Some key terms:
Young Elites: Children (teenagers) who discovered that they have dangerous powers (some also bear marks) after the blood fever.
The Dagger Society: A secret group of Young Elites who seeks out others like them.
The Inquisition Axis: A group of people who works for the king to capture and kill the Young Elites.
Inquisitor: Member of the Inquisitor Axis, people who capture and kill malfettos.
For my exposition blog post task, I decided to analyze characterization in Marie Lu’s The Young Elites. The first chapter/exposition of the story is written in an before/after and now format. I decided to use that format as well because it also corresponds to my work. To analyze the character and connect aspects of her life to my own, I used the setting as a metaphor. I made up the story of the girl in the prison to do so, because in the first chapter of the book, the main character is in a cell, shivering and weak. I wanted to use this to tell my story. There is also the description of a storm to symbolize danger. These raindrops then create a flood, a sea, and I’m drowning in it. To analyze the exposition/, the reader also has to analyze my writing. Enjoy!
“I’m going to die tomorrow morning.”-Adelina Amouteru, The Young Elites, Marie Lu
Iron bars surround her, steel shackles bounding her wrists tight. She sits straight in her prison cell, rocking back and forth, humming the old lullaby her mother used to sing. Her voice comes out cracked and hoarse, nothing like her mother’s sweet and delicate voice. She has been here for weeks, counting the number of times her meals come to keep track of the days, reality a blurred line that never seems to come into focus. Her matted silver hair conceals the broken side of her face, covering the scarred skin where her eye used to be. Her sliver lashes catch the fading sunlight at it filters through her cell, casting fragmented shadows at its wake. Her crooked ring finger rests awkwardly on the floor, one of the many marks her father had left her before he died was murdered. The disjointed whispers of her thoughts rise from the ground like ghosts, taunting her, screaming at her in silence: She is a murderer. A monster. An abomination. A bringer of evil. She is a malfetto. These whispers prod at her when she is at her weakest, banging on the iron that shields her heart, putting dents on its polished surface. The phantoms claw at her insides, leaving long trails of scratch marks on its already damaged surface. The ghosts leave an army of chants following her into every dark corner, stepping on her heels as she walks to the stake where she will be burned for all to see. The chains replace the shackles, tying her wrists and ankles together, the cell replaced by the noose around her neck. She reaches desperately in vain for the power deep inside that might save her, but even the taunting phantoms dance away, dissolving into thin air. The sun has finally set, the shadows replaced by darkness. There is nothing left, but how can there be nothing when there was nothing in the beginning? How can there be nothing when things were merely an illusion? She stands up in her cell, her hair gleaming under the moonlight, and takes tentative steps towards the iron bars. Her heart fills with excitement as the cell door wavers for an instant—an illusion threatening to collapse. She takes step after step towards the gate, reaching out to touch the rusted metal, expecting to feel coldness beneath her fingers, confirming the truth—but her hand passes through.
Malfetto: A survivor of the blood fever with hideous distinctive marks that separates them from the rest of society (p4).
* * *
In Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, the main character, Adelina Amouteru is a sixteen year- old girl, or a malfetto, an abomination, plagued with a deep, dark vengeance, a blackening hole in her heart. But she is also a survivor of the blood fever that swept over her nation, killing many and leaving the cursed behind. Most of the children who survived were left with strange markings, while others were rumored to possess dangerous powers. These people are known as the blight on society, the demons, the bringers of evil; The Young Elites (p7). Like many, Adelina was a culmination of the curse, her black hair and lashes turned silver, and an eye, lost (p4). After years of suffering her cruel father’s wraith, Adelina has finally snapped, deciding to escape her prison. Blinded by her hatred and hurt, she accidentally unleashed an illusion darkness that takes her father’s life. And the truth finally steps out from the shadows, seeing light for the very first time: Adelina is a Young Elite, with the power of creating illusions (p17), and a crazed vengeful blackness in her heart, the desire to destroy anyone who dares to cross her: “I felt a pang of guilt, even the sight of [Violetta, Adelina’s sister] sent a flash of resentment through my heart. Fool. Why should I have felt sorry for someone who had watched me suffer so many times before? (Adelina Amouteru (p11)”
The story begins when Adelina in captured, in a prison cell, a bleak place where all hope is gone. She has been here for weeks, and she knows this because “[I’ve] been counting the number of times [my] meals come(p1).” Until she stopped, because it is worthless anyway, especially when you are staring at the path to your own death. The Inquisitors tell her that she is going to die tomorrow morning, that a crowd has already begun to gather outside, waiting for evil to be burned into nothing but smoke and ashes.
