During this conversation with Justus, she realizes that this is a problem that faces all people to a certain extent; for a variety of reasons, people cannot always explicitly say what they mean. A certain amount of inference and guesswork is always necessary in communication. This exchange fuels Rio's realization that she is not alone in her difference. However, it also raises more suspicions about Maire, who has been so instrumental in helping Rio but whose motivations remain so mysterious.
"Your mother did love you," Maire says. "But it made her afraid. You can't let love make you afraid."
Unable to sleep, Rio visits Maire's house and learns about the secret history of the sirens - specifically, the event that caused them to be hated, an incident in which a fight between two sirens left several worshippers dead in the temple. Rio realizes that these two sirens were sisters, the only occurrence of a two-siren family in history - until Maire and herself.
Maire's comment seems out of key with the story, but in fact this incident explains why Oceana was so afraid for her daughter. She knew that the appearance of two sirens within one family was connected historically with major upheavals; she also knew that her daughter had incredible power, and was a sign of great changes. All of this terrified Oceana, and led her to keep her daughter's power a secret. Additionally, this is a striking observation on the nature of love, paralleling novelist Steven Pressfield's observation in Gates of Fire that the opposite of fear is love.
If this is the moment of my own death, this time I want to inhabit it. I reach out and hold True's hand, and his fingers tighten around mine. And I imagine what our transport looks like moving up through the water, from dark to light, past the incurious fish and the dying coral, on to things I have never seen but know enough to imagine, like sand on a shore, and birds swimming on the surface of the ocean, dipping their beaks down to eat.
As the transport holding Rio, True, and the sirens moves up towards the surface, Rio is wracked by fear. She knows how odd it is that the sinister Minister Nevio has sent all of Atlantia's sirens up - it is almost as though he wants to get rid of them. Still, she does not let her fear taint her joy at the prospect of seeing the Above. She imagines the scenery outside of the transport; though she has never seem a beach or the ocean itself from above, she fantasizes about all of these things despite the fact that she may not survive long after seeing them.
For a minute anger breaks over me as strong as waves against rocks. Anger at my mother and sister, for loving me but always sheltering me. Anger at the people Below who want to contain the sirens and the people Above who want to kill them. And most of all, anger at the long-ago, greedy people who brought us to the point where the only way to survive was to Divide. Those people used up everything. They wasted the trees; they burned through the air. They didn't care, or if they did, they didn't care enough, and now we're the ones paying the price of their extravagance.
After Rio and True make it to the Above, they reunite with Bay and Fen in the temple. Rio realizes that Bay told Fen she was leaving, but never told Rio, which sets off an angry reaction in Rio's mind. Additionally, Rio and True are still reeling from the murder of the sirens on the beach, and the threat to the existence of Atlantia.
This quote sums up how far back this history of violence goes, and how the decisions of long-dead people have set up Rio for the difficult and dangerous situation in which she finds herself. It also emphasizes the novel's theme of environmentalism, which is only explicitly addressed a few times, but shapes all of the situations that the characters find themselves in.
I am bristling with miracles. I wear them like a robe.
In the temple of the Above, Rio confronts the people about their duty to Atlantia. She explains that the city belongs to everyone, Above and Below, and they have the responsibility to come together and save it. Rio draws on all her siren powers (and all the years that she saved her voice) to convince the people to listen, and then proceeds to logically explain why they should do this, rather than coercing them with her siren powers.
As she stands before the people, the bats brought up from Atlantia settle on her shoulders. She also recalls the shells containing the voices of the people of Atlantia that Maire sent up, in order to show the people of the Above that those in the Below were not monsters or cruel people; this is another miracle. In a context in which everyone from Atlantia is searching for a third miracle, Rio realizes that her life is full of miracles.
And because of the work you did that had nothing to do with your voice, Maire says. You made yourself strong enough to swim in the lanes, which meant you could get to the shore from the island. You cared for the bats for years, so they would come to you without your having to call. You were brave enough to speak in the temple Above, and when you did, the people felt like they could believe you. They knew that you spoke the truth.
Immediately after she gives her speech to the people in the temple Above, Rio hears her dead aunt's voice in her mind remarking that she was indeed the only one who could do this. She is never sure if Maire had saved it there or if she is just imagining it.
Maire assures her that her ability to intervene and save Atlantia is not just due to her remarkable siren powers, but also to the habits she has cultivated, such as her hard work in the swimming lanes or her determination to accomplish her goals without using her siren voice. Rio would still be a hero even if she did not have special powers, an inspiring message to readers everywhere.
Atlantia Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Atlantia is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.