The City Of Ember Summary

Jeanne DuPrau

The City Of Ember

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The City Of Ember Summary

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The City of Ember (2003), a young adult novel by Jeanne DuPrau, is a post apocalyptic story with a twist; the characters do not know that they are experiencing life post apocalypse.

Lina and Doon are citizens of the city of Ember, a city surrounded by darkness. There is no moon and no sun, and when the lights in the city are off, it is completely dark. They have always lived here, and no one has any idea how the generators work or how they came to be in the city of darkness.

After graduating from school, children are assigned jobs. Lina wishes to be a messenger, but she is given the title of pipe worker instead. Her friend Doon gets the job she wants, and so they arrange to trade. Lina begins delivering messages, and during her time traveling through the city, she starts to hear that the generators are failing and that food stores are disappearing. No one can seem to figure out why.

Doon descends into the pipes to the generator, but he quickly realizes that he will never be able to fix it because he has no idea how it works. Lina learns the ins and outs of the city, but she puzzles over the strange messages sent between the mayor and his assistant.

On top of all this, her grandmother’s mind is failing, and it is harder for her to care for Lina’s little sister. One day, a mysterious box shows up at their house. Lina thinks it might help solve the issue of the city, but her sister chews on the paper, ruining it.

She and Doon carefully reconstruct the message and discover instructions for leaving the city. During this time, they also discover that the mayor and his assistant are stealing food rations and hoarding them. When they accuse him of this crime, he has them arrested. The lights fail momentarily, allowing them to escape, and they head out into the dark with Lina’s littlesister.

They are able to leave the city, and once they cross the river, they ascend only to realize to their shock that their city is underground. They discover a journal written by one of the first citizens of Ember detailing an impending disaster and saying that the city is the last resort.

They cannot believe how beautiful the outside world is. They toss a rock down with instructions for how to leave the city so that others can find their way out. Mrs. Murdo, the woman who was helping their grandmother care for Lina’s sister, finds the instructions. She reads them, and the story ends.

This version of post-apocalyptic literature is interesting because in this story, the characters donot know they are living in this type of society. The knowledge of the origins of the city has been forgotten, and people go about their daily lives in a normal fashion. When the main characters leave the city for the first time, they are shocked to find that they have been living underground the whole time.

The city itself was built on hope, and that hope possibly saved humanity after a devastating war. However, that hope is failing as the citizens forget how to maintain their generators and the knowledge of the past is lost. It takes Lina and Doon to uncover the truth about the city and lead the people back to hope, in this case, the surface of the earth.

The dystopia of Ember is apparent in the way that the governing body keeps the people in subtle subjugation. Children go to school, and then they are assigned a work detail that they have no choice in deciding. Citizens are discouraged from creativity and are encouraged to behave in an orderly and obedient fashion for the good of the city. This allows the mayor and his compatriots to behave corruptly and do something that puts the other citizens in danger. When caught, he invents a convenient lie to eliminate Lina and Doon, forcing them to flee.

To some extent, the story is about man’s lack of connection to nature as well. The citizens of Ember live in a planned city far underground. The city is kept alive by technology and machinery, and there isnot much nature to be found. Their loss of history connects directly to their loss of connection with nature, so much so, that when Lina and Doon finally reach the surface, they are shocked by the beauty of the outside world. Returning below is something they know they cannot do, and so they send down a message hoping that others will follow them to reconnect with the surface. We understand that although they have left their home behind, they have gained the entire world above.

The darkness of Ember is literal, but it also symbolizes humanity’s loss of connection with both history and its connection to the earth. When the children ascend and find light in the form of stars and the moon, it signifies that man’s long disconnection may finally be over.