Thomas awakens in a dark metal room which he quickly realizes is an ascending elevator. He can only remember his name but nothing else about his life. He has no idea where he is or where he is going. Most importantly, he has no idea why any of this is happening. Thomas is perplexed by his memory loss. He can recall images of the world but cannot remember anyone in it. He cannot remember his parents’ faces or a single conversation he has ever had with anyone.
The elevator comes to a halt and Thomas is left in darkness for several minutes. He tries to find a way out but cannot. He begins banging on the walls frantically, calling out for help. There is no answer. Finally, there is a loud clang and the doors begin to open above him. The light outside blinds him. He hears voices.
As his eyes adjust he sees that he is surrounded by other boys roughly his age, all teenagers. A rope is lowered down to him. He hesitates but finally grabs hold and is pulled up out of the elevator. One boy greets him with words Thomas knows he will never forget: “Welcome to the Glade.”
Thomas finds himself surrounded by the other children. Some point and laugh. Others jab him in the chest. Thomas can see that he is in a courtyard, several times the size of a football field. Each side of the courtyard is surrounded by a stone wall several hundred feet high. In the middle of each side of the wall there is an opening that leads to corridors and passages beyond. The boys comment to each other using phrases and jargon that Thomas cannot understand. Words like “shuck”, “shank”, and “slopper” are thrown around in casual conversation. One of the boys tells the others to be quiet. Thomas guesses that this boy must be the leader.
In a corner of the courtyard stands a dilapidated wooden building. In another corner Thomas can see corn, tomato, and fruit trees. Nearby are holding pens for livestock. Thomas can see the sky above but with the walls being as high as they are it is difficult to discern the time of day. The smells of the area immediately tell Thomas that he is on some sort of farm.
The dark-skinned boy that Thomas had guessed was the leader steps forward. He tells Thomas that he will give him the full tour tomorrow. He tells Thomas that his name is Alby and extends his hand. Thomas refuses and walks away, sitting under a tree. He asks Alby to tell him what is happening. Alby rolls his eyes.
Thomas studies the group. There are fifty or sixty boys, ranging from teenagers to young adults. Thomas suddenly realizes that he does not even remember his own age. He gives up on trying to look brave. He asks Alby where he is. Alby sits down next to him and tells him that if he wasn’t scared he wouldn’t be human. If he behaved any differently Alby would believe he was psychotic and throw him off The Cliff. This only frightens Thomas more. Alby sees that he is only scaring Thomas more and tries to calm him by telling him that they don’t kill “shanks” like him. Thomas is only more distraught at hearing this.
One of the other boys steps in and slaps Alby across the head. He tells Alby to wait for the tour. His name is Newt. He is about a year younger than Alby. Alby continues, explaining that this place is known as the Glade. All the boys eat, sleep, and live there. They call themselves Gladers.
Suddenly, a piercing human scream emerges from the wooden building. Newt runs off, telling Thomas to find Chuck for his sleeping arrangements. Thomas slumps against the tree, wishing he could wake up from this nightmare.
Thomas tries to gather himself while sitting under the sky. He hears a noise above him and looks up to see something red and silver dart around one of the branches and disappear. He stands to get a better look but cannot locate what he saw. A chubby boy nearby tells him it was a Beetle blade and that it won’t hurt him unless he’s foolish enough to touch one of them.
Another scream comes from the wooden building. Thomas asks the chubby boy what is going on in there. The chubby boy tells Thomas that Ben is in there and is quite sick. “They got him”, he adds. Thomas asks who they are. The chubby boy tells him he should hope he never finds out. He introduces himself as Chuck, Thomas’s guide for the night. Another scream comes from the wooden building. Chuck giggles to himself. Thomas asks how he can laugh at a time like this. Chuck tells Thomas that Ben will be okay as long as he gets the Serum. The process is just painful. Thomas asks what process Chuck is referring to. “Getting stung by the Grievers”, Chuck responds. Thomas is not sure he wants to know what the Grievers are. He asks Chuck how old he thinks he is. Chuck reasons that Thomas is about sixteen years old. Thomas is surprised. He feels older.
