The Testing

The Testing Themes

“Big Brother”

The concept of Big Brother comes from George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which depicts an omnipresent government that constantly monitors its citizens. From the first time that Cia enters the bus to Tosu City, she notices a hidden camera. She keeps a close eye out for other cameras and observes how the Testing officials watch and judge the candidates at all times. She deduces the officials must have been watching when Ryme kills herself, but did nothing to intervene. Cia grows careful of the cameras, making sure to have conversations with Michal out of sight, or to perform when she has no choice but to be observed. Cia tries to control the forces that are controlling her. While Cia is currently a pawn as a candidate, her father and other adults she meets are hoping that Cia can help change the way the rigid government works.

Psychological Manipulation

As soon as Cia finds out that the Testing is not a typical test scenario, she mentally prepares herself for any obstacles that might come her way. What she cannot fathom, though, is how the Testing officials put teenagers through violence and brutality in order to see how they psychologically handle the situation. In addition, Cia quickly realizes that even the other candidates bow to this pressure in order to better their odds of making it into the University. This type of situation creates a feeling of uncertainty, and the candidates are constantly questioning their decisions and where they stand amongst their peers. As candidates begin to die as they "fail" the test, the stakes mount. Under that pressure, the teenagers behave in ways they may not have before they arrived. They lie to, manipulate, or even kill their competitors.

Social Darwinism

While each student is initially selected for their unique capabilities and skill sets, Michal mentions to Cia that the brutal and rigorous Testing often creates an unreliable scenario that only produces one type of leader - a ruthless one.  In Social Darwinism, the biological theory of "survival of the fittest" extends to social relationships. Natural selection, the process where a stronger species adapts to survive, occurs between people when tested.  Cia watches this happen in the Testing, particularly in the final stage where competitors are stranded in the wilderness and allowed to murder one another to get ahead. Only the most cunning survive - literally. Rather than allowing each candidate to hone their inherent skills, the candidates who win the twenty University spots are often those able to be coldly calculating, eliminate any kinder, more compassionate competition.


One of Cia’s first decisions when she arrives at the Testing is to conceal all of her emotional reactions. She knows that she is being watched and evaluated at all moments, so she tempers all surprises with a cool, detached demeanor. From finding Ryme dead to handling her own near-death experiences, Cia learns to suppress her emotions in order to show the Testing officials that she is not hysterical and can maintain calm. She does not want to show signs of weakness, but also denies the officials the satisfaction of knowing her true feelings. In this way, she manages to preserve her sense of identity through the Testing.

Sabotage from Within

At the novel’s start, Cia has ultimate faith in the government. She is proud that her father made it through the Testing, graduated from the University, and is a leader of the Five Lakes Colony. However, her father’s secret and Michal’s subsequent confession about the Testing shows Cia that she is playing an important role in bringing down the current oppressive system. However, it’s necessary for her to remain under cover. Keeping her emotions in check, proving her worth, and gathering information from within is the way that Cia can contribute to the revolution.

Class Inequality

Cia’s home colony was fortunate enough to have a stable economy and food supply. Many colonies and areas within the United Commonwealth, though, do not have the same resources. When Cia enters Tosu City, she is surprised to realize that the capital is not as prosperous as it seems. Later in the dining hall, she notices how many of the candidates are scarfing their food down, as if they have not had a full meal their entire lives. Cia also notices a stark contrast between some of the candidates in their expensive clothes as opposed to those less well-off, and in the flagrant waste of water and resources in Tosu City.

Effects of War

The United Commonwealth was once the United States of America. After the Seven Stages of War, though, the country transformed into an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. The country tried to rebuild itself, but the new leaders believed that ruling the citizens with an iron fist ensures that nothing like the war will ever happen again. However, with the strict Testing requirements and dire consequences for failure, many see this effect of the war as extremely negative.