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Themes and Colors
Identity, Choice, and Divergence Theme Icon
Strength, Selfishness, and Selflessness Theme Icon
Competition, Groups, and Rivalries Theme Icon
Fear, Bravery, and Maturity Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Divergent, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Competition, Groups, and Rivalries Theme Icon

One of the first things we notice about the futuristic society in Divergent is that it’s rigorously classified: almost all people belong to one of five factions, and within each of these factions, members are constantly ranked and assessed for their abilities. One byproduct of all this ranking and classifying is that a spirit of competitiveness hangs over the characters’ lives. Each one of the factions competes with the others for glory and power, and within the Dauntless faction, Tris Prior and her peers compete for a high spot in the all-important “rankings.” It’s worth exploring the theme of competition a little more closely, since the entire book is structured around different kinds of competitions, ranging from boxing matches to citywide wars.

Divergent suggests that competition builds group loyalty. In the early chapters, it’s established that the Abnegation community despises the Erudite for their pretentiousness and arrogance. More importantly, however, the Abnegation community defines itself in relation to the Erudites: when Tris’s father, Andrew, explains why he’s proud to live in Abnegation, he explains in the same breath why he’s proud not to live among the Erudite. The competitiveness between the factions in Divergent leads to a strong sense of solidarity within the faction—indeed, a common saying in the city is “faction before family.” (Although it’s never explicitly stated in this first novel, it seems likely that this is why the factions were founded in the first place: in a time of crisis, the city’s leaders created factions to promote loyalty and a strong herd mentality.)

Competitiveness inspires group loyalty, but ironically, it also encourages strong rivalries and resentments between members of the same group. This is apparent from day one of Tris’s life in the Dauntless community. Even as Tris makes new friends among the Dauntless, and begins to think that she “belongs” among them, she can’t help but form equally powerful rivalries with other Dauntless recruits, such as Peter and Molly. At one point, the new Dauntless recruits play a city-wide game of capture the flag—a good illustration of the paradoxes of competition. Tris and the other recruits are divided into two competing teams. In other words, the competitiveness of the game encourages loyalty and disloyalty: loyalty to fellow teammates and disloyalty to opponents. Competitiveness is both attractive and repellent: it brings people together in solidarity at the same time that it pushes people apart.

Tris Prior’s complicated relationship with the Dauntless reflects some of the paradoxes of competition. She’s intelligent enough to recognize that the purpose of the rankings and sparring exercises is to breed a sense of aggression, competitiveness, and group loyalty. And yet Tris can’t quite “stand outside” the competition: she enjoys competing, even when she knows she’s being manipulated. Competitiveness is a crucial part of Tris’s character: throughout the novel, she’s motivated to do well in the rankings, not only because she wants a bright future for herself but also just for the sake of the rankings themselves. As the novel closes, Tris is still trying to work out her feelings about competition: she knows it leads to rivalry and violence, but she still can’t help but enjoy it.

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Competition, Groups, and Rivalries Quotes in Divergent

Below you will find the important quotes in Divergent related to the theme of Competition, Groups, and Rivalries.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“You know why,” my father says. “Because we have something they want. Valuing knowledge above all else results in a lust for power, and that leads men into dark and empty places. We should be thankful that we know better.” I nod. I know I will not choose Erudite, even though my test results suggested that I could. I am my father’s daughter.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Andrew Prior (speaker)
Page Number: 35-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatrice’s father, Andrew, comments on the longstanding rivalry between two powerful city factions: Abnegation (Andrew and Beatrice’s own faction) and Erudite (the faction of scholarly, intelligent people). Andrew believes that intelligent people inevitably crave power—they’re so satisfied with their own intellectual abilities that they try to use their knowledge into dominate others. The only thing that can temper the Erudite lust for power is Abnegation—the desire to be modest, self-controlled, etc.

It’s important to note that Beatrice mostly agrees with her father’s analysis. As she says, she’s still her father’s daughter at this point in the novel—in other words, she’s still basing her identity on someone else, instead of freely choosing the kind of person she wants to be. And yet Beatrice shows signs of “breaking free” from her family’s control: she knows that she could be any number of different people—she’s Divergent, after all.