Thomas and Chuck make their way toward the wooden building. Thomas opens the door of the dilapidated building to see a group of boys inside at the foot of a staircase. The inside smells of mildew and mold. There are no furnishings except a dusty vase on a three-legged table and an old photo of a woman in a white dress. Thomas moves to make his way up the stairs but is stopped by a dark-haired boy who tells him that he remembers Thomas from somewhere before. Thomas tells this bully that he is mistaken. The bully is sure of it and says that Ben will say the same. He tells Thomas that he saw him during the Changing.
Thomas says he wants to speak to Newt and that if Newt is upstairs that is where he will go. The bully, whose name is Gally, suddenly changes tune and tells him to go on. The floor on the second story is flimsy and rickety but Thomas presses on toward the only door with a light under it. He opens the door to find Newt and Alby hunched over a figure on a bed. Thomas gets a brief look at Ben, the patient, and the image is seared into his memory. Ben appears pale and weak, writhing in agony. His skin is covered with sickly green veins, purplish bruises, and red hives. His eyes are bloodshot. Alby jumps up and pushes Thomas out of the room. He tells Thomas that if he sees again before tomorrow he’ll throw him off the Cliff.
Thomas departs quickly from the wooden building and heads back outside, leading Chuck by the arm. Chuck tells him to wait under the tree again while he gets some food from Frypan. He wants desperately to remember anything else about his life and to leave this place as soon as possible. He wants to forget what he has just seen: The Changing.
As he waits for Chuck to return, Thomas takes stock of the Glade. He notices a concrete bunker near the elevator hole where he first arrived. There are no windows on the bunker, only a steel door with a wheel on it to open and close it, like on a submarine. He studies the openings on each wall side. Just then, Chuck arrives with sandwiches. Thomas continues to inquire about Ben and the Glade, but Chuck is evasive about answering.
Finally, frustrated, Thomas makes his way toward one of the openings. Chuck stops him, telling him that the doors are about to close, just as they do every night. Thomas cannot believe that such massive constructions as these walls could be doors that move and close. Chuck persists, telling Thomas that the Runners will be back soon and then the doors will close. Upon closer examination of the wall, Thomas can see that Chuck is telling the truth.
He asks Chuck how such mammoth constructions can move. Chuck, now frustrated, says he does not know but that they do and that the same thing happens out in the Maze. Thomas snaps to attention. He asks Chuck about the Maze. Chuck’s face turns red. He tells Thomas he’s done telling him anything and slinks away.
Thomas looks out past the doors. There are turns and corridors beyond. Suddenly, a boy turns one of the corners and is running toward the Glade. He is exhausted, drenched in sweat and looking very ragged. The boy runs past Thomas and toward the concrete bunker building near the Box elevator. Other runners are coming in from the other wall openings on each side, all of them looking just as weary as the first boy. The runners meet outside the concrete bunker door and open it before disappearing inside and closing it. Thomas is completely lost. Suddenly a loud boom startles him and the massive doors begin to close with the sound of crunching and grinding. Thomas is overcome with a sense of claustrophobia. Chuck reappears and tells Thomas to remain calm. Thomas has to fight the urge to run about past the closing doors to see what is in the Maze. Chuck pulls him away, telling it’s best to be in bed at nighttime.
Thomas follows Chuck toward the Homestead, the name Chuck has given to the dilapidated wooden building. Thomas is not in the mood for games but Chuck has decided to play a practical joke on whomever is in the bathroom. He places a wooden box on the ground outside the bathroom window, reaches up, and taps on the window. A voice inside inquires who it is and the window opens. Chuck jumps up and screams at the top of his lungs sending the victim falling to the ground. Chuck takes off running. Thomas recognizes the voice of the angry boy inside. It is Gally.
Gally runs out of the bathroom and outside pursuing Chuck. He is stopped by Thomas who says that he did not do it. Gally asks how he knows something was done if he didn’t do it. Thomas realizes that Gally is not all that big and scary after all. He is uncomfortable but not scared of him anymore. He could take him if he had to. Gally threatens him regardless, telling him to decide who he wants for his friends and enemies. He tells Thomas that next time blood will be spilled if such a prank is played again. Gally storms off angrily.
