Chapter 3 Summary
Cassia wakes and removes the dream tags that she wore to bed from her body, disappointed that she did not dream of Xander. Having slept late, she heads to the kitchen with her Matching Banquet dress in hand. Bram teases her about dreaming of Xander before their mother scolds him to get dressed and not be late. Cassia expresses disappointment at having to return the dress, but her mother reminds her that she’ll get to keep a scrap of the fabric, as is custom. During her selection of it, the woman at the clothing distribution center had told Cassia that she was statistically expected to have picked the dress based on past choices and the color of her eyes, among other reasons. As the only one who’d chosen that particular dress, Cassia was glad to know she would be standing out just a little.
Bram returns dressed and runs out the door, despite the Society’s rule about not running in public, to just barely catch his train to school. Cassia tells her mother that she’s going to spend her free-rec hours with Xander and use the final hour to visit her grandfather, who will soon be attending his Final Banquet, before which family visits are encouraged. Cassia’s mother says that her father will stop by her grandfather’s on the way to work to tell him about her Match. Cassia then quickly eats breakfast and catches the train to work.
On the train, Cassia’s daydreams of Xander are cut short as the train passengers are transfixed by what appears to be snow falling outside. When the train stops and the doors open, Cassia catches a drifting flake and finds that it is actually a Cottonwood seed. A man comes aboard and explains that the Society is tearing out the nearby Cottonwood grove to make room for better trees. The passengers, relieved that there is no snow signaling another potential “warming,” and knowing nothing about trees, take his word for it. Cassia’s mother, an expert on trees, has told Cassia that Cottonwood trees can’t be used for food or fuel and are considered weed trees, although her mother still holds an affection for them. Admiring the beauty of the white cloaking the brown, Cassia pockets the seed in her hand.
Cassia explains that the seeds remind her of the poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It is one of the Hundred Best Poems that the Society chose to keep when they were de-cluttering their culture. They also chose the Hundred Best Songs, Paintings, Stories, etc. Cassia’s own great-grandmother was among the cultural historians responsible for choosing the Hundred Best Poems. She recalls that her grandfather will “go” tomorrow the way her great-grandmother did a long time ago.
At work, Cassia’s less than friendly supervisor, Norah, tells Cassia that today is a numbers sort day. Cassia is one of the best sorters, having not made a mistake in nearly three months. Norah also tells her that her formal sorting test will be happening soon. Cassia notes that she might be assigned to be a Restoration supervisor like her father, who was also an information sorter at her age, as was her grandfather and great-grandmother. She doesn’t wish to be in charge of Matching, though, as she prefers to be “one stepped removed” from being in charge of real people.
Cassia works as a sorter in a tiny cubicle just big enough for a table, chair, and sorting screen. She can see no one else working. Cassia’s job as a human sorter is very important in spite of the advanced computers capable of working much faster than she, as relying too heavily on technology is what caused the society before theirs to collapse. In the new Society, information intake is more specific. Sorters do not cook, and cooks do not sort. No one need be “overwhelmed” with too much information. But knowledge is still valued over technology because it “doesn’t fail” (Page 32).
Cassia works quickly, sorting the numbers, looking for patterns designated by the computer. She is fast to catch sudden changes in the pattern, though she doesn’t know how she does it. With only the capacity to focus on the numbers, she doesn’t think of Xander, or her grandfather eating his last meal at his Final Banquet the following night. Finally, she finishes and makes the screen go blank.
When she arrives home after work, Cassia’s parents and brother have already left for their leisure hours and the house is empty. Her meal arrives in the kitchen, delivered through a slot by a nutrition vehicle. Cassia notes that the unusually hot temperature of the meal probably means that they have a new nutrition personnel director. The port in the kitchen hums as she eats, watching her as it always does. After eating, she inserts her microcard into this port to read the profile the Society has put together on Xander. Initially, all goes smoothly, and Xander’s face appears onscreen with an option to select “Courtship Guidelines.” However, before Cassia can touch it, the screen suddenly goes blank and appears to reset. Then, to Cassia’s utter surprise, a second face appears on it.
