Chapter 21 Summary
The next day is Sunday, which means Cassia has work only and won’t see Ky until Monday. She thinks about the story he has revealed to her through his napkins, glad that it lives on in her mind. She is interrupted when the Officials from her test return to tell her that she scored well and would be moving on to a real-life sort, which will be administered in the near future.
Back home, Cassia’s mother has received a message saying she is needed for another trip, to the family’s dismay. As her mother packs, Cassia notices that she has taken her green tablet. Cassia attempts to communicate without words that she is not ashamed of her mother taking it but proud of how strong she’s being.
While hiking the Hill the next morning, Cassia tells Ky how sorry she is that his parents are gone. Ky doesn’t respond but appears pained by her words. To change the subject, she asks about Sisyphus, a man Ky mentioned in passing when the Officer told them they were switching their hiking spot to the Hill. Ky says it’s an old story, a favorite of his father’s. Sisyphus was an Aberration from the Outer Provinces who outsmarted an Official into giving him his weapon and then shot the Official. As punishment, and to make an example of him, the Society sentenced Sisyphus to roll a large rock from the bottom of a mountain to the top, and every time he was almost there, it would roll back down to the bottom again. He went on trying to reach the mountaintop forever. When Ky admits he doesn’t know if the story actually happened, Cassia asks why he would bother telling it. He says that regardless if Sisyphus’ life was real, their lives are so similar to his that the story’s real anyway.
As they walk, Cassia muses over whether the Society is absolutely good, absolutely bad, or somewhere in between. She asks Ky why he intentionally loses games at the game center. He says because he has to. She asks what color his eyes are. He says blue. She says they always look different. He asks what color they are now. She says everything. They share a brief moment of gazing, and as they move on again after it, Cassia fully contemplates that she’s falling in love with Ky.
Ky shows Cassia how to draw a K in the dirt, and says that Y will be next. They hear the whistle of the Officer calling them back, so they build one final cairn together, and when it’s done, their hands come together at its top. Ky confesses that he can never be Matched because he’s an Aberration. Cassia points out that he’s not an Anomaly. She asks what Ky thinks his Match would be like if he could be Matched. He immediately says her. Cassia knows that she “cannot go gently now” (Page 241).
Cassia is in class a few days later when she is called out for having committed an Infraction. Everyone is alarmed, but Cassia is composed, having half-expected this sooner or later. She goes out to find the same Official who she talked with the day of her microcard malfunction waiting for her. The Official tells her that her name is being praised in several departments for the promise she showed on her supervised test. That could change however, if her personal relationships don’t change. She tells Cassia that “hot-blooded” teenage rebellion is normal, but that her feelings for Ky will almost certainly go away by the time she’s 21, but if they don’t, she’s in danger of becoming an Aberration herself, and of getting Ky sent back to the Outer Provinces. She says that Cassia is allowed to keep speaking with him, but must adjust her behavior. Cassia says she wishes she could choose her Match, which the Official patiently counters with a slippery-slope argument, saying that the freedom to choose Matches would lead to freedom to choose anything. She also clarifies that Cassia has not actually committed an Infraction, but that the announcement that she had when she was called out of class was a mistake. She tells Cassia that this is her warning, and says goodbye.
At home, Cassia has received a package, which Bram is eager to see the contents of. It turns out to be the preserved scrap of fabric from Cassia’s Matching Banquet dress. When Bram expresses his disappointment, Cassia snaps at him that his watch, her compact, and their grandfather are gone forever, not coming back in the mail. Hurt, Bram goes to his room. Regretting her words, Cassia thinks about how the Society allots each citizen just the right amount of freedom for them to not feel the need to rebel. She reads the most recent napkin that Ky gave her. It depicts a read sky over the younger and older Ky’s. The younger one is reaching for the older one, who is in handcuffs and being escorted away by Officials. The poem written on it talks about being watched back then and as well as now. Cassia feels that, like the older illustrated Ky, the Official "came for" her, too (Page 250).
Chapter 21-22 Analysis
Cassia and Ky’s relationship reaches a new peak in Chapter 21 with the firm mutual acknowledgement that what they are feeling for one another is more than platonic. Condie makes sure to say outright that the two do not kiss, a fact she reiterates in Chapter 23 and 24. Their relationship has thus far been on a buildup, and Condie is establishing that a kiss is the final line to cross. As with everything else in their lives, their connection is contingent on maintaining a certain boundary.
The story of Sisyphus that Ky tells Cassia establishes an important metaphor, one that Ky can most directly relate to, although Cassia can relate to it as well. Sisyphus’s defiance of a Society Official is symbolic of the rebelliousness that Cassia herself is feeling, fueled by anger after having her and her brother’s artifacts taken away as the Society continues to manipulate and control every aspect of her life. Ky can identify with Sisyphus’s Aberration status and roots in the Outer Provinces. The punishment of pushing a rock to the top of a mountain only to have it come rolling back down represents the endless monotony that the Society subjects its citizens to to keep them in line. Distracted by what they think is legitimate societal contribution, they are inhibited from actually creating anything original or expanding themselves beyond the way the Society molds them.
In Chapter 22, we once again meet the Official who confronted Cassia the day she saw Ky on her microcard. This time, however, her tone and purpose are quite different. Where Cassia initially looked to her for reassurance and calming, now she sees her as an antagonist, and indeed she is, threatening Cassia and Ky’s relationship and safety. Where the Official initially employed a cheerful demeanor to set Cassia’s mind at ease, her candor has turned passive-aggressive and foreboding, intimidating Cassia rather than comforting her. On a larger scale, the change in Cassia’s perception of the Official mimics her changed perception on the Society. While she used to look to them for guidance, relying on their infallibility, she now sees them as the enemy and questions their intentions.