In the fifteenth and final part of Shatterglass, Tris discovers the identity of the Ghost. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For talk of misogyny, poverty, murder, death.
Holy shit, it all seems so obvious in hindsight. I feel like I basically spelled it out for myself. Who else would despise Tharian culture more than a prathmun? No one, and one would be more able to disappear within that city than someone who was socially invisible all the time anyway. Through this, Pierce is able to deliver a damning indictment of Tharian culture while also criticizing the kind of misogyny that creates murderers like the Ghost.
It’s not lost on me that for the most part, the Ghost remains unnamed. (I say “for the most part” only because I couldn’t understand whether or not the “Eseben” line was meant to be moment where the prathmun boy named the killer or if he was referring to someone else.) He is still every bit as mysterious as before, but made so by a culture that has deemed him as unworthy of attention or glorification. That’s not to suggest that a serial killer deserves glorification; it’s just that even in the end, he’s still just a nameless, faceless part of a crowd of people who are never viewed as individuals within this society. Even when the killer is caught, the Tharians lash out by killing innocent prathmuni. They’ve always been a singular force here, viewed as a mass of unworthy humans, and that’s how they’re treated in the end, too.
But more on that later. Tris’s confrontation with the Ghost is such a terrifying and frightening thing because it’s so obvious that the man who was responsible for everything had literally nothing to lose. He had no family, no attachments, nothing! I believe that’s part of the reason for the intensity of his murders. He could let himself be consumed by his hatred without much fear of what would happen if he was ever caught. But that’s straight up speculation. Pierce does provide us with some of the Ghost’s justification for what he’s done, and it’s awful:
“One whelped me!” the Ghost snarled. “Her and her Assembly lover, they got me, but they wouldn’t keep me. They throwed me into the sewer to liver or die, till the other sewer-pigs found –”
So, the Ghost targeted the yaskedasi out of a sense of revenge, as if his suffering meant that he deserved these women. As Tris puts it:
Maybe he thought it was the truth. Maybe it was simply the excuse he needed first to murder women who showed him temptation they would never give to a prathmun, then to rub the noses of those who used prathmuni in the worst thing they culd imagine – public, unclean death.
I like this distinction, that there’s an aspect of bitter misogyny in the Ghost’s nature. Yes, the prathmuni are treated terribly in this society, but why target people who have little to do with the way these laws are created or enforced? This man was scorned (and possibly shamed) by women, so he directed his anger and entitlement towards them. This is an unfortunately relevant dynamic, of course, something that many of the women in this community could easily speak to. How many other men in this world have lashed out because they perceived women as the Ghost does here?
At the end of Shatterglass, Pierce doesn’t avoid building character, so I think it’s important that this is part of his final characterization, too. That includes Tris’s development in this last chapter, which is MONUMENTAL. Look, y’all knew I was gonna freak out because the ground literally opened up and ate the Ghost. YOU KNEW I WOULD LOSE IT. But as fantastic as that was, I think I was more drawn to Tris’s understanding of justice. In her eyes, the Ghost had lost the right to live. Her stirring and chilling condemnation of him was something most of us probably thought ourselves. This man ruined lives, and Glaki was evidence of the sorrow that he’d caused.
So what does the Ghost deserve? Tris believed he deserved death, and much like her experience with the pirates, she came to a quick judgment. Are the two events similar? Not precisely, but I was pleased to see Niko bring it up. There was a different context to both of these events, and here, Tris was not killing someone in self-defense. She was doing it out of revenge, and not even because the Ghost necessarily targeted her. Was that an aspect of her rage? Probably, but she wanted to kill the Ghost because of what he’d done to others.
But part of the narrative of this book involves the journey to find control. That’s certainly the case for Keth, and I think Tris exercises an incredible amount of control at the end of Shatterglass. Instead of getting revenge, she acts proactively, warning the prathmuni to get out of town. To me, that’s a bigger act of compassion and justice than killing the Ghost. Tris saved lives, y’all. Hundreds of them! Possibly thousands! In less than a day, nearly every prathmun disappears from Tharios on the heels of a massacre. While the massacre of nearly thirty prathmuni is still a disturbing tragedy, it’s obvious that it could have been a lot worse. I’d even suggest that Tris’s actions provided the prathmun with the leverage they needed to finally negotiate for better terms of employment and an improvement in the quality of life that they live. What’s great about all of this is that Tris never takes credit for it. She may have helped, but this was never about her. It’s about these people finally getting a chance to have agency, control, and respect.
There’s no magical solution to all of Tharios’s problems, but it’s a start. The end of Shatterglass is a collection of new beginnings: for Glaki, since Tris will watch over her and help her study; for Dema, who does not take quite the promotion expected of him, all so he can continue to work with the lower class citizens of Tharios; for Kethlun, who wants to pursue investigative magics on top of his glassblowing; and for Tris, who learned patience, empathy, and compassion throughout this nightmare. I still think that no single character in The Circle Opens quartet changed more than her, and it was an absolute pleasure to experience.
Mark Links Stuff
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