Red Rising has many deep meanings behind the society, behind Darrow, behind the whole complexity of the world they live in. The theme of this book to me was that’s a conflict between Appearance versus Reality. There are three major pivotal points in this book that stood out to me the most within the actions, plot, setting, and characters. The three moments/characteristic qualities that stood out the most were; Darrow’s discovery of the true outside world, his physical transformation to fit in, and the game/school training they go through when he finds out the proctors are a part of their own game (It’s a game within a game, within a really big game). Nothing is what it seems to Darrow at first and he’s in constant battle with learning the truth to reality.
The first pivotal moment to the Theme of this book, in my opinion was when Darrow sees the real true world, outside of his own little bubble. He discovers the whole sole point of his existence is a lie. He grows up learning and truly believing for himself that they mine for helium3 and sacrifice themselves so future generations can live on mars one day. He’s the best of the best and strive to be great. He’s a helldiver and not afraid to fight for the laurel. Indeed he wins the game but doesn’t actually win the laurel (sadly, they’ll never win the laurel because they aren’t permitted too).
Shortly after he loses Eo because she fights back against the hierarchy of society and ends up wanting to die for the love of her. Darrow is an interesting character because his own desires and ambitions get in the way of him seeing the bigger picture most of the time. He blinded by sadness and rage for his society. Thankfully, his Uncle as well as many others see the potential for greatness for Darrow to change things. Darrow’s death was fake and unaware of the plans until he realizes he’s not dead. Plans start forming together after Darrow meets Dancer and he learns the truth.
The theme of appearance versus reality really comes alive when the truth is revealed. The appearance of his world and the reality he thought he lived in is ruined and a testament of false hope. He learns that his friends, family, and all reds are at the bottom of the chain. They’re basically tiny little working ants who spends their years risking their lives to eventually die a short death.
Dancer shows him what Mars looks like from above. “The city is one of spires, parks, rivers, gardens, and fountains. It is a city of dreams, a city of blue water and green life on a red planet that is supposed to be as barren as the cruelest desert. This is not the Mars they show us on the HC. This is not a place unfit for man. It is a place of lies, wealth, and immense abundance.” (p.67). Nothing is what it seems to be. There are people thriving out in the open. He learns all about the different colors, Octavia au Lune, the Ash lord, 12 Olympic Knights, Peerless Scarved, the Obsidians, and the hierarchy of their rank. The reality is hidden and covered by years of lies.
Darrow’s rage is what drives him to fight back. He agrees to help Dancer and becomes a gold. Because he agrees to become a gold this process is what makes the theme of Appearance versus Reality stay alive throughout the book. His appearance completely changes from the reality that’s within him. He’s a red on the inside but a beautiful gold on the outside. “Mickey removes the old Red Sigils and cultivates new skin and bone over the wounds…. replaces the skin of my back and the skin of my hands where Eo applied bandages to my burn. This, he says, is not to be my real skin.” (p. 84-85). “The next day he reinforces the bones of my arms. Then he does my ribs, my spine, my shoulders, my feet, my pelvis, and my face.” (p. 86). Everything on the outside changes but the real Darrow remains inside.
Mickey says, “….Soon we will have made man into god. Red into Gold. Even your wife would not recognize you.” Inside Darrow responds with, “That is all I’ve ever feared. When they take my eyes and give me ones of gold, I feel dead inside.” (p. 88). He learns the ways of the golds and eventually gets into the institution. It’s amazing how easy everyone believes he’s truly a gold. They don’t suspect him to be anything other because of his appearance. It’s funny how easy people seem to cling to appearances and accepts them as their reality without second guessing or even questioning the reality they live in.
While being in the institution Darrow and several of the other students start to realize that the war they’re in with the other houses is actually a bigger game. The students learn that they aren’t allowed to kill each other in the game even though they all just killed another person before the game. This game is supposed to take them down to the lowest level of the hierarchy of needs from here to see who will evolve and be the strongest leader. I love how Mustang is able to see past the game and look at things from a bigger picture. She realizes that the appearance of the game is false compared to the reality of the institution.
Darrow soon learns the truth to the game and how the appearance of it is a lie. Nothing is ever as it seems for him. After Darrow pressing on after he got knock down and working with mustang Fitchner visits him. During their conversation Fitchner is worried about what Darrow will do next and wants him to realize what’s really going on. “‘And that is the point of all this?” he asks me, though it’s clear there’s something else in his head. “You’ll get an apprenticeship no matter.” I lean forward and tap my finger on the table. “The point is to show them that they can’t gorywell cheat in their own game. That the ArchGoverner can’t just say his son is best and should beat me just because he was born lucky. This is about merit.” Then Fitchner says, “No, it’s about politics.” (p. 332).
Darrow shows his strength time and time again. I love how this book has so many metaphors for what’s really going on with the reality of things in their society. The hierarchy of it all is supposed to highlight how our society is flawed as well. Appearances can be deceiving and mislead us from truly understanding the reality in front of us. Brown does an amazing job bringing this theme to life in this book. Overall, there are many events and qualities from the characters that help demonstrate the theme of Appearance versus Reality.