Dignity was what I had instead of friends.
This line comes in Chapter 9 as El reflects on the walls she has built around herself to avoid the risk of personal rejection. Her tendency to self-isolate is a significant example of her struggle to trust and be vulnerable with others. The alliance with Aadhya and Liu promises some protection from the enormous physical vulnerability of graduation, but El realizes that accepting the offer also requires emotional vulnerability. In the past, El has chosen to maintain her dignity by refusing to risk the rejection that might come with attempting to make friends. In this moment, she acknowledges that dignity has no practical value in a dangerous environment like the Scholomance. Friendship, on the other hand, brings real advantages, such as protection at graduation. As the chapter continues, El takes more risks and sees additional benefits to friendship, accepting Nkoyo’s offer to include her in a Latin study group and sitting with Liu in writing workshop and history. By showing the emotional vulnerability necessary to connect with others, El trades her dignity for friendship, thereby becoming less physically vulnerable.
But hope is good strong drink, especially when you can get someone else to buy it for you.
This metaphorical comparison of hope to alcohol in Chapter 12 captures the way El’s idea changes the mood of the room, renewing the courage of the seniors gathered there. Someone else is “buying” in this instance because the first seniors to react, the enclavers who offer rewards to those who volunteer for the team, benefit from the euphoria of the moment without needing to risk their own lives. Those taking on the risk and thus paying for that hope are the independent students who volunteer for the team. This moment is also an example of irony. While Clarita is a commanding leader who uses rhetoric intended to inspire, El speaks with her customary forceful anger. People usually find El’s manner ominous, but in this instance she gives them hope. This passage marks a change in the way students see and respond to El as her plan offers the seniors something rarer in the Scholomance than a chance to grab power: hope.
You just—you know, you get used to things. And you don’t think about whether they’re good. Or even okay.” She swallowed. “You don’t want to think about it. And nobody else seems to, either. And there’s nothing you can see to do about it.
Chloe directly addresses the complex theme of privilege in Chapter 13 after El returns the power sharer the New York enclave has lent her. The power sharer, which lets wizards use mana that others have built up, represents the unearned privileges that the enclave kids enjoy, highlighting the social inequality between them and independent students. The dynamic that privilege creates is explored throughout the novel from the perspective of the disadvantaged independent wizards such as El, who must work hard to create all the mana they need. In this moment, Chloe admits that she has been benefiting from an unequal system. While El is often angry at the enclavers for their entitled behavior, this scene illustrates how easy it is for people who benefit from unfair rules to ignore that injustice. This contributes to the development of Chloe’s character and brings nuance to the theme of privilege by presenting the perspective of a socially privileged student who is beginning to understand her role in an unjust system.