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Chapter 5 Quotes

Marcus offers me my knife. I look into his eyes—they are dark blue, a strange color—and take it. He nods, and I turn toward the bowls. Dauntless fire and Abnegation stones are both on my left, one in front of my shoulder and one behind. I hold the knife in my right hand and touch the blade to my palm. Gritting my teeth, I drag the blade down. It stings, but I barely notice. I hold both hands to my chest, and my next breath shudders on the way out.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Marcus
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Marcus (an important city leader) presides over the choosing ceremony, an important event in which the 16-year-olds of the city choose the identity and community they'll bear for the rest of their lives: Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Candor, or Amity. In the ceremony, choosing one's identity entails cutting one's own skin and bleeding into one of five ceremonial receptacles, each corresponding to a different group.

It's appropriate that choosing one's identity is a tough, painful exercise: one can't choose lightly to cut one's own flesh. The brutality of choosing one's identity reflects the severity of the choice itself: there's no going back once Beatrice decides what she'll be. Furthermore, the fact that the different receptacles collect the blood of new members reflects the familial closeness between members of the same faction. Even though members hail from all over the city, they're bound together by blood: not in the sense of sharing the same DNA, but in the sense of sharing the same interests and desires. At the same time, the almost savage aspect of this ceremony shows how regressive it really is—it's absurd to think of people as so "flat" that they can all be easily divided into only five groups, and even more absurd to divide them at age 16, a time when people are constantly growing and changing.

Chapter 8 Quotes

But I understand now what Tori said about her tattoo representing a fear she overcame—a reminder of where she was, as well as a reminder of where she is now. Maybe there is a way to honor my old life as I embrace my new one. “Yes,” I say. “Three of these flying birds.” I touch my collarbone, marking the path of their flight—toward my heart. One for each member of the family I left behind.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tori
Related Symbols: Tattoos
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatrice takes an important step toward refashioning her identity: she gets a tattoo. Beatrice is beginning to fit in well with her new Dauntless friends, as she finds that she's a good fighter and a clever strategist who can use her intelligence and determination to win most fights. And yet Beatrice continues to miss her family: her father, mother, and brother. In order to remember her three family members, Beatrice gets a tattoo of three birds.

Beatrice's tattoo--i.e., the very fact that she's getting a tattoo at all--suggests that she's beginning to settle into one identity: she's secure enough in her personality that she's willing to mark it out in ink. And yet Beatrice's choice of a tattoo suggests that she's still deeply conflicted about her identity: she's living in Dauntless, but she chooses to commemorate her Abnegation roots. She's conflicted--split between two Factions (a huge no-no in the city). In short, Beatrice is feeling more Divergent than ever.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“It ends when one of you is unable to continue,” says Eric.
“According to Dauntless rules,” Four says, “one of you could also concede.” Eric narrows his eyes at Four.
“According to the old rules,” he says. “In the new rules, no one concedes.”
“A brave man acknowledges the strength of others,” Four replies.

“A brave man never surrenders,” Eric says, and Four and Eric stare at each other for a few seconds.

I feel like I am looking at two different kinds of Dauntless—the honorable kind, and the ruthless kind. But even I know that in this room, it’s Eric, the youngest leader of the Dauntless, who has the authority.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four (speaker), Eric (speaker)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Eric and Four--two of the important teachers at the Dauntless compound--organize a ruthless match between two new recruits, Will and Al. Although Four wants the fight to end quickly and honorably, Eric takes a different approach: he wants the fight to be as long and bloody as possible.

Eric and Four's exchange reflects the two different sub-factions within the Faction of Dauntless. Eric thinks of combat as a bloody, sadistic sport, designed to prove one's strength and superiority. Four thinks of combat as a more complicated undertaking, designed to confirm one's inner strength, not just his or her ability to punch, kick, or shoot. In short, Eric thinks that Dauntless means blood; Four thinks it means honor.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“What rank were you?” Peter asks Four. I don’t expect Four to answer, but he looks levelly at Peter and says, “I was first.” “And you chose to do this?” Peter’s eyes are wide and round and dark green. They would look innocent to me if I didn’t know what a terrible person he is. “Why didn’t you get a government job?” “I didn’t want one,” Four says flatly. I remember what he said on the first day, about working in the control room, where the Dauntless monitor the city’s security. It is difficult for me to imagine him there, surrounded by computers. To me he belongs in the training room.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four (speaker), Peter (speaker)
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Four reveals the truth: he was an enormously talented soldier when he was younger. But instead of parlaying his talents into a cushy government job, Four chose to return to the recruitment process, this time as an educator.

