Crewel Themes


In Arras, people are expected to be dutiful without question. The Guild assigns them positions and even family members and it is a citizen’s duty to accept their role in life no matter what. These prescribed roles and duties help the Guild to maintain control over the citizens of Arras and set clear expectations for them. Those without power remain without power. Those with power, have the duty to use it for the Good of Arras over all. Several times Adelice must decide whether to complete her duty as a Spinster or serve a greater purpose in opposition to the Guild. By the end of the novel she’s adopted the duty to seek truth rather than perpetuating the status quo.


Arras relies on the subjugation of women to thrive. Men keep women down and under control by limiting their job prospects and forcing them to be dutiful to their husbands and to Arras. Throughout the novel, many men are threatened by the idea of women existing without them. This fear is the reason Ambassador Patton is assigned to oversee the Coventry and also the reason why the Guild disparages homosexual relationships. Although one woman literally holds the fate of Arras in her hands, men still seek to control her and all the women Spinsters who bring life to Arras.


From the day she attempts to escape retrieval, Adelice is marked as a traitor. Without knowing the real need for revolution, Adelice nevertheless cultivates a rebellious spirit during her time at the Coventry. She resists the Spinster lifestyle and instead focuses on rescuing her sister Amie. Over time, Adelice discovers that the seed of rebellion is spread throughout Arras. From Jost’s small fishing town to her parents’ own basement, people all around are seeking change. It’s only once Adelice understands the nature of her own power that she begins to realize she may be the one to finally usher in the change for which many have been waiting.


This theme is closely related to that of rebellion because to escape the Guild is to rebel. At every turn, Adelice seeks escape. She feels trapped in the walls at the Coventry and even weaves separate moments to escape the Guild’s surveillance. As with rebellion, Adelice is not the only one fantasizing about leaving. Loricel, too, wants to escape her immortal life and her duty as Creweler and so refuses any further removal patches. Enora, also must escape the pain and confusion of being labeled a ‘deviant’ and subsequently being subjected to medical experimentation. And while Adelice finally manages to escape Arras with Jost and Erik, she remains trapped by the knowledge that her sister and Jost’s daughter continue to live under the Guild’s watch.


Life is not as it seems in Arras: nearly everything that appears to be true is merely an illusion. This is because The Guild maintains its hold over the people of Arras by deceiving them. When tragedy strikes, the Guild arranges to erase citizens’ memories through a process called “cleaning” in order to avoid revolt or grief. With the help of renewal patches and heavy makeup, the citizens of Arras also maintain the deceptive appearance of youth throughout their lives. The biggest deception of all is the representation of the life of a Spinster. Touted as the most glamorous and independent individuals in Arras, Spinsters are actually trapped in towers, forbidden to see their families, and forced to complete repetitive tasks. Once taken to the Coventry, Adelice learns about the depth of deception that exists at the highest level of the Guild and works to uncover and expose it.


The people of Arras place a lot of emphasis on purity and go to great lengths to maintain it. Girls under the age of sixteen aren’t permitted to wear makeup and are kept apart from boys so that they do not engage in flirtatious acts or otherwise sully their pure innocence. Even Elgibles must follow a set of rules called 'purity standards' to ensure that they remain pure before becoming Spinsters. Finally, it is considered impure in Arras to be gay and the Guild designs a method to make gay individuals suppress their desires so that they are no longer 'deviants'. In addition to the people, the weave must also remain pure. Eligibles are trained to remove apparent weaknesses or impurities in the weave to ensure that it remains pure and strong.

Individual Freedom vs. Controlled Society

The novel poses a debate about the virtues of a perfectly controlled environment. On Earth people had the freedom to do as they wished but as a result they suffered from hunger, murder, and war. In Arras, absolute control becomes the solution to protect citizens against experiencing any such tragedies ever again. Food rationing prevents people from going hungry; child quotas keep families manageable; weather management ensures that there is never drought or wildfire; and assignment guards against unemployment. In theory, this absolute control resolves some of the most tragic parts of human life. However, as Adelice discovers, it does not work in practice. Absolute control must reside in the hands of only a few, whereupon absolute control becomes unrestricted power; this renders the leaders of Arras no better than those on the war-torn Earth from which they fled.