When I thought of it that way, the Selection seemed like a rope, something sure I could grab onto. That stupid letter could lift me out of the darkness, and I could pull my family along with me.
America narrates these lines in Chapter 1, demonstrating her loyalty to family as well as the importance of status in an inequitable society. Although America has already made it clear that she has no interest in marrying the prince, becoming royalty, or being promoted to a One, she still considers participating in the Selection when she realizes that doing so could lift her family out of the darkness and uncertainty they face as Fives. She compares the Selection to a rope, suggesting that she and her family are stuck in a hole of poverty they can’t escape. Because of the rigidity of the caste system, America’s participation may be the only chance her family has of rising to a higher level and gaining stable financial footing. The fact that America considers sacrificing her own wishes to benefit her family speaks to her loyalty. Despite the potential hardship to herself, she prioritizes the well-being of those she loves.
America, if you loved an Eight, I’d want you to marry him. But you should know that love can wear away under the stress of being married. Someone you think you love now, you might start to hate when he couldn’t provide for you. And if you couldn’t take care of your children, it’d be even worse. Love doesn’t always survive under those types of circumstances.
America’s father makes this point in Chapter 3, after America and her mother come to an agreement that America can keep half her earnings if she applies for the Selection. America continues to struggle with the decision to apply, despite the potential benefits for her and her family. To help America weigh her options, her father speaks these words to her, showing that he understands both his daughter’s point of view and his wife’s. He knows his daughter has dreams, but he also understands that his wife only wants what is best for the whole family. Mr. Singer’s words also indicate that he has a less rigid view of the caste system and is open to mixed-caste relationships for his children. These lines demonstrate that like America, Mr. Singer believes in the power of love, but he also recognizes the limits of love in extremely challenging circumstances like those in Illéa. Part romantic, part realist, Mr. Singer attempts to impress upon America how the pressures of poverty and inequity can erode even the strongest bonds.
Have you ever been hungry, Maxon? Not just ready for dinner, but starving? If there was absolutely no food here, nothing for your mother or father, and you know that if you just took something from people who had more in a day than you’d have in your whole life, you could eat. . . what would you do?
In Chapter 17, America attempts to explain to Maxon the desperation of people in the lower castes, who are kept so poor that they sometimes have no other choice but to steal for survival. America also tries to help Maxon understand that crime and rebellion will continue as long as people feel like they have no other choice. The conversation opens Maxon’s eyes to the fact that people are suffering in his country, and because he has feelings for America––someone who personally endured starvation––the injustice becomes more real for him. Maxon’s ignorance to his people’s plight reveals that America has a perspective that is sorely lacking in the palace, America’s insights lead Maxon to propose a public-assistance program to provide food to people in need, taking a step in the right direction and highlighting America’s growing influence over him.
’No, I’m not choosing him or you. I’m choosing me.’
That was the truth at the core of everything. I didn’t know what I wanted yet, and I couldn’t let myself be swayed by what was easy or what someone else thought was right. I had to give myself time to decide what was best for me.
At the end of the novel, America says this line to Aspen, marking a critical transformation in her understanding of love. In this quote, America proves that she has learned to prioritize herself and her desires, rather than yielding to someone else’s agenda. For the first time, she allows herself time to consider what is right for her, rather than acting on her impulse to do what is best for others. Real love doesn’t mean complete devotion to another––it also requires that one values and fulfills their own needs. By choosing herself, America indicates that she has developed a more nuanced view of love that balances self-fulfillment with loyalty.