The Maze Runner (series) | Study Guide

James Dashner

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The Maze Runner (series) | The Maze Runner | Summary


About the Title

The Maze Runner references Thomas's job of running the Maze at the Glades. He searches for clues on how to escape.


Sixteen-year-old Thomas wakes in a black elevator. He has no recollection of where the elevator is going, how he got there, or what happened to him before waking up. When the elevator opens, a swarm of roughly 50 teenage boys surrounds him. Thomas spends the next few days getting his bearings in the new environment. The boys, called Gladers, live unsupervised in a large enclosure called the Glade. Each boy has a job to keep his society running smoothly. "Keepers" manage the boys to ensure order. The leader, Alby, assigns a chubby boy named Chuck to show Thomas around. The Glade is surrounded by a huge maze that "Runners" sprint through every day in search of escape clues. At night the walls shift, closing the entrance to the Maze and protecting the boys from the mechanical "Grievers"—robotic attack dogs—that live inside.

Thomas has no memory of his past, and all the boys elude his questions. They have no memories themselves, and the boys with memories call the outside world too horrible to discuss. Frustrated, Thomas barges into Alby's office to demand answers. There he finds the leader bending over a horrifically sick boy named Ben. Ben has been poisoned by one of the Grievers and received the antidote serum. He is now undergoing "the Changing" during which his memories flood back. Ben screams hideously and writhes from the painful memories. Horrified, Thomas runs from the room. Other boys have gone through the Changing as well, including a nasty Keeper named Gally who swears he saw Thomas in his memories.

The next morning, to everyone's shock the elevator returns with an unconscious girl inside. Her hand clutches a note that says, "She's the last one. Ever." Shortly after Ben recovers from the Changing and attacks Thomas. Ben screams that Thomas should be killed and no one should trust him. Alby intervenes and sentences Ben to banishment in the Maze at nighttime, where the Grievers will certainly devour him. Alby demands to know whether Thomas has any knowledge of Ben's accusation, but Thomas can't remember anything. Deep down he feels a strange connection to the mysterious girl and hears the girl's voice in his head. Telepathically, she tells Thomas they are responsible for the Maze and she has triggered "the end."

The next day Thomas witnesses Alby and a Runner named Minho rushing to leave the Maze before the doors close for the night. Thomas realizes they won't make it, and before the doors slam shut he leaps into the Maze to help them. Inside Thomas fights off a pack of Grievers. He learns the cliff at the edge of the Maze actually contains a black hole portal called a "Flat Trans" that the Grievers travel through. He, Alby, and Minho survive the night, which has never been done before. The Gladers elect Thomas to become a Runner.

The next day the sun fails to rise, and at night the Maze doors remain open. Each night the Grievers arrive and kill one boy. Knowing they will simply be picked off one by one, the boys feel new determination to solve the Maze. Although the Maze walls move and shift every night, Thomas realizes the walls weren't forming new puzzles. They were forming a code. In the Map Room he and his team, including the mysterious girl, Teresa, discover a set of six code words. The words are FLOAT, CATCH, BLEED, DEATH, STIFF, PUSH. He concocts a plan in which the Gladers rush the Maze at night, sacrifice someone to the Grievers, and then jump into the Flat Trans. He assumes there will be a computer on the other side in which he can input the six code words.

A large group of the boys agrees to Thomas's plan, preferring to fight for life rather than awaiting certain death at the Glades. They fight valiantly, but the Grievers kill off half their group. The other half, including Thomas, Teresa, Chuck, and Minho, escapes through the Flat Trans. They land in an enclosed room surrounded by scientists in lab coats. Gally appears from the shadows and shouts the researchers are controlling him. He grabs a knife and hurls it at Thomas, but Chuck leaps in front of the blade and dies from the injury. Before the Gladers can question what's going on, a group of rebels bursts into the room. They rush the Gladers into a waiting bus. They drive through an abandoned wasteland, and the Gladers learn they were all orphans of an apocalyptic disease that wiped out half of Earth's population. The researchers selected each of them for an elaborate experiment they hoped would help figure out a way to save the rest of humanity.

The epilogue reveals that the rebels might be a "variable" in the experiment. Thomas's group may be the escapees from "Group A," suggesting the existence of other Maze Runners.



