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After the rebel attack, the girls write letters home telling their families that they’re safe. Life in the palace returns to normal. America spends more time in her room with her maids. She learns that hundreds of servants and workers keep up the palace. She also learns that the maids and dressmakers gossip about the girls in the Selection and have chosen their top ten picks. Maxon stops by America’s room and dismisses her maids. He walks around the room, chatting and looking at America’s photos and belongings, including the penny jar, which makes America uncomfortable. Maxon suggests that since they are friends, they should have a secret signal for when they want to talk. They decide the signal will be a tug on the ear.
The next Friday, the girls get dressed up in ball gowns for a live segment for the weekly Report. Gavril, the palace spokesperson, interviews Maxon about the competition so far. Maxon reveals that things are going well but that one girl scolded him the first time they met. Gavril asks him to name the girl, but Maxon remains quiet. He reassures Gavril that he has no plans to let her go anytime soon. America finds that she likes how Maxon pokes fun of her and that he gave her the signal to talk later.
Back in her room, America dismisses her maids, knowing that Maxon will be stopping by. As she waits, she thinks about how Aspen feels more comfortable around women than Maxon. She realizes Maxon likely doesn’t have much experience dating. She picks up the penny jar and realizes how lonely she feels. Maxon comes to her room for a walk. While in the hall, they pass some girls from the competition, including Celeste, who shoots America a dirty look.
Maxon confides in America that he has little romantic experience and how embarrassing it is to date in front of his parents and the country. America consoles him, saying she truly believes he’ll find his soul mate in the competition. Maxon asks America about her situation back home. America tells him about her family. She mentions that her brother Kota is a sculptor who abandoned the family once he became a famous. America also reveals everything about Aspen, including their bitter ending when she caught him with Brenna at the parade. Hearing this, Maxon feels disgusted, gives America a hug, and promises to keep her until the end of the competition. America realizes how comfortable she feels in Maxon’s arms.
America wakes up the next morning feeling relieved, knowing how open she can be with Maxon. She realizes that being at the palace until the end of the competition will give her the time and space she needs to get over Aspen and clear her head. America heads to the Women’s Room, where the girls are gathered, talking. Marlee takes America aside to talk. They talk about Maxon. Marlee tells America about her wonderful date with Maxon a few days before. They joke about Maxon’s laugh and his muscular arms. America wonders why Maxon didn’t tell her anything about his date with Marlee when he came by. Suddenly, a contestant, Anna Farmer, slaps Celeste across the face. America never learns what happened but suspects Celeste provoked Anna, knowing Anna’s effervescent personality and how Anna knelt in prayer during the rebel attack. However, Anna is sent home for hitting Celeste.
Silvia conducts a history lesson for the girls. She covers the events of World War III, a war fought between China and the United States over the United States’ unpaid debt. China invaded and took over U.S. labor and then renamed the United States the “American State of China.” Russia also tried to invade the United States but failed. Gregory Illéa, a wealthy businessman, led the assault against Russia and became King. The new United States was named after him. America wonders why she never learned this history. Later, the girls have their photos taken with Maxon. Celeste poses seductively, while America and Maxon take a more casual photo.
Later, America learns that one girl, Janelle, has left. No one knows why for certain, but word is that she said something out of turn to Maxon. America sends Maxon a note that she is “tugging her ear.” He comes to her quickly, concerned that something is wrong, but she assures him she just wants to talk. Maxon opens up about his stresses with his father—the King won’t listen to his ideas on education for the lower castes. America tells him the lower castes need more than education. She asks him to imagine what it’s like to have to sacrifice so that your family can eat. Maxon, moved, kisses her on the forehead and says he’ll see her at dinner.
Maxon and America’s friendship grows, and their connection becomes the novel’s central focus. Previously, their statuses have prevented them from forming close friendships with others; as a prince, Maxon is too sheltered, and as a Five, America is too busy with responsibilities. The two share more about their lives than they have ever shared with anyone else, and Maxon begins to think of America as his best friend. Maxon reveals that he hopes to find his soulmate in the competition, mirroring the desire America expressed earlier to marry for love rather than for status or convenience. The better that Maxon and America get to know one another, the more evident their compatibility becomes. Their friendship extends beyond America’s assistance with choosing the next princess. America shares her views based on her inherent understanding of the suffering of the lower castes, giving Maxon new insight into the rebels’ motivation. The friendship allows America to help her family and Maxon to gain valuable perspective. Because of the trust they share, their bond has the potential to create real societal change in the future of Illéa, even if America remains only a friend and not a princess.
Though both Kota and America find ways to escape their caste, the difference in their behavior illustrates why loyalty is so important to the lower castes and why coveting higher-caste status can be selfish and dangerous. During the conversation in the garden, America criticizes her older brother Kota, an artist who abandoned their family for fame, fortune, and status. America proves that she values her family more than anything else when she enters the Selection solely to help them, and she proves that she would sacrifice status for love when she is willing to be a Six so that she can be with Aspen. Kota, on the other hand, uses nearly all the money he receives for his sculpture to advance his career and buy access to a higher caste. Though Kota has achieved such a level of fame that even Maxon recognizes his name, he is obsessed with securing Two status, and he will not settle for being a Four or Three even though either caste would give him a comfortable existence and allow him to support his family. For America and other members of the lower castes, family loyalty means more than comfort: it means survival.
Limiting the information that each caste receives helps the government keep the castes divided and at odds with one another. As Silvia reviews history with the girls, America realizes that girls from other castes have learned much more than she has, her first clue that not every caste has access to the same information. In Illéa, information is hidden from some people and common knowledge to others. As America recalls finding an old, battered history book in her parents’ room and remembers her father’s request to keep it secret, she questions the legitimacy of the government’s facts. Though Prince Maxon has had the finest education, he has no practical knowledge of life outside the palace, as evidenced by his surprise when America talks bluntly about hunger. Only by forcing him to envision hunger hurting someone he loves can America make Maxon grasp the condition and empathize with those who suffer from it. Though Maxon wants for nothing in terms of possessions or education, he has never been exposed to the truths and hardships that America has lived with her whole life, and it has hindered his ability to grow into an effective leader.