In Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the city is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction has a specific personality type, to ensure their success in each faction, and also a specific job they must preform to protect the city. Abnegation values selflessness, Amity are peaceful, Candor values honesty, Dauntless are brave, and Erudite values knowledge. When children in this society become teenagers, they are made to take an aptitude test that tells them which faction they will be the most successful in. After the test, there is a Choosing Ceremony where each adolescent chooses any faction regardless of the results of the aptitude test.
But what happens if you don’t fit into any of these categories? What if your mind refuses to conform to a singular way of thinking? When Tris, formally Beatrice Prior, takes the aptitude test, she receives three results – Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite – which is also known as Divergent. She chooses to join Dauntless, where she is forced to conform to a different way of acting and thinking than she is used to. With the assistance of her boyfriend Four, Tris is able to complete the initiation. After the completion of the initiation, the Dauntless members are given a mind control serum that targets people who only think in one way. Only the Divergents have the ability to resist the serum and stop the attacks sanctioned by Erudite on Abnegation.
When I first read Divergent, I was intrigued by the post-war dystopian society and how Roth challenged the notions of conformity that society places upon the individual. I was eager to recommend the book to people on the basis of those two elements after the first read. However, upon re-reading the book critically, I realized that the way Roth deals with conformity is problematic.
Tris presents herself as a character who is strong willed and “brave” (Roth 47). She defies the typical feminine gender roles by joining Dauntless, where she is forced to alter her entire lifestyle to become a strong female. Dauntless are not supposed to have feminine traits as they are supposed to appear masculine and abrasive. As a female, especially one born in Abnegation, she is supposed to be selfless and kind. She challenges these expectations of females and femininity by joining Dauntless and making it through the initiation.
She also challenges the idea that a person is supposed to be just one type of person. Tris is brave, selfless, and intelligent and she tries to act this way in her final step of initiation. When she is having trouble behaving and thinking just like a Dauntless, Four tells her, “They want you to think a certain way. So you’re easy to understand. So you won’t pose a threat to them” (312). This society believes that having people conform to a singular way of thinking will make them easier to control and peace easier to maintain. Tris is seen as dangerous because her thought process cannot be controlled by their society. Her acceptance of her Divergence throughout the book enables her to be successful in stopping the attacks upon Abnegation.
However, while Tris challenges the idea that conformity is the best solution for humankind, she reinforces the idea of females must conform to a romantic relationship, specifically a heterosexual one. Throughout the initiation, Tris develops a relationship with Four. Four helps Tris gain physical strength to make it through the first round. While in the second round, Four again helps Tris to act like a Dauntless rather than like a Divergent. This relationship between Tris and Four implies that Tris would not have been able to be successful as an individual but must rely on the help of a man to achieve strength and success. This is problematic because the entire novel is focusing on critiquing society’s expectations of conformity while reinforcing the idea that a woman needs to be in a relationship with a strong and powerful man for her to become strong and powerful herself.
Despite the intriguing plot line and the world created by Roth, this book reinforces heteronormativity while it focuses upon breaking away from conforming to society. These two aspects are extremely contradictory, thus hindering my overall opinion of the book and Tris’ character. This is typical of most stories with an apparently strong female protagonist. In most cases, even if the relationship is not focused upon, the heterosexual relationship is brought into the story in one way or another. This takes away from the characters being powerful girls who turn into fierce women.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Katherine Tegen Books. 2011.