Why doesn't Four accept the plum government position that's his for the taking? Four seems uncomfortable with governing itself: he's more comfortable working one-on-one with recruits, showing them how to fight, than he is with ordering his subordinates into action. Furthermore, Four seems to question many of the Dauntless government officials' decisions. He doesn't really fit in with the Dauntless mindset--instead of embracing the gospel of pure strength and bloodshed, he opts for a milder, more honorable form of courage. If Four were in the government, he could use his influence to advance his own interpretation of courage--but instead, he's forced to accept the sadistic teachings of his superiors. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

“Cara,” says Will, frowning, “there’s no need to be rude.”
“Oh, certainly not. Do you know what she is?” She points at my mother. “She’s a council member’s wife is what she is. She runs the ‘volunteer agency’ that supposedly helps the factionless. You think I don’t know that you’re just hoarding goods to distribute to your own faction while we don’t get fresh food for a month, huh? Food for the factionless, my eye.”
“I’m sorry,” my mother says gently. “I believe you are mistaken.”
“Mistaken. Ha,” Cara snaps. “I’m sure you’re exactly what you seem. A faction of happy-go-lucky do-gooders without a selfish bone in their bodies. Right.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Natalie Prior (speaker), Will (speaker), Cara (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, the Dauntless recruits get a chance to reunite with their families. At the reunion event, Beatrice--now named Tris--reunites with her mother, Natalie. Tris also meets her friends' parents, including Cara, Will's sister. Cara accuses Natalie of using her influential position to greedily hoard resources. Furthermore, Cara accuses the people of Abnegation of misrepresenting themselves as selfless and loving, when in reality they're just as greedy as everyone else.

The fact that such an unpleasant argument breaks out at a reunion event suggests that the divides between the Factions run deep: Cara's Faction (Erudite) hates Natalie's (Abnegation), and always will. The dispute between Erudite and Abnegation is particularly enormous, because the divide between intelligence and selflessness (at least as Roth sees it!) is a wide one. Intelligent people desire power and control, while selfless people desire peace and equality. Thus, Cara can't help herself from shouting at Natalie, even though Natalie is utterly blameless (as far as we know).

Chapter 18 Quotes

“What changed?”
“The leadership,” he says. “The person who controls training sets the standard of Dauntless behavior. Six years ago Max and the other leaders changed the training methods to make them more competitive and more brutal, said it was supposed to test people’s strength. And that changed the priorities of Dauntless as a whole. Bet you can’t guess who the leaders’ new protégé is.”
The answer is obvious: Eric. They trained him to be vicious, and now he will train the rest of us to be vicious too.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four (speaker), Eric
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Four describes the history of the Dauntless community. There's been a massive shift in Dauntless ideology in recent years. Previously, the Dauntless leaders believed in a strict code of honor and respect: victors owed respect and support to the people they defeated. Now, the old Dauntless "code" has disappeared. Thanks to Max and Eric's leadership, Dauntless soldiers are encouraged to glory in victory, gloating at their opponents' pain and suffering. By controlling the recruitment process, Eric is ensuring that the next generation of Dauntless warriors will be just as brutal and sadistic as he is.

Four's explanation helps us understand why he chose to become an educator instead of a government administrator. Four is smart and talented enough to work for the government, but he wants to make sure that Eric doesn't transmit have sole control over the new Dauntless soldiers. In order to restore the old Dauntless code of respect, Four chooses to work one-on-one with recruits, teaching them how to win, but also how to be honorable.

Chapter 21 Quotes

I wanted to be like the Dauntless I saw at school. I wanted to be loud and daring and free like them. But they were not members yet; they were just playing at being Dauntless. And so was I, when I jumped off that roof. I didn’t know what fear was.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

Tris comes to terms with the second stage of her training. After learning the art of personal combat, Tris has now been coached in psychological warfare: she's trained to resist chemically-administered hallucinations. Tris realizes that she's encountering more frightening things than she's ever experienced before: she's jumped off of tall buildings and gotten in bloody fights, but she's never encountered anything half as frightening as her own hallucinations.

