"Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they're so depressed at realizing their old life was no better than what we have now?"
Thomas asks this question after learning about the Changing, forcing Alby and the others to consider what they have witnessed in those who have gone through it. The Changing seems to make its victims unpleasant company thereafter. These individuals become shunned by the greater Glader community. When Thomas hears that the Changing causes old memories to be recovered, shedding light on the state of the outside world, he begins to wonder if this is the cause of their depression. If one spent their waking life dreaming of a better home, they would be crushed to learn that it no longer exists, if it ever did.
This quote also foreshadows what the Gladers will eventually discover about the Flare and how it has ravaged the Earth. Thomas seems to suspect that the outside world is long gone but also sees that they have no choice but to try to escape their immediate situation.
“I promised him!" he screamed, realizing even as he did so that his voice was laced with something wrong. Almost insanity. "I promised I'd save him, take him home! I promised him!”
Thomas reflects on Chuck's death, telling Teresa about the promise he made to him. Thomas's characterization as a savior of the Gladers and the resulting guilt he experiences when he is unable to save his friend, are foreshadowed throughout the novel. Chuck is set up as a character whose death will propel Thomas's development and motivation as a leader.
Thomas promises Chuck a stable life with a loving family, the type of fantasy any orphan might wish for themselves. It is essential for them to believe that such a life is possible, even if they may have their internal doubts. Thomas looks upon Chuck as a younger brother more than as a friend. He makes him this promise to help keep him calm and give him something to live for. Because Chuck willingly believes in Thomas, he is able to save Thomas's life by jumping in front of Gally's knife. This single final act by Chuck signals a potential for bravery and action that his character was never able to achieve during his short and tragic life. This fact only adds to Thomas's guilt over his friend's loss.
“Thomas swallowed, wondering how he could ever go out there. His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he KNEW he had to do it. It was such an odd thing to feel, especially after what he'd just seen... Thomas knew he was a smart kid- he somehow felt it in his bones. But nothing about this place made any sense. Except for one thing. He was supposed to be a Runner. Why did he feel that so strongly? And even now, after seeing what lived in the maze?”
Thomas is convinced that he has a greater purpose to serve in the Glade. This character quality is immediately relatable as many of us feel we are here to serve some greater purpose. We want to see Thomas become a Runner because it will fuel his development as well as further the plot. Later, we will learn that Thomas has a connection to the Maze in his past that might explain this compulsion.
What is important to keep in mind is that Thomas is convinced of his role regardless of the danger it poses. He has seen the Grievers in the Maze and still feels a desire to join the front line where he will be placed in immediate danger. This ties to the theme of bravery that runs in the novel, as well as persistence. Logically, these two themes are tied to each other. Bravery requires persistence in the face of something frightening or challenging.
“If you ain’t scared,” Alby said, “you ain’t human. Act any different and I’d throw you off the Cliff because it’d mean you’re a psycho.”
Alby tells Thomas this after he first arrives in the Glade. He is frightened and confused, with no idea of who he is or how he arrived there. Thomas attempts to present a courageous front to the Gladers. He refuses to shake Alby's hand and turns his back on him, walking to sulk under a tree. After a moment Thomas sees that he will not gain any knowledge of his whereabouts this way. He drops the courageous facade.
Alby's statement indicates that this is the first step to dealing with this reality. Thomas has to admit that he is scared. Being scared is a perfectly natural reaction to have and it is the first step to learning to acknowledge and own your fear. A lack of such fear would indicate to Alby that there was something wrong with Thomas and a danger to the other inhabitants in the Glade.
“It was you and me, Tom. We did this to them. To us.”
Thomas hears these words in his head after discovering that Teresa can speak to him telepathically. This frightens him so much he begins running into the Maze to escape it. Teresa's revelation that she and Thomas were accomplices in the design and construction of the Maze seems to confirm a deeply-buried suspicion Thomas has about himself and Teresa. This gives way to a great sense of guilt which propels Thomas to begin sacrificing himself to help the others. He first willingly gets stung by a Griever so that he can remember something about the past. Though this act is met with derision by the other Gladers, it proves useful in giving Thomas enough information to form a plan to escape the Maze. Thomas also volunteers to sacrifice his own life so that the others are able to get to the Griever Hole and exit the Maze altogether. This decision is altogether rejected by the Gladers who accept Thomas despite his involvement, albeit unwilling, in the design of the Maze.
