Chapter 25 Summary
Cassia compares her time with Ky to a powerful story. As they are hiking, Ky tells her that there are Archivists at the Museum who possess poems and other forms of art that don’t exist in the Hundred Best, and that they can be accessed if you trade something in return. He won’t say what he traded for Cassia’s birthday present, but makes sure she knows that she can reach the Archivists by asking for more information on the exhibit in the Museum basement.
Ky hums one of the Hundred songs as they walk. Cassia says she loves the beautiful voice of the woman that sings it at the music hall, but Ky tells her that it’s an artificially perfect voice generated by the Society. He knows because he’s heard real, unrestrained singing before.
They decide to bury the small piece of poem Ky gave her, but instead they bury part of it and Cassia takes the other part, tears it into pieces, and releases them on the breeze.
Ky asks about her Match Banquet. Cassia says she was nervous, and thought about angels. She asks if Ky believes in them. He says he believes in her. The next day, Cassia asks why Ky was crying that day at the showing. He said because he knows that the footage was of real, gruesome deaths, not actors portraying dying characters. Cassia embraces him as a measure of comfort. She tells him to close his eyes, and when he opens them, she’s written I love you in the dirt. He tells her out loud that he loves her. They are about to kiss when the whistle blows, breaking the moment and beckoning back down the Hill.
Chapter 26 Summary
When they reach the bottom, Cassia is escorted away by the Officials from her supervised sorting test, taking her to her real-life sort. They and Ky all get on the same air train. Cassia is horrified when they get off at the same stop as Ky—her sort will be taking place at the nutrition disposal center where he works. Though it becomes apparent that she is not the only that they have do real-life sorts, she is the only that day. They take her into an enormous room where workers are washing used dinner foil containers in hot water and then disposing of them down recycling tubes. Cassia is told to stand in a metal tower in the room’s center and observe their behavior: those who perform well score high, those who perform mediocrely score in the middle, and the poor workers score near the bottom. Ky is among those whose shift she’s sorting. The Officials tell Cassia that they are increasing hours on some workers’ shifts in order to move others to a new vocation, and that her sorting will decide who goes and who stays.
Cassia finishes near the end of the three-hour mark with a good sort. She singles out Ky’s number and sees that he’s right in the middle of the scores. She’s unsure which group to put him in—the go or the stay group. One of the Officials comments that many of the laborers in this center don’t live to age eighty due to high risk factors at work. Cassia wonders how that can be possible until she makes a sudden revelation: the Society poisons the elderly’s food. This is why the food laborers die early, the Aberrations work in food cleanup, and her grandfather was not allowed to share his pie the day she visited him. Horrified, Cassia sorts Ky in the group that scores well and will be assigned a new vocation in the hopes that he’ll get away from such a hazardous job, even though this means he’ll potentially leave her City.
The next day on the Hill, Cassia and Ky discuss where Ky’s from. He says that it’s red and orange there. They discuss how things are green, blue, and brown in Cassia’s Province because it’s so agricultural, but Ky comments that red is the color of rebirth and beginning. Cassia thinks of the new beginning she may have given him in sorting him as she did.
Chapter 25-26 Analysis
Cassia’s decision to tear up part of the poem Ky gave her and let it loose on the breeze stems from her guilt at having to burn all the other cherished forbidden papers she’s had, like the one from her compact or Ky’s napkins. Even burying it in the ground instead of incinerating it is too much for her. She remarks that perhaps a bird will use a piece of it for its nest. This is a means of creation for her, the ability to take the beautiful poem and potentially give its pieces a use rather than destroy it the way the Society destroys so many things.
During her real-life sort at the nutrition disposal center, Cassia is made to sentence workers to either one fate or another within the boundaries of what the Society allows, a representation of the illusory freedom of choice that she's never really had—in the end, the Society is still calling the shots. This is a bastardized version of that freedom of choice that she wishes to possess. Even when given higher stakes in which her decisions have real-world aftereffects, she is still limited in her options to what the Society designates.
Cassia experiences a profound dilemma during the real-life sort: whether or not to allow Ky to stay at work there or sentence him to a new, unknown vocation. She experiences a debate between her selfish and compassionate sides, the former wanting to keep Ky and the latter wanting what’s best for him. Her epiphany that the Society poisons the elderly’s food, making food cleanup a far more hazardous job, introduces a legitimate element of freedom into her decision-making: she can take Ky away from this job to a potentially better one. Even within the confines of the Society’s given options, this is something she can choose to do to help him, and so her compassionate side wins out.
Finally, the fact that Society poisons food for the elderly is the final brick used to build the Society’s antagonism in the story. While it’s been known from the beginning that it’s the Society that causes Cassia’s trouble, and the confiscation of everyone’s artifacts and the cutting down of the maple trees served to escalate her dislike for them, the epiphany that they are in fact murdering their older citizens is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Cassia has only enough faith left in them to think that there might be “something better out there for [Ky],” and it’s this notion that convinces her to sort him into the higher scorers (Page 288).