Divergent by Veronica Roth (New York: Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins, 2011. 487 pp)

Veronica Roth (b. 1988) is from a Chicago suburb. She studied creative writing at Northwestern University, where she wrote her first book, Divergent. Film rights to the novel have been sold as of April 2012.

Vice and Virtue

So often we can unknowingly characterize ourselves based on our greatest vice. Perhaps we are too greedy, too slothful, too prideful, or even too malicious.
However, we rarely think about what our greatest virtue is, and we even more rarely gravitate toward characterizing ourselves based on it. In a work of speculative fiction, Divergent by Veronica Roth imagines a world where society is broken up into factions based on their virtue of choice.


In a future Chicago, we meet a sixteen year old Beatrice, or “Tris”. Beatrice has never felt at home in the faction she was born into—Abnegation. There are five different factions in the city: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Abnegation. These factions formed decades ago in the wake of a warring world. Those who believed the world failed because of greed formed the faction of Abnegation, sworn to remain selfless and serve others. Those who felt aggression was the cause formed Amity, always seeking peace. Those who felt cowardice was the cause formed Dauntless, the faction of the strong and courageous. Those who believed the world’s failings were because of ignorance formed the Erudite, and consistently sought knowledge. Those who felt human duplicity was the cause formed Candor, seeking truth above all else. 

“‘Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality—of humankind’s inclination towards evil, in whatever from that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray’” (42).

Aptitude

At sixteen, much like everyone else her age, Beatrice takes a mandatory aptitude test, where she goes through a set of scenarios to show her strongest virtues. After the aptitude test, all the teenagers choose which faction they will devote themselves to for the rest of their lives, sometimes forsaking friends and family to pursue their chosen virtue. Beatrice carries immense fear regarding her test; She doesn’t want to leave her current faction, even though, despite her upbringing, she doesn’t naturally act selfless. At the end of her aptitude test, she finds out some troubling news.

“‘[Y]ou display equal aptitude for Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. People who get this kind of result are…’ She looks over her shoulder like she expects someone to appear behind her. “…are called…Divergent” (22).

The divergent, for an unexplained reason, are both incredibly rare and frowned upon. The test administrator, in an act of mercy, buries the results. Beatrice is then forced to choose between the three. If she chooses a faction other than Abnegation, she will be transported to the new faction’s colony, and will be unable to see her family ever again.Beatrice, instead of siding with her birth faction, decides she would be better suited as Dauntless. Beatrice immediately begins initiation into the Dauntless faction, beginning with several acts of “bravery”, jumping off a moving train and a roof seven stories high.

Multiple Virtues

Chicago Metropolitan Area

Soon after arriving at the Dauntless colony, Beatrice, much to her chagrin, learns that there are only ten spots open for new initiates. She is forced to go through three stages of competition. If Beatrice doesn’t score high enough in competitions against new initiates, she becomes factionless, forced to wander the world with no home or community. Luckily, she scores highly during each stage of initiation.

Throughout the novel, Beatrice starts noticing the tensions rise between the factions. Erudite seems to target Abnegation, and cracks begin to arise in society, illustrating the inconceivability of the world Veronica Roth has created. Virtue focuses on the building of character. To focus on one virtue at the expense of all others creates an unbalanced character.

No human with their myriad of emotions could ever fully fling themselves into one single virtue, as we all display more than one virtue from time to time.  I have a hard time believing humanity could form a virtue-based society , even if the civilization was on the brink of an apocalypse. Conversely, that might be what Roth herself is saying. Because Beatrice is divergent, it shows that humans are perhaps only truly whole when multiple virtues are embraced.
The world that Roth has created isn’t without cracks or flaws. However, now that she has developed a back story to her characters and their virtuous society, there is room to grow the story into something special. Though I found flaws within the story, I was nevertheless caught up in great amounts of suspense.
Divergent is a memorable journey, showing that coming of age sometimes means leaving your family and past behind and that virtues can be sometimes too highly praised. I, for one, have already picked up Roth’s next novel in the series, Insurgent, and will be reading it shortly.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
What do you think? Did you enjoy the novel? Does dividing the world based on virtue make sense? Share your thoughts below.

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