Internal Growth in Shatter Me, Unravel Me & Ignite Me
[In this essay L.S. will examine the growth and development of Juliette Ferrars, the main character in Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series, through her experiences, relationships and Mafi’s writing style.]
Juliette Ferrars is plagued by a sort of ‘super power’ she has; her touch is lethal. She is forever haunted by the one event that put her in the asylum she is locked up in, the death of a little boy. Her parents never showed her any love and gave her up to The Reestablishment to be tested on after she killed the boy. She has been locked in an asylum for 264 days and hasn’t touched another human being in 6,336 hours. All of these events have left her as the weak, pathetic girl that she is at the beginning of the series. She hates who she is, has no confidence and has convinced herself she will never know happiness or receive kindness from anyone. Throughout the series Juliette grows from being fragile and pitiful into a strong and self-reliant girl through her experiences and relationships with the other characters.
The most apparent sign of Juliette’s lack of confidence can be seen in Tahereh Mafi’s use of strikethroughs. The entire first book is riddled with them on every few pages, even whole pages completely crossed out. One example of this is a full page of “I am not insane,” repeated over and over again. This is not just a stylistic approach that Mafi took, it is meant to represent Juliette’s lack of voice and confidence in herself. The strikethroughs appear over thoughts or phrases that Juliette wants to say but decides against because she doesn’t feel she can or that she feels she shouldn’t. By saying things out loud or writing them down she is making them a reality, one she doesn’t want to accept so she crosses them out. Throughout Unravel Me the strikethroughs become less frequent as Juliette realizes that the only way to change her situation is to accept herself and her past and put her powers towards something good.
“Don’t you think it kills me to know that it was my own unwillingness to recognize myself as a human being that kept me trapped for so long? For two hundred and sixty-four days, Kenji,” I say, swallowing hard. “Two hundred and sixty-four days I was in there and the whole time, I had the power to break myself out and I didn’t, because I had no idea I could. Because I never even tried. Because I let the world teach me to hate myself. I was a coward,” I say, “who needed someone else to tell me I was worth something before I took any steps to save myself,” (Mafi 245).
By Ignite Me, there are no strikethroughs at all because Juliette has found her voice and is no longer the trepid unconfident girl that was stuck in the asylum. She becomes a very strong person who embraces who she is and no longer fears herself.
Juliette’s growth can also be seen in her perception and judgement of other characters, specifically Aaron Warner who is the commander and regent of Sector 45. The story is told through Juliette’s point of view and in the beginning of the series she sees Warner as a heartless murderer and a despicable monster. She only allows herself to see the horrible things he does, such as holding her captive, shooting a man in the head or throwing her into a simulation where she is forced to torture a toddler. In reality Warner saved her from the asylum, killed the man because he was beating his children and abusing his pregnant wife to the point where she lost the baby, and the simulation was all in Juliette’s head, he didn’t actually force her to torture a child. Juliette begins to see Warner in another light when she stumbles upon him feeding a stray dog. This scene is extremely important because it opens Juliette up to the possibility of Warner actually being human. She then sees his interactions with his father and spends some one on one time with him while he is captured and sees a person who is only a product of his upbringing. She is still filled to the brim with denial and tries as hard as she can to keep the image of him as a monster because in the back of her mind she knows they are very similar to one another. It isn’t until Ignite Me that she sees him as he truly is and accepts that he is more like herself than she ever could have imagined.
“He’s like a terrified, tortured animal. A creature who spent his whole life being beaten, abused, and caged away. He was forced into a life he never asked for, and was never given an opportunity to choose anything else. And though he’s been given all the tools to kill a person, he’s too emotionally tortured to be able to use those skills against his own father—the very man who taught him to be a murderer. Because somehow, in some strange, inexplicable way, he still wants his father to love him,” (186).
The journey of Juliette’s realization starts with her immediate judgement of Warner and then her slow acceptance of him which represents her slow acceptance of herself.
Her development is also apparent through her relationships. Juliette begins as an isolated girl without parents or even a friend so when she is introduced to Adam Kent she falls for him right away. Since no one has ever shown her kindness it is not hard to see why she is attracted to the only person who ever has. She feels even more connected to him when she finds out he is immune to her touch and relies on him heavily which keeps her weak and pitiful. Adam sees her as a fragile girl who couldn’t hurt a fly and feels he needs to protect her. As Juliette learns more about Warner she begins to develop feelings for him and realizes that Adam has only been holding her back and that Warner recognizes her true potential and strength.
“I like the way I feel about myself when I'm with him." I say quietly. "Warner thinks I'm strong and smart and capable and he actually values my opinion. He makes me feel like his equal--like I can accomplish just as much as he can, and more. And if I do something incredible, he's not even surprised. He expects it. He doesn't treat me like I'm some fragile little girl who needs to be protected all the time,” (160).
With her growth into a stronger person she sees that what she felt for Adam wasn’t love but gratitude for being kind to her. By allowing herself to grow she learns to harness her power and is able to touch anyone without harming them. This revelation is huge for her because she can now choose to be with whoever she wants and isn’t confined to the two people in the world who could touch her. She ends up choosing Warner because he understands her like no one else does and pushes her to be the best she can be. This choice shows that Juliette is no longer in need of protection from anyone else because she has found she can rely on herself.
Overall, Juliette goes through an immense period of growth throughout Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. She begins as a frail and miserable girl who hates herself and wishes she wasn’t alive. As she meets people who show her kindness and believe in her potential she begins to see herself through their eyes and realizes she isn’t a horrible monster. Her interactions give her the reassurance she needs to appreciate and develop confidence in herself and her abilities allowing her to become the strongest character in the series.
(L.S. 2016)