In short, Tris's own greatest enemy is her own mind. While most people would assume that the key part of being Dauntless is knowing how to fight, Tris understands that it's more important to control one's own mind. Tris agrees with Four on a code of self-control, psychological rigor, and quiet power. Knowing how to fight an armed opponent is important, but knowing how to control one's own thoughts is more valuable.

He pulls me forward a few inches and then slams me against the wall again. I clench my teeth to keep from crying out, though pain from the impact went all the way down my spine.
Will grabs Peter by his shirt collar and drags him away from me. “Leave her alone,” he says. “Only a coward bullies a little girl.”
“A little girl?” scoffs Peter, throwing off Will’s hand. “Are you blind, or just stupid? She’s going to edge you out of the rankings and out of Dauntless, and you’re going to get nothing, all because she knows how to manipulate people and you don’t. So when you realize that she’s out to ruin us all, you let me know.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Peter (speaker), Will (speaker)
Page Number: 267-268
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the conflict between the two Dauntless "codes" becomes crystal clear. Peter--one of Tris's rivals for dominance among the new recruits--tries to cement his position by hurting Tris. Tris's friend Will defends her from Peter, pointing out that it's dishonorable to beat up a girl. Peter's answer shows how greedy and cruel he's become: for Peter, the only thing that matters is his ranking--he'll gladly beat up a girl if it helps him win. (Roth doesn't really comment on the sexist undertones of the two boys fighting over the "little girl," or just how "dishonorable" it is for a boy to fight a girl.)

Previously, Dauntless soldiers were trained to be honorable and respectful, rather than using their physical prowess to win at all costs. Nowadays, under Eric's leadership, Dauntless has become brutal, pointlessly competitive, and sadistic. Peter is the ideal "new" Dauntless soldier: amoral, ruthless, and generally dismissive of the very notion of honor.

Chapter 28 Quotes

We stop on the concrete around the metal bean, where the Erudite sit in small groups with newspapers or books. He takes off his glasses and shoves them in his pocket, then runs a hand through his hair, his eyes skipping over mine nervously. Like he’s ashamed. Maybe I should be too. I’m tattooed, loose-haired, and wearing tight clothes. But I’m just not.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Caleb Prior
Related Symbols: Tattoos
Page Number: 351
Explanation and Analysis:

Tris goes to visit her brother, Caleb. At the Erudite compound, Tris notices that Caleb is wearing glasses (presumably, a symbol of the Erudite people--the old cliche that smart people wear glasses). Caleb seems to be wearing glasses for no reason--he's so desperate to fit in with his new peers that he's willing to pretend that he has bad eyesight. The fact that Caleb seems ashamed of how he's changed further suggests that his commitment to Erudite is still fresh: he's insecure, and the sight of his sister is enough to make him feel guilty.

It's important to note that while Caleb seems uncomfortable with his new Erudite identity, Tris is perfectly secure in her Dauntless identity. Paradoxically, even though Tris is Divergent, she's "settled" into the role of a Dauntless warrior. Tris is a reluctant member of Dauntless, yet she's learned how to put on an appearance of total confidence.

I don’t know when I accumulated so many secrets. Being Divergent. Fears. How I really feel about my friends, my family, Al, Tobias. Candor initiation would reach things that even the simulations can’t touch; it would wreck me. “Sounds awful,” I say.
“I always knew I couldn’t be Candor. I mean, I try to be honest, but some things you just don’t want people to know. Plus, I like to be in control of my own mind.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Christina (speaker), Tobias / Four , Al
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Tris talks about the Candor community with her friend Christina. Christina was born into a Candor family, but never liked it there. She was a reserved, introverted child, and couldn't stand the idea of living in a place where she was required to disclose all her secrets.

The passage is important because it foreshadows the way that the  Dauntless and Erudite leaders will use mind control to dominate their own people. Furthermore, the passage's emphasis on self-control and secretiveness reinforces the fact that Tris is a complex, conflicted character. While most of Tris's peers are willing to commit to one Faction, Tris goes through constant identity crises. She feels like a Dauntless soldier one day; a member of Abnegation the next. Like Christina, Tris could never survive in a community that demands total honesty: she changes her mind so often that she's often dishