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Officials take America to the airport, where she will fly to the palace with other contestants. She feels nervous getting on the plane, having never flown before. She meets the warm and gregarious Marlee, a Four, and Ashley, a Three. Marlee and America feel relaxed around each other and chat. The plane waits for the last girl to arrive, a brunette wearing three-inch heels and bright-red lipstick. It is Celeste, a Two. She acts dismissive and rude. America quickly realizes that Celeste will be a problem. When the plane lands, a large crowd of fans greets the girls, with some fans holding signs of the girls’ faces. Marlee is a fan favorite. America focuses on the young children in the crowd, shaking their hands and giving them autographs. Celeste rolls her eyes at America as they leave together in the car.
On the drive to the palace, Celeste whispers to America that she wonders whether Marlee slept with anyone to get attention at the fan greeting. America silently realizes that life at the palace might get fierce. When the girls arrive, Silvia, the event manager, ushers them to their beauty stations for makeovers. Film crews crowd the stations, documenting the makeovers and interviewing the girls for a “makeover special” that will air the following Friday on the Illéa Capital Report. An interviewer probes America for dirt about the competition so far, but America remains diplomatic. The stylist asks America how she wants her to play with her “look,” but America snaps back that she doesn’t want to change for some guy she doesn’t know. America’s look remains natural, while other girls’ vamp up their hair and dress. The girls gather to watch clips of the makeover segment. Marlee and America are portrayed favorably. America looks around the room and sees some of the girls giving her cold looks.
At dinner, the girls continue to stare at America coldly. America wonders how Marlee, who also has sparked the girls’ jealousy, is still able to chat with them. Silvia sends the girls to bed after dinner since they are scheduled to meet Prince Maxon in the morning. Marlee takes America aside and tries to calm her nerves. Marlee explains that she’s just more used to being around girls than America, which is true, since America was homeschooled. In her room, America dismisses her maids, Anne, Mary, and Lucy, as she wants to be alone.
As the Selection begins, the way the contestants approach the competition reveals their personalities. Though all the girls initially dress the same, America’s first meeting with some of the other contestants immediately emphasizes their differences. America’s mother warned her to see the other girls as enemies, but America is immediately drawn to Marlee for her warmth, kindness, and potential to be a true friend and source of support in the palace. America won’t see a true friend as an enemy because of her loyalty. If Marlee represents the best traits of the other contestants, Celeste Newsome represents the worst. Her late arrival, rudeness toward the other girls, and manipulation of men suggest that she’s the type of contestant America’s mother warned her about. Since America doesn’t plan to compete for the prince’s proposal, Celeste’s intimidation tactics don’t work on her. Still, these early interactions with Celeste foreshadow the rivalry to come once all 35 arrive at the palace, as well as Celeste’s role at the center of the fierce competition. Before they are anywhere near the prince, the competitors reveal their true natures.
As America begins the Selection process, her ability to stay true to herself is her biggest strength. She interacts easily with onlookers at the airport in Angeles, surprising herself as well as the other girls and showing a sense of responsibility to her family watching at home and those, like the little girl with red hair, who look up to her. Her relaxed nature earns America positive attention on the Illéa Capital Report, foreshadowing the development of America’s skills at charming the public, an important quality for a princess. While enduring the makeover, America chooses natural makeup and hair, highlighting her refusal to hide behind makeup or act like someone she’s not. America’s refusal to look or sound like anyone but herself show her fierce independence and individuality, which make her stand out in a society that values conformity. The very traits Illéa attempts to discourage are America’s natural strengths, and it is America’s differences that catch the prince’s attention. Ironically, America’s independence nearly prevents her from entering the Selection, but it ends up helping her stay, and excel, once there.
While the palace gives America fine food, clothes, and servants, it limits her life just as much as being a Five did, albeit in different ways. America compares living there to being in a cage. She panics at the feeling of confinement and tries to run outside for air, but she’s stopped. Only when Prince Maxon allows her to come outside is she granted the freedom to breathe, showing how easily some people can bend the rules that others must live by. The garden offers a hint of freedom and a way for America to interact with the prince away from public scrutiny. In this setting, she can see him as a person, not as royal. When the prince asks her not to tell anyone about the meeting, the garden mirrors the treehouse where America and Aspen met in secret. The garden is outdoors and free of society’s constraints, allowing those present to act authentically. Maxon’s agreement that the palace sometimes seems like a cage shows that even with its advantages, royal life comes with restrictions, and the sense of feeling stifled is something America and Maxon share despite their vastly different backgrounds.