The City of Ember Dystopian Novel Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Dystopian Literature Review

The City of Ember: At the Lightbulb’s Mercy

Life within The City of Ember revolves around light. In Ember, there is no sun, no stars, no moon, no natural light except for the occasional stovetop fire. Despite this lack of natural light, the people of Ember are able to live in relative harmony, but just like any light source, it’ll be total darkness when the power runs out. In fact, only time will tell when the lights shut off and never come back on, leaving the citizens to a fate of eternal dark.

The City of Ember

Lights in the city of Ember shut off automatically at 9 p.m., and don’t go back on until 6 a.m. Since the lights are only attached to buildings, people are unable to explore the confines of their city, and are fearful of what awaits them in the dark. Children graduate from school at age 12, and work a steady job from that point on. By the story’s beginning, resources are dwindling, and the lights will sometimes shut off for minutes at a time. Most mysterious of all, no one seems to know why the city of Ember was built and why people live there in the first place.

The City of Ember In-depth Review

The story of The City of Ember begins with the original builders discussing their plans for the city. They explain that the inhabitants will have to wait for at least 200 years (if they survive for that long) until they can leave the city. The instructions on how to leave the city are handed down to each new mayor within a box, but the seventh dies before he can inform his successor of the box. The box then goes unacknowledged for years.

“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”

― Jeanne DuPrau, The City of Ember

Fast forward 241 years, and 12 year-olds Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow are receiving their job assignments during their graduation ceremony. They both get jobs they don’t like, so they trade with each other; Lina becomes a messenger, and Doon becomes a pipework labourer. Afterwards, the power outages get worse and worse, but the mayor assures everyone that the situation is being addressed. Doon, however, is unconvinced, and investigates the city’s generator.

More than meets the eye.

Doon finds a hidden tunnel while working along the pipes, and he and Lina investigate it. They discover someone rummaging about in the darkness. The two of them also find the lost instructions on how to leave the city, as well as a passageway containing a boat, matches, and candles to light the way. Later, Lina finds out that her friend is hoarding rare supplies from a store manager who is stealing them, which she disapproves of. Doon also finds the mayor sleeping in a room full of supplies at the end of the tunnel, and concludes that he’s abandoned the people and is only concerned for his own well-being.

The two of them tell others about the mayor’s wrongdoings, but then guards start coming after them. Doon manages to get away, but Lina is caught and interrogated by the Mayor. She escapes during a blackout, and goes to get her little sister so they can leave the city. They meet up with Doon, and the three of them make it to the surface after a long journey. They find a journal detailing why the city was created, and drop a note down a crevice telling others how to get to the surface, which is found by Lina’s guardian.

The City of Ember Ralph’s Wrap Up

While the citizens of Ember had to endure a great deal of hardships, including a selfish, incompetent mayor, decaying infrastructure, and dwindling supplies, the most terrifying of all was certainly the prospect of the lights going out for good. It would likely spell doom for all the city’s inhabitants as they despaired in the utter black. The people were implicitly aware of this possibility, especially considering their immense fear of the dark and the sheer panic expressed during some of the power outages. The people of Ember were oppressed by the dark alone, and not by any other force–there was no one person or destructive force that dictated their lives or controlled them with fear. It is a truly horrifying thought to be at the mercy of the lightbulb.

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