Chapter 4 Summary
Cassia is dumbfounded, but before she has much time to observe the unexpected face on the port screen, it too goes blank. Perplexed that the Society may have made a mistake, something that never happens, she hears Xander call to her from outside. She pockets the microcard and joins him.
The two talk casually of viewing one another’s cards. Cassia wonders if Xander also saw an unexpected second face. It is strange to her to be hiding something, particularly from her best friend. Xander says that he read all the Courtship Guidelines, which relieves Cassia, as she didn’t read them in the confusion of her card’s apparent malfunction. She notes, based on their discussion, that nothing unusual seemed to happen with Xander’s card.
As they walk toward the game center for rec hours, Cassia notices that many young people heading in the same direction are watching them. She feels as though she is separate from them despite being just as much like them as she was before her Matching. Xander takes her hand, telling her that the Guidelines permit them to show physical affection, if they choose. Cassia gladly chooses. She and the other girls, who now appear very jealous, always thought Xander would be matched with a girl in another city. Cassia holds tight to Xander’s hand, hoping that her insistent grasp will prove that they are meant to Matched. Despite her attempts, though, she can’t help but think of the second face that flickered on the port screen, particularly because she knew the person it belonged to.
Chapter 3-4 Analysis
From Chapter 3 to Chapter 4 there is a remarkable shift from the story’s theme of organization and order to feelings of confusion and chaos. Cassia begins her day much as she would any other, with food, schedule, and clothes all picked out for her as part of a set plan. Even the unexpected appearance of the Cottonwood seeds, a momentary glimpse into the disturbance that something as statistically improbable as snow in June can cause for the citizens of the Society, is immediately resolved through rational explanation: a nearby Cottonwood grove is being torn up. All is according to plan and completely common.
At work, Cassia’s position as a data sorter further serves the theme of total precision and order. Her job is one of numerical calculation, of sorting patterns and nothing more. In effect, her job represents everything the Society desires: keeping people focused on numbers and data, and isolating their thought-patterns for the sake of efficiency and unquestioning obedience. In truth, Cassia’s work space, a tiny cubicle cut-off from all other workers, is a physical representation of what the Society is doing to her as a person: shutting her off from distraction, narrowing her focus to only what they want her to focus on.
Chapter 3 also gives momentary glimpses to the processes by which the Society came into being, describing the decisions to select one hundred of the best poems, songs, paintings, etc., for the society to keep. This decision was reached to undo cultural cluttering, to relieve the citizens of the overwhelming abundance of things to know about. It additionally describes the downfall of the previous society at the hand of an over-reliance on technology and under-reliance on human knowledge, a reversal that the Society prides itself on and uses as a main point in keeping its citizens on track, working their very specific jobs and gaining their limited expertise. All of this history reinforces the Society’s apparent values of unquestionable efficiency and organization.
And then, in the glimpse of a single face, all of that order and trust in the reliability of the Society shutters and cracks. Cassia is forced to look at the second boy recorded in her microcard and question the Society’s infallibility, something she has never done before. She is flooded with confusion, uncertainty, and, as becomes apparent in Chapter 4, the strangeness of having a secret. While Xander had access to just about everything there is to know about Cassia on his card, he doesn’t know about the apparent mistake that hers has made.
In addition to her first experience with disorder in the Society, this introduces something else new to Cassia: the concept that something that did not begin in her head can be private. As a slave to the Society’s rules and the ever-watching eye of her house’s port, she is under constant surveillance and evaluation, even while dreaming, and only her imagination, certain emotions, and opinions can be kept to herself. However, whether the port is aware of her card’s mistake, her friends and family for the moment are not, and she is able to choose to keep something she encountered externally to herself. This, for her, is a very big deal, and something that foreshadows major plot points to come.