"It looked like an experiment gone terribly wrong - something from a nightmare. Part animal, part machine, the Griever rolled and clicked along the stone pathway. Its body resembled a gigantic slug, sparsely covered in hair and glistening with slime, grotesquely pulsating in and out as it breathed. It had no distinguishable head or tail, but front to end it was at least six feet long, four feet thick."
Dashner's design of the Griever presents an amorphous slimy blob that carries sharp weapons and machinery. This description is detailed without presenting a clear and specific image of the creature itself. This is likely deliberate. Dashner presents a creature without a definable form that seems to carry with it all manner of terrifying devices and weapons. Indeed, it is not clear if the Grievers are even living things or entirely mechanical until Thomas manages to kill one toward the end of the novel.
Much like a monster movie in which the viewer does not see the monster for some time, Dashner's design of the Griever allows the reader to project their own fears and terrifying version of the monster while reading. Had Dashner instead presented a very detailed description of a more standard monster, one with two legs and two arms, for example, it likely would not have been as terrifying. The Griever's lack of a distinct face or head further mystifies it. Grievers seem to have no relatable characteristics or personalities whatsoever, making them entirely functional entities and therefore that much more terrifying.
"I remembered things from growin' up, where I lived, that sort of stuff. And if God himself came down right now and told me I could go back home...If it was real, Greenie, I swear I'd go shack up with the Grievers before goin' back."
Alby tells Thomas this after enduring the Changing and regaining some of his memories of his past life. He is sure that the world they are trying to escape to no longer exists. Instead, the outside world has been ravaged by something terrible.
Dashner uses this literary device at numerous times in the novel to heighten the mystery and add further layers to an increasingly complex story. Escaping the Maze seemed like the ultimate goal, but if Alby's visions are true a much longer ordeal may have to be faced by the Gladers.
"Gonna save us all! Gonna save us from the Flare! Don't believe a word they tell ya! Gonna save us from the Flare, ya are!"
The prophetic pronouncements of a possibly insane woman, this quote indicates that Thomas's true purpose has not yet been revealed. As the hero he has led his people out of the Maze but now crosses a threshold into an equally frightening world ravaged by disease. Dashner suggests that Thomas is really here to save all of humanity by finding a cure for the Flare. Just as it appears that the hero has completed his journey, Thomas seems to learn that his journey has only just completed its first stage.
"I didn't do anything wrong. All I know is I saw two people struggling to get inside these walls and they couldn't make it. To ignore that because of some stupid rule seemed selfish, cowardly, and...well, stupid. If you want to throw me in jail for trying to save someone's life, then go ahead. Next time I promise I'll point at them and laugh, then go eat some of Frypan's dinner."
Thomas castigates the Council for making an issue of his decision to help Minho and Alby. He is shocked that it even warrants such a discussion. While Thomas is not making any attempt at humor, the absurdity of the situation both endears him to the reader as well as sly hints that Thomas has some comprehension of his abilities.
Thomas would certainly help two people in the same situation again. It is his veiled threat not to that is of greatest importance. Thomas essentially is saying that he could just stand by and do nothing if the rules are so important, more important than lives. He simultaneously exposes the childishness of this attempt at order while also exposing the cowardice of those who now convene to judge him.
"And at that moment, in the space of only a few seconds, he learned a lot about himself. About the Thomas that was before. He couldn't leave a friend to die. Even someone as cranky as Alby."
As he is faced with his decision to enter the Maze to help Minho and Alby, Thomas finds himself with a choice. He can run away like Minho did or he can try to find a way to save Alby's life. In that moment, and this particular chapter, Thomas's heroic qualities make a dramatic entrance. As is a common feature of the hero archetype, the hero's journey allows him or her to learn about and face his true self. Only by doing this can the hero fulfill their true potential and walk the path meant for them. This is usually achieved through a series of tests that will push the hero to his or her brink.
Thomas learns much as he faces the Grievers. Thomas's journey forward is also an attempt to recover what came before. Thomas is seeking out himself, striving to learn who he was before. Dashner uses the above line to illustrate that in order to learn who he was, Thomas must simply learn who he is now.
The Maze Runner Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Maze Runner is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think the central conflict is escaping the Maze. W.I.C.K.E.D. has shut the characters within the maze for two years and the Grievers are looking to kill them. The Glade is no longer safe since W.I.C.K.E.D has opened the gates.