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The Maze Runner (series) | Themes



Throughout the series, characters are faced with moral and ethical questions. The most prominent is whether it's ethical to sacrifice one person, or group of people, to save a larger group. The series tackles this question over and over, in large and small ways. Is it ethical for Alec to kill the Toad in The Kill Order, for example, if doing so gives the rest of the settlers a better chance of survival? Is it ethical for WICKED to allow Chuck's murder at the end of The Maze Runner? Is it alright because, as Chancellor Paige suggests in The Scorch Trials, he would have met an even worse death eventually. On a larger scale, is it ethical for WICKED to use fatal human experiments on innocent children if it results in a cure that saves humanity?

Group B captures Thomas in The Scorch Trials. Then Harriet asks him if "the two options were you die or all of us die, which one would you pick?" The question illustrates a key point of this theme. If WICKED must sacrifice all the Gladers to find one "contender" to save humanity, would the end justify the means? Would the sacrifice be worth it? Philosophers call this classic question the "trolley dilemma," which involves a hypothetical train reaching a forked path. On one path, five people are chained to the tracks, and on the other path, one person is chained to the track. Which path should the driver choose? Would it be moral to kill one person in order to save five? Thomas wrestles with the morality of the trials throughout the series. He fluctuates between a willingness to do anything to find a cure and a desire to break free and let the world sort itself out. In the end Dashner doesn't draw an easy conclusion for readers. Rather, he raises the question repeatedly, from different angles, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

Bravery and Friendship

Heroism abounds in this series as love, survival, fear, and the quest for power motivate characters to perform extraordinary feats of bravery. Characters are motivated by many factors. Minho, for example, who plots intricately to escape WICKED, fights anyone who challenges his individuality. He survives heinous Griever attacks and acts bravely out of a desperate desire to survive. Newt, on the other hand, bravely, and motivated by love, sneaks through WICKED headquarters to see his sister. Chancellor Paige risks everything by infecting her colleagues with the Flare and helps Thomas escape through the final Flat Trans. She does this out of a desperate desire for power. The series' characters seem compelled, however, to be brave for the sake of friendship.

Separated from their families and faced with the fear of constant death, friendship creates new bonds and loyalty between the Gladers. When a friend is in danger, Gladers will bravely attack any obstacle to keep their friend safe. This can be seen when Thomas jumps into the Maze in The Maze Runner or helps Winston escape the metal blob in The Scorch Trials. Minho attacks the drunk Cranks in The Scorch Trials to save Thomas from Blondie. Chuck bravely dies by jumping in front of a knife to save Thomas. Even Alec and Mark in The Kill Order feel compelled to brave actions in order to save Lana and Trina.


The Maze Runner series could be set in any futuristic world, but the use of technology helps place the stories in the not-so-distant future. The largest example of technology, of course, is the Maze itself. Made from eight revolving sections with walls that shift each night, this mechanical maze could be manufactured using today's technology. The Maze appears to hover above a vast black hole, but The Fever Code reveals the Maze is simply built in a basement. A Flat Trans connects the black hole to Earth. When characters leap through, they travel via slides and tubes, which seems strange given the obvious technological leaps from the present. Similarly, on the other side of the Flat Trans Gladers meet a present-day computer with a keyboard and push buttons. This also appears to date the novel closer to present day than far into the future. Other technological leaps include telepathy, mind control, and memory wipes. Another example is the scientific advance of an antidote to reverse the Griever's deadly sting and put victims through the Changing. Grievers are essentially poisonous, murderous attack dogs. Described as having blubbery, dark bodies covered in spikes, the creatures make a whirring, humming noise when they move, suggesting their robotic nature. Beetle blades, small mechanical cockroaches, scurry around with cameras to spy on the Gladers. Readers may wonder why physical cameras are being used when telepathic communication and mind control are possible.

In later novels the technology of Launchers and Bergs are introduced. Launchers have the ability to dissolve people into atoms, but most people still fight with knives and spears. Similarly, Bergs are massive flying spaceships, described as essentially being small cities. But the rebels who save the Gladers at the end of The Maze Runner use a bus as their escape vehicle. The work pads Alec steals in The Kill Order still require charged lithium batteries (similar to an iPad). During the sun flares Mark and Trina travel on a standard underground subway. All of these clues suggest the novel takes place in the very near future, with atomic scrambling (and the ability to reform) as the only major technological advance.

Man versus Society

Society in The Maze Runner series is divided into two groups, the healthy and the unhealthy, and the protagonists must battle against each. The sun flares caused catastrophic damage, and the government unleashed the Flare virus on the struggling population. Then the divide between sick and healthy reached extreme levels: the healthy have all the power while the sick face imminent death. Generally speaking, the two societies become known as WICKED (healthy) and the Cranks (sick). The first to struggle against these two societies is Mark in The Kill Order. When Mark discovers Deedee to be immune from the Flare, his sole mission is to get her safely to the government safe zone. To do that Mark must battle against the Cranks who wish to kill Deedee and WICKED who simply wants to suppress population growth. Because the Cranks are an unorganized group, Mark fights them individually as he encounters them. WICKED, on the other hand, must be fought with tactical thinking and huge weapons.

In later novels Thomas is the one fighting the two societies. He fights against WICKED's control as he escapes from the Maze in The Maze Runner and rebels against the third trial in The Death Cure. WICKED tries to beat him into submission from torturing him to brainwashing him, but they never fully erase his resilient hope for freedom. Because WICKED controls everything—all the technology, communication, and transportation—Thomas must think outside the box to fight against them. He uses telepathic communication with Teresa and plots secret escapes with Minho. He even joins the underground Right Arm group in the hope of escaping. None of these plans work, and Thomas must eventually use WICKED itself, through Chancellor Paige, to reach a safe zone. Along the way Thomas and his friends must also fight against the second society—the Cranks. The flesh-hungry Cranks threaten Thomas in The Scorch Trials and The Fever Code. Thomas must use brute strength, determination, and luck to escape their murderous clutches.

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