The idea of the city as breathing or otherwise alive is a major motif in the novel. Atlantia, though a place, is also like a character in the novel. The city is variously described as screaming, breathing, or like a sea monster.
The temple bats - miraculous animals that snuck down on the first few transports and later developed blue wings to better blend in with their surroundings Below - are a frequently occurring symbol in the novel. They are a sign of the resiliency of the first settlers in Atlantia; originally they were considered a miracle because they demonstrated that living things can survive and adapt to life hundreds of miles below the surface of the ocean. The bats come to Rio during the speech she gives in the Temple, offering her their power and making a strong impression on the hostile audience. Bats also have complex symbolic meanings outside of the book: in East Asian cultures, bats are considered symbols of good luck.
Seashells feature prominently in the book. For example, Maire is able to infuse her voice and the voices of others into the shells. Seashells are significant symbols because they connect both the Above and the Below; though they come from the ocean, they can be found on the shore. Additionally, Maire infuses the voices of the people of Atlantia into shells that she later sends up to the Above, which make many people there inclined to help Atlantia. Seashells symbolize the ultimate unity of the Below and the Above.
Journey to the Surface (Allegory)
Throughout the novel, Rio seeks a way to travel to the Above, partly to reunite with her sister and partly to satisfy her lifelong curiosity about the wide world. This may be read as an allegory for the emotional and spiritual journey of many young people, especially women, who must overcome tremendous odds and social pressure to realize their dreams.
Finding Voice (Allegory)
In an interview, author Ally Condie observed that "I feel like young women's voices, even now, are not desired, not requested by society at large." Rio is forced to repress her siren voice in order to keep herself safe, but eventually she must speak out to save her city. It is not only Rio's unique siren powers that saves her; it is also her compassion and her dedication to persuading people by logic and reason rather than coercion. Like Rio, many young people must learn to speak out with compassion and courage.
Atlantia Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Atlantia is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.