Sloppers, Med-Jacks, Track Hoes and Maze Runners

Speaking as the resident dude around here I can tell ya, boys love putting themselves into tribes. When I was a kid we gathered our buddies, gave ourselves a cool sounding name, and then established rigidly observed rules and hierarchies. The tribe could have been based around anything. Kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, kids who play tennis, kids who live on this block but not that block. The reason for the tribe wasn't really important, it was belonging to one that was. This behavior starts super early and for boys ends sometime around, well, never.

There are a lot of reasons for this, some good, some not so good. I think it has alot to do with that early struggle to establish an identity, to find a place and create a sense of safety and belonging. All good things of course until later when it edges into High School cliques, to exclusion and rigid hierarchies. Harmless play calcifies into Us. vs. Them. A shame.

I was thinking alot about this while reading Maze Runner. Just like in Lord of the Flies which partially inspired this book, the boys in Maze Runner very quickly ordered themselves into tribes of Sloppers, Med-Jacks, Baggers, Track-Hoes and at the top of the pile, the ones with the hardest job and the most prestige, Maze Runners. Newt says that all this order helps keep them sane in a terrible situation, and I'm sure that's true, but I did found myself struck by the seeming rigidness of the system and the council that called the shots. Did anybody elect these people? Can a Slopper dare to dream that he'll one day be a Maze Runner? Or is that once you're in your group your future is set? My feeling is that you're kind of stuck and I think some, I guess typically American, part of me is troubled by that.

Obviously this isn't exactly a driving force in the book but it's one that really got me thinking. It seems to me that this kind of tribal determinism plagues us everywhere we look (look no further than any High School lunch room) and it's often reflected in YA novels. Sometimes it's questioned, sometimes it just is.

What's your take on this? What do you think Dashner is saying with the groups portrayed and the governing structure in the book? Do you think the way the book ends is a comment on it? Do things change?

Also, what's your experience with High School tribalism? Do you think we can ever be without it? Should we try?

Jeff Hirsch
The Long Walk Home
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch


Matthew MacNish said...

Hmm. I haven't read the book so I can't answer that part but I can say that I was very identified by the groups I was in when I was in school. I was a D&D nerd, but I also played football, which I realize is quite rare, but those two cliques essentially never crossed and I could not hang out with both at once.

That all pretty much evaporated after high school though.

Colene Murphy said...

I don't think it's ever something we will be without. And I think that because (esp considering high school) people just can't get along with everyone. Gravitating to people like ourselves with the same interests and what not is natural. That kind of thing creates enemies, yes, but it doesn't include every person. I got along with most people in high school, no idea why or how, but it was like crossing into an invisible bubble every time I mingled with one group and then went over to talk to another. This got rambly...

Elana Johnson said...

Interesting post! I think humans, regardless of age, group themselves. Married. Single. Men. Women. Teacher. Engineer. Etc. Now it's not to the extreme it is in high school or TMR, but it's something we all do.

It gives us an identity. It gives us a social group. It gives us common ground. You know?