The main theme to Divergent is that there are two sides to every coin. Or, in this case, every faction.
Humanity has been divided into five factions: Abnegation (selflessness), Amnity (kindness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (knowledge). Each believed, on inception, that theirs was the way to prevent future war, and at age 16 the children of this world must choose which they believe. Each faction has their own headquarters and initiation, and if you choose a faction that is not the one you grew up in, your family ties are cut to some degree. If you fail initiation, you become factionless, which is a fancy word for poverty-stricken working class. The factionless are the producers, but live in deep poverty and without a cohesive grouping.
The main character, Tris, is a 16 year old girl who is “Divergent.” Before choosing a faction, the kids are given an aptitude test, which should clearly pick one or another faction, but Tris’ results are “inconclusive,” showing results that might put her in any one of three different factions. The story begins as focusing on her struggles to survive initiation, particularly without revealing her divergence, which is feared by leaders who value their citizens’ lack of ability to think outside of boxes.
And, yes, however nobly they were formed, the factions have their dark side. Where does bravery end and brutality begin? Or, for that matter, don’t the values require all the other values? Can you be selfless without being brave? Kind without some selflessness? Could you pick a single value to define yourself for the rest of your life?
So why split up what seems a limited population in this very divisive manner? To prevent divergent thought is the obvious answer, a bit of a salute to various real-world governmental parties.
As is typical in stories with planned sequels, there is a bigger pile of questions than answers by the end of the book. Why age 16? What is beyond the fence? We see a lot of Dauntless, some of Abnegation and Erudite, but who are the people of Amnity and Candor? Why can the “geniuses” of Erudite not fix the effing train?
Unfortunately, there is a gaping plot hole that bugged me in the movie that is also present in the book. As part of initiation into her chosen faction, Tris must face her fears in a simulation. Yet, what should logically be her biggest fear: being “found out” as Divergent, is not among them. Another flaw is the villains are sadly very one-note thus far in the story.
But Divergent is a quick read, so the faults are easily overlooked by letting your curiosity take over. The best part of dystopian fiction is how it pings the imagination. The tenuous connection between our now and that future sparks so many questions. The detail in the descriptions of Divergent!Chicago really help with fueling those connections. What happened to turn Lake Michigan to marshland? How did the beloved Bean rust?
So, predictably, I ordered book two. I’m too curious for my own good.
Notice there’s not really a faction for that.