Adelina describes her time in the prison as “..an endless train of nothingness, filled with different slants of light and the shiver of cold, wet stone, the pieces of [my] sanity, and disjointed whispers of my thoughts (p1)”. Adelina then attempts to hum the lullaby her mother used to sing, the lullaby that is her touchstone, her keepsake, the only thing she has left of her mother, but her voice comes out hoarse and cracked (p2). This image the author paints shows how devoid of life it is in this cell, how the faintest rays of sunlight struggle to strain through the bars and into the prison, casting fragmented shadows on the cold floor. The lullaby that used to hold such love and nostalgia, now just sounding wrong and horrifying. How did she end up here? What was the atrocious story behind the ultimate defeat? A freakish girl cowering helplessly behind the bars, an audience of hungry villagers eager to see evil diminished. This is the result of what happened before, before captivity. And it all started on a stormy night at the monster’s father’s villa.
Raindrops sliced through the air like daggers falling from the sky, burrowing itself into the rooftops, or clattering onto the ground. Thunder is a light streak across the sky, a bolt of rage and fury striking at the clouds, but passing through and hitting the horizon instead.
Deep inside of her, the darkness uncoils itself from the iron of her heart and prepares to let go, tonight.
* * *
It starts with a storm. Knives are falling from the sky, plummeting through the atmosphere and stabbing into other people’s houses, slicing through the bubble of warmth, disrupting the safe haven of laughter and love, or the prison of hatred and abuse.
The daggers pose as a metaphor, how the raindrops, something so innocent and harmless at first glance, can actually be the poison worming its way into someone’s life, like how too many raindrops can easily turn into a flood, washing away countless of lives, dumping them into the sea, already forgotten.
As the daggers plummet down, one blade with a jeweled handle catches the locks and shatters it, a million pieces of glinting metal bouncing off of the street and into the drains, washing away into the ocean, already forgotten.
Already forgotten, or so she wishes.
We can never forget the things we want to stay buried. The lock that prevented her from escaping can never be completely forgotten, since it will always be the monster under her bed, a ghost in the shadows, waiting to step out and haunt her at night.
“[My] father’s ghost keeps me company. (Adelina Amouteru p22)”. Every time she wakes up from a feverish dream, she sees him standing in the corner of her cell, taunting her, “You tried to escape from me, but I found you. You have lost and I have won (p22).” Adelina’s father has tortured her ever since she was a little girl; the guard outside of her cell, dangling the key just out of her grasp. Now, after he is dead, his ghost is still with Adelina, telling her that she has failed, that she will always be nothing, left to rot in the dungeon. She tries to forget about him, force his death away, bury it in the darkest corner of the universe. But it never goes away, a ghost in the shadows, coming out to taunt you when you are at your weakest. Loneliness is the invisible friend standing beside you in every picture, reminding you that you are always alone.