Thomas turns to Chuck. Chuck says he would not have done it if he knew it was Gally inside. Thomas tells him not to apologize and finds himself laughing. He enjoyed it. He feels better though is surprised to hear himself laughing at all.
Thomas finds himself on a sleeping bag next to Chuck on a lawn near the garden. Quite a few of the other boys are sleeping there too. There is not enough room in the Homestead. Strangely, Thomas feels comfortable and at home in these new surroundings. This new calm startles him. Something is not right. He sits up suddenly and tells Chuck that he wants to be a Runner. Chuck dismisses his enthusiasm, telling him that he’s not even sure what he is talking about. Thomas is aware of this, but can’t shake the feeling that the Glade is familiar to him. “I think I’ve been here before”, he tells Chuck. Chuck sits up, surprised. Thomas lays down and sleeps, not sure if any more should be said about the matter.
Thomas's exposure to the Glade comes alongside our own. As he learns more about this strange place and the children who inhabit it, we do as well, solidifying our connection to the protagonist. We wish to learn as much about the Glade as Thomas does. Thomas's amnesia is a common trope in literature and other media. Here, it serves to heighten the mystery and provides Thomas with a motivation: to escape and learn about who he is and where he came from. This instant victimization of Thomas additionally allows the reader to sympathize and identify with him. The reader wishes to obtain the same answers that Thomas does.
The Glade is a sort of penitentiary, surrounded on all sides by high walls. Dashner reverses the intention of a penitentiary. Traditionally, they are designed to keep dangerous individuals separated from a safer, just society. In the novel, the Glade serves to keep a safe community protected from a hostile outside world.
It is this community which is perhaps of greatest interest. First, the teenagers that Thomas encounters are on their own, with no supervisory adult figure in the Glade. Alby, the makeshift leader, has to assume this position. Second, all of the Gladers are boys. No females are present. This reiterates the prison-like nature of the Gladers' situation. In prisons, the genders are generally kept separated. However, it also reflects one of two other works in literature that Dashner has cited as influences on this novel: The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Dashner also cites Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card as an influence. Like Golding's book, the characters are all young boys on the verge of teenage-dom. In that novel the boys are stranded on an island and must work together to establish order in their community so that they may survive and be rescued.
Dashner appears to use this as a plot point to establish a theme in his novel. The Gladers must work together to preserve order in the Glade so that they may survive. Individualism is seen as a chaotic force, one that threatens to disrupt this order and threaten the survival of all in the Glade. Upon his arrival, Thomas can be seen as embodying some of this chaotic energy. He is upset about the rules of the Glade and how no one can seem to tell him what is going on. He butts heads with Gally early on, only to regret it when he forces his way up to Ben's room and sees the boy enduring the Changing.
Chuck emerges as a friend who tries to steer Thomas away from trouble and show him the ways of life in the Glade. Some readers may see his character as reminiscent of the character of Piggy in The Lord of the Flies. Like Piggy, Chuck represents innocence and purity. He is kind to everyone though he is seldom treated kindly by others. Even Thomas grows impatient and annoyed by him and sometimes insults him. Nonetheless, he also confides in Chuck when he tells him that he wishes to become a Runner. Chuck proves to be trusthworthy, keeping this information to himself. The relationship between these characters shows some of the most development over the course of the novel.
Gally's character helps facilitate the bond between Chuck and Thomas. Gally is immediately suspicious of Thomas and is sure that he has seen Thomas somewhere before. This revelation foreshadows events to come. Regardless, Gally's embarrassment over being frightened by Chuck's prank demonstrates a weakness that alters Thomas's perception of Gally, and to some degree of Chuck as well. Gally is no longer as frightening or intimidating as he once was. This concept, that something that once frightened you can be made trivial once its weakness is revealed, is repeated throughout the novel. Chuck, Thomas comes to see, is a friend and someone whose company he can even come to enjoy and appreciate.