Life on the Glade provides a constant source of trauma for the boys. They are kidnapped, have their memories erased, forced to survive unsupervised on a compound, and are stalked by deadly Grievers. Thomas deals with the additional trauma of being attacked by Ben and Gally, having to survive in the Maze overnight, and learning he's telepathic. He's traumatized by going to jail, being stabbed by a Griever, and going through the Changing. Thomas learns he and Teresa are responsible for having designed the Maze. The emotional trauma of knowing his part in the evil experiment also weighs on him. The characters handle their trauma in different ways. Most simply stay silent, refusing to answer questions or talking about what they've seen. They don't offer "Greenies" like Thomas any insight into his life on the Glades, simply saying, "You'll learn." Others, like Gally, turn their trauma into anger. Desperate to control something, Gally bullies Thomas from the moment he arrives, eventually trying to kill him. Others, like Chuck, turn their trauma into humor, which provides welcome relief in their dark days. For others, like Ben and Alby, the trauma of what they've seen becomes too much and they go insane. After reliving their memories, both Ben and Alby change irrevocably. Ben attacks Thomas and must be banished to the Maze, and Alby tries to burn the Map Room.

The Gladers know they have no control over their future despite their quest to solve the Maze. They don't see the point in trying to overcome their trauma. They simply cope as best they can. One of their best methods of control is strict behavioral rules. No one aside from Runners is allowed in the Maze, for example, and no attacks are allowed against each other. When Ben attacks Thomas, the Keepers vote to banish him. Each Glader has a job, which he works hard at daily, to keep his emotions at bay. As long as they're working the Gladers can't contemplate their trauma, which allows them to survive.


Because the Gladers have no memories of their past, they arrive at the Glade like newborn babies. The elevator imagery of groping along a dark tunnel and squinting at the new light conjures images of rebirth. With no memories to guide their actions, the boys rely on their natural instincts and emotions to guide their actions. Each new arrival spends a day working at each station, for example, to see which job he'll naturally be good at. The base nature of each boy reveals itself as they acclimate to their new environment. Some emerge as leaders, others as cowards, others as workers, others as bullies, and so on. Without memories, Greenies like Thomas must also rely on their emotional intelligence to determine which Gladers can be trusted and which should be avoided. Instinctually, Thomas feels he can trust Teresa despite the strange events surrounding her arrival. Similarly, he intuits he should never be alone with Gally.

Thomas also learns to trust his instincts when it comes to the Maze. He feels drawn to the Maze despite the terror of being inside, instinctually feeling it will be something he's good at. Thomas trusts his instincts during the first Griever attack, in the Map Room, and when exploring the possibilities of the Flat Trans. Thomas trusts his gut in the way only a Greenie can—the rest of the boys have been trapped for too long to trust anything, even themselves, anymore.


WICKED, the government organization running the Maze, chose each Glader in the hopes of discovering the cleverest, most determined generation of survivors. Despite living in a controlled environment, only the strongest survive their surroundings. The survivors range from Runners who lose themselves in the Maze to Changers who cannot handle the memories. They include boys who simply can't cope with the stress, work, and fear of living on the Glade. In order to survive, each Glader must exhibit grit and determination, both physical and emotional. Runners like Minho return to the Maze day after day, sprinting for miles at a time, for two years straight. Minho doesn't miss a single day's work even when Thomas wants to spend the day in the Map Room cracking the code. Although Minho regularly loses hope about ever solving the Maze, he remains determined to keep trying. Likewise, over half of the Gladers decide to join Thomas's plan of jumping through the Flat Trans despite knowing many of them will die. Determined to fight until the bitter end and to save as many Gladers as possible from certain death, the boys refuse to simply give up.


Despite arriving at the Glade with wiped memories and nothing but fear to guide them, the Gladers work well as a team. They fall in line, obey orders, work diligently at their jobs, and generally take care of each other. Leaders sometimes have to make difficult calls, like banishing Ben to the Maze, which the rest of the Gladers seemingly delight in. Yet the power divide doesn't cause anarchy. The Gladers continue to work as a team and even sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Readers first see this when Thomas jumps into the Maze at night to save Minho and Alby. At this point he has no understanding of the working of the Maze or how to survive. He simply knows "he [has] no choice" but to try to save them. Later Thomas receives a Griever sting in order to return his memories. He knows the horrific pain and trauma of going through a Changing, yet he welcomes the attack for the greater good. He concocts his plan to jump through the Flat Trans and volunteers to sacrifice himself to the Grievers to ensure everyone else's safety. In the end Alby, who cannot face life on the other side, throws himself at the Grievers. On the other side, Chuck leaps in front of the knife meant for Thomas's chest and dies from the injury. He sacrifices himself for the greater good both because he loves Thomas and because he recognizes that Thomas holds the answers for survival. Many more would be lost if Thomas were to die. When Thomas grieves over Chuck's death, Teresa reminds him it was Chuck's choice to sacrifice himself. This statement provides the novel's moral: sacrifice only has value when given by choice, as the Gladers willingly do throughout the novel. WICKED, on the other hand, sacrifices the teenage boys to the Maze in the hope of saving the world population. But their act fits their name—WICKED—as they took away the boys' choice.

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