Adelina has the gift of illusions, so what if the ghost is one too? Adelina sees so much of her worst self in her father, “Me, me, me. Perhaps I am as selfish as my father (p22),” So maybe the ghost is actually Adelina’s conscience, herself telling herself that she is worthless, that she is trapped. Adelina thinks herself as a monster, and she tries to be worth it, to be the daughter that she isn’t. Every day, I stay after school until the security guard forces me to leave. People think I’m crazy working so hard and staying after school to finish my homework. What they don’t know is that I have a voice in my head beating myself up because I’m not good enough, that I have to push myself to my absolute limit to succeed. I have a voice in my head telling me every day that I am a failure, that I do not deserve to live in this world. So every day, I have to prove myself wrong. These whispers bang on the iron wall I put up, shielding my heart from the pain of my own words. They knock on every door in the hallway, never giving up until they strike true. Why do we have to be so cruel to ourselves? Why do we have to be so insecure? Why can’t we just embrace who we are without society’s consent?
“Let me reassure you: When [we] find these demons, we bring them to justice, evil must be punished. The inquisition is here to protect you. Let this be a warning to you all (p29).” This is what the inquisitors say. They want peace and prosperity, to get rid of the “monsters”. Perhaps in their eyes, they are the heroes, the civilians cheering tricked by society. But what they don’t know is, society is made out of smoke and mirrors, the genius deemed as insane. The ones who speak up are the ones killed. Every day we tell ourselves they are the monsters; the ones who are different, the ones who can wake up and speak their dreams, but never once do we doubt ourselves, that maybe we are the monsters. “As always, I made sure my hair covered my scar (p5).” Like Adelina, I create a quintessential façade to cover up my flaws, or maybe my gifts. Some people see a gift as a flaw, a genius as insane, a survivor as a monster.
Stored in the depths of the universe is a key that can unlock the prison she has been in for so long. And the daggers have fallen from the sky, rescuing her, whisking her away where she will be accepted for who she is, but she has to go through the wrath of the people first, a battle through a sea of hypnotized civilians. And when they see her silver hair, her missing eye, they lock her up and throw her in the dungeon. So who’s the monster?
Because Adelina is a malfetto, she is naturally unwanted. Different. Disgusting: “She’s a malfetto,” says the man, “No one will care,”(p10).” “I don’t want to be seen doing business with a malfetto family (p10),” “…little abomination…(p10)”, “No one wants a malfetto bearing children (p11).” This is in her world. In our world, many people look down on people who have disabilities. Because they look different. People might think that they bring bad luck and that they are disgusting. In school, if you are different, no one will want to be friends with you. You are weird, the nerd, the loser. On page 20, a kind women gave Adelina food and shelter when she was crumpled and broken, on the run away from her past. However, after Adelina fell asleep unconscious, she found out that the woman had turned her into the Inquisition Axis and she is to be burned because society doesn’t accept people like her, monsters like her, demons who belong in the underworld. Not too long ago, I realized almost half of my friends were only friends with me because I can “help” them with their homework they wanted to use me, so they can copy my work and get away with it. They think I’m too nice, too afraid to say no, too dumb to see beyond their lies, doesn’t that naturally make me their target? Because I write a lot. Because they think I write nonsense. Because I’d rather read than be social. Because I work too so hard. Even as I know the truth, I am too scared to act upon it. Because I can’t afford to lose the only people I have. I put up an iron wall that distances myself from others in return for protection.
This summer, I lost one of my cats, Kiki. He was everything to me, my best friend, the only person who believed in me when others did not, who listened when others did not. He used to follow me everywhere, jump up beside me on the couch. Right now, as I am writing this, his absence is a big, bottomless pit in my heart. I miss the smelly puss that drips out of his mouth, leaving stains everywhere. I miss his steady breathing, reminding me that he is still alive, the purring that comforts me. Now, the couch is clean, free of the smelly stains and the tangled bits of fur—the last pieces of him gone, already forgotten by the people who used to make fun of him, how he is ugly, how he is a waste for food, a sick cat better off dead. I used to tell him he was beautiful every single day, how he deserves the gift of life every day. But now I can’t. I can’t whisper these words to him ever again, hoping one day other people will realize that. See the beauty hidden beyond the surface. But people start judging others before they even know them. Sometimes, waves of emotion carry me on the ocean, the only thing keeping me afloat, but then slamming me back to July 21st, the day he died. Pain can be the invisible hand on your back, pushing you forward or holding you back, bounding your ankles and wrists tight as you struggle to swim, letting go at the last minute so you won’t die, only to plunge you back under again. Again. Again.
