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The next morning, America catches her maids eyeing the dirt stains on her nightdress from her time in the garden the night before, but none say a word about them. They offer her some jewelry, but America chooses the accessories she brought from home instead. At breakfast, America notices how all the girls have put a lot of effort into standing out. She’s consoled by the thought that despite her fancy dress, she still looks like herself.
Prince Maxon arrives. He surveys the room and acknowledges America with a smile. He tells the girls that he will be inviting them over to chat one by one. When it’s America’s turn, Maxon greets her as dear, poking fun at her from the night before. America retorts that she is still not his “dear.” He asks America how she slept, and she apologizes for her outbursts. Maxon asks America directly if she wants to be in the Selection. America admits she’s there for the stipend and is in love with someone back home. In a moment of boldness, America offers a trade: She’ll be an “insider” for Maxon, a friend, if he lets her stay. Maxon agrees to the deal. When America gets back to the table, she notices eight girls have already been cut.
Breakfast continues. America notices she’s the only Five left. When she bites into a strawberry tart, she lets out a moan. Maxon hears her and loudly asks her how she’s enjoying her food. America quickly comes up with an appropriate response for the crowd, saying that she’d bet her sister May would cry tasting such a delicious tart. Maxon accepts the bet, and they set the terms: If May cries after tasting a tart, America gets to wear pants for the week, but if May doesn’t cry, he gets a walk with America around the garden. America writes May a letter to go with the tarts with a postscript saying, “Don’t these strawberry tarts just make you want to cry?” The palace sends the tarts and letter to May.
America soon learns she lost the bet, so she walks through the garden with Maxon. When Maxon gets a little too close, America becomes nervous and knees him in the groin. Insulted that America assumed the worst of him, he sends her back to her room. Back in her room, America discovers that Maxon had sent her three pairs of pants with a note saying he can’t deny her such a simple request but asks her to wear the pants only on Saturdays.
The next morning, America heads to breakfast convinced she will be kicked out for assaulting Maxon. At breakfast, the King shouts for the girls to head to the back of the room as the palace is being attacked by rebels. The girls panic, but America keeps calm. America looks at the Queen and then around the room and wonders how many of the girls have the strength to be Queen and endure constant attacks. Maxon comes over to check on America. After a brief, awkward exchange, America asks about the safety of her maids, which puzzles Maxon. He explains that the maids have their own place to hide.
Maxon confides in America that there are two types of rebels—ones from the North and ones from the South. He suspects the rebels attacking them now are Northerners because their attacks are tamer than the Southerners’, who actually kill. Maxon tells America not to worry. During the commotion, Marlee reveals she scored a date with Maxon. Back in her room, America finds her maid Lucy crying. She learns that Lucy, who was sold to the palace, had once been abused by a soldier during a rebel attack. America vows to protect Lucy.
Throughout The Selection, America’s individuality attracts the prince while her humble, kind nature foreshadows her ability to be a good leader. America declines the jewelry that her maids offer her and chooses instead to wear accessories from home, a sign that even while surrounded by the beauty and glamor of the palace, she remains grounded and wants to maintain her connection to her family. The other girls’ attempts to distinguish themselves with fancy jewelry and dresses only make them look more alike, whereas America stands out by being herself. America relates more to her maids, Anne, Mary, and Lucy, than anyone else in the palace. During the attack on the palace, America worries for their safety, and when she returns to her room and finds Lucy having a panic attack, she comforts her and tries to understand the problem. America’s growing relationship with her maids and her ability to see them as human beings rather than nameless servants demonstrates that she values people, not their job titles or caste. America’s unique personality draws the prince to her, and her caring nature foreshadows her potential to be a beloved princess to all of Illéa’s people.
Although America is a Five, she approaches Maxon with a sense of equality that intrigues him. America possesses a transparency the other competitors don’t because she doesn’t care if she wins. When America tells Maxon her heart belongs to someone else and brokers a deal to stay so she can help both him and her family, she shows she can negotiate with him honestly and without manipulation. When Maxon and America bet, America asks to wear pants if she wins, which would not only be more comfortable but also be a rebellion against gender-defining boundaries. When Maxon wins the bet and America must walk with him in the garden, she knees him in the thigh to protect herself when she believes he’s going to kiss her without consent. In light of the advisor’s earlier warning to never refuse the prince, America shows bravery in the moment. Her apology to Maxon the next day demonstrates that she’s not afraid to admit when she’s made a mistake. Though she’s a Five, America doesn’t hesitate to reveal her true self to Maxon, who is not used to dealing with such directness, especially from a female in a low caste.
The fairy tale setting of the palace shelters Maxon from certain realities of the world, which stunts his growth as a leader. When America knees Maxon during their garden stroll, his obliviousness to the fact that a woman might feel threatened in the situation indicates that he is unaware of the dangers that women regularly face. He is also ignorant of the fact that the power imbalance between a prince and a Five leaves America feeling vulnerable. During the attack on the palace, Maxon reveals that the royal family does not know what the rebels want, which shows a lack of understanding of their citizens’ needs. Maxon’s theory that the Northerners, who wreak havoc but do not kill, are searching for something foreshadows his potential to be a more empathetic and insightful ruler than his father. However, his referring to Northerners as “barbarians” and the caste system as a “social network” proves that Maxon still has much to learn. Though Maxon has experienced palace attacks, his royal standing has sheltered him from the worst of the violence, just as it has rendered him oblivious to the struggles of people who reside outside the palace walls.