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A week later, America and Aspen meet again in the tree house. America lays out an impressive spread of food for Aspen and then tells him about her mother’s bribe. America worked extra jobs to save more money for their future and has used some of the money to make larger meals. Suddenly uneasy, Aspen refuses the food. He says that he, not she, should be the provider, adding that he doesn’t want to be a charity case. America, trying to ease his embarrassment, implies that she’ll say yes if he asks her to marry him and that once they’re together for real, it won’t matter. Aspen firmly tells America, “No.” He explains that he can’t allow her to become another “invisible” Six like he is and says that he can’t see her anymore. Distraught, America watches Aspen leave. A few days later, Gavril announces the list of contestants chosen for the Selection. America and her family watch as her name is announced on-screen.
The next week, a stream of palace officials come to the Singers’ home to prepare America for the Selection. They fit her for dresses, inspect the house, and ask her personal questions. The officials explain to America that she will live in the palace for the duration of the contest, which could last weeks or years, depending on when the Prince makes his decision. She will receive compensation as long as she is at the palace. Since America’s body is now considered the property of Illéa, she must take vitamins and can’t refuse the Prince, whatever he asks or wants. She is now caste Three, but her family will remain caste Five. If America becomes one of the last ten contestants, she will be part of the Elite.
Later, Aspen arrives at the house to deliver flowers for America from his sisters. America “hires” Aspen on the spot to help her pack. Inside her bedroom, they talk. Aspen explains that he wanted to propose but was waiting to see whether he’d be drafted. America understands, since new soldiers could be sent away for four years at the start, but she’s still furious. She tries to pay him from the jar of pennies he has given her He refuses. Angry, she pours the pennies into his hand. One penny remains stuck to the bottom of the jar. Aspen leaves. America feels hurt and confused.
Each of the Selected are given a send-off from their home province. The whole town appears for the celebration. America’s older siblings, Kenna and Kota, come too. The mayor invites America onstage to say a few words before she leaves. While looking out at the crowd, America notices that the girls from the lower castes are celebrating her while the girls from the upper castes stare at her coldly. She searches the crowd for Aspen and sees him, his arm around the waist of another girl, Brenna. America considers whether he’d been seeing her the whole time and if she were the girl Aspen was saving to propose to. America catches Aspen’s face in the crowd again, but this time, he looks pained. As America says her goodbyes to her family as she is led away, she hears Aspen call for her. She looks at him one last time, shaking her head.
While Illéa places limits on all of its citizens via the caste system, women face more restrictions than men through both laws and societal expectations. When America prepares a special meal for Aspen, rather than seeing it as an act of love and generosity, he takes offense because he believes men should fill the role of provider. When she offers him a level of financial comfort that he couldn’t possibly reach on his own, Aspen’s damaged pride reflects his fragile male ego. Aspen further demonstrates his provincial attitude when he breaks up with America for what he believes to be “her own good,” ignoring her stated desires and denying her agency in the choice. America’s preparation for the Selection highlights more social limitations on young women. While she’s a contestant, America becomes Illéa’s property, and her parents receive financial compensation. The Selection essentially rents women from their families. The fact that America is expected to be a virgin but must never refuse the prince illustrates the double standards that differ depending on both caste and gender. The government restrains all of its people, but young women in low castes are especially trapped.
In The Selection, conflict arises when feelings of love don’t fit within the boundaries established by caste and gender. During the flurry of preparations surrounding America’s departure, her disappointment at Aspen’s appearance with flowers from his sisters reveals that she still has feelings for him. When Aspen follows America to her room, she sadly reflects on all the times she wished for such a situation, because the unfairness of Illéa is that this situation is only available to her as a transaction. The jar of pennies America has collected represents the pair’s connection, their history, and everything they can and cannot provide for each other because of Illéa’s rules. America dumping the pennies into Aspen’s hand out of hurt and anger symbolizes her attempt to leave their love in the past. However, America finds one penny stuck to the bottom of the jar and takes it with her. The penny then becomes a symbol of their remaining love and America’s inability to leave it behind even as she begins her adventure at the palace. America’s belief in the power of love makes it impossible for her to abandon her feelings for Aspen entirely.
Though the government of Illéa creates and enforces the caste system, the citizens play a part in keeping it in place. When Aspen arrives at the house, America asks him to help her, because as a member of a lower caste, he can’t turn down work. Aspen agrees not as a former romantic partner but as a member of a lower caste. When she orders him to take the money, his reluctant acceptance demonstrates that he knows both his place and his duty to his family, but his remark about her tone serving her well as a One implies his resentment at her sense of power. As America bids farewell to the province before leaving for the palace, she notices that girls react differently depending on their caste. Girls from lower castes cheer for her, showing that for them she represents hope for a better life. The girls from the higher castes glare at her like she’s a thief, because for them, she represents someone lesser stepping out of place and stealing their power. When it comes to upholding the caste system, the citizens unintentionally reinforce the government’s oppressive laws through their own subtle behaviors.