Sometimes I wonder when I will break. When I will finally snap. When I can finally let go. I can only wait. Wait in this prison I made myself. I close my eyes and close the lid to my coffin, waiting for the inevitable, truly alone. The ghosts in the shadows wait, the whispers in my mind grow. I roam in the hallways, the whispers following me, knocking on every door. A door opens, and water crashes in, flooding the hallway. I’m swept up in the chaos, opening my mouth in a silent scream. The water is salty, filling my insides and choking me with it. It pushes and pulls, dragging me under. I sink to the bottom of the ocean.
The girl cowers in the corner of her cell. The fragmented rays of sunlight hit her silver hair, creating an illusion of shifting colors. The silver turns black, the marred skin turning smooth as marble; a freak into a beauty. The human body isn’t perfect, no human heart is without its scars, no human mind free of darkness. There are two sides to everything. A villager chanting in the crowds for her to be burned could also be a loving mother, an inquisitor who kills and tortures children’s with marks could also be a struggling father at home, a malfetto could just be a child, afraid of the powers she possesses. “One does not walk in the forest and accuse the trees of being off-center, nor do they visit the shore and call the waves imperfect. So why do we look at ourselves this way?” -Tao Te Ching.
The girl looks up from her crouch and sees a dagger, the jeweled hilt and the viciously sharp metal glinting under the fading sun. But what catches her breath isn’t the weapon, but her reflection. Where did her silver hair go? Why does she now have two eyes? Why is she me?
Me. The girl who is still trying to cover up the raw wound on her heart, the scars inside of her bruised mind. Me. The girl who puts iron walls around herself because she is afraid of being hurt. Me. The girl who is different, who was used and then cast aside, nothing but a spare pawn in someone else’s game.
It took me ten years to realize the truth, that we are all helplessly trapped behind iron bars, walking in circles or shrinking away. But why? Why are we so afraid even when fear is an illusion? When that voice in your head is not really there at all?
Life is set in a prison hidden by an illusion. And it depends on how you use your time in that prison that makes your life interesting. You can either plan on escaping, to muster up the courage and stick your hand you cellmates, or you can cower in the corner, haunted by the shadows and the voices in your head, putting up barriers between you and the real world, trapping yourself inside, putting the last nail in your own coffin, waiting to rot, alone.
I raise the hammer over my head, ready to put in the last nail in my coffin, but a tiny sliver of me is doubting my decision, the whispers telling me to say goodbye to the outside world one last time. I set the hammer down, and walk towards to bars. Beyond it, the future is not set, the shining surface ripples with uncertainty. Bubbles swirl in the water, waves crash into each other above. Humans are just a bubble on the tide of life. On the bottom of the ocean, tiny sparks of sliver join together. The pieces of metal stick together, and piece by piece. Laying on the bottom of the ocean is a lock. The lock that kept me in this cage for so long. It reminds me of the pain I’ve been through. The life I want to escape. Is my future merely more prisons and shadows? More lies and riddles? This is why I have to set the last nail in. I walk back to my hammer, a decision made, my fate sealed. But I find a key instead. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, the delicacy of the molded metal, the uneven edges that is freedom. White light shines behind me, beckoning me to it. I walk towards it, reaching out to touch it, but my hand hits the iron bars, and then goes through.
* * *
Fear fuels the darkest of lies.
“They think they can keep me out, but it does not matter how many locks they hang at the entrance. There is always another door.”-Marie Lu, The Young Elites
“I’m going to die tomorrow morning.”-Adelina Amouteru
I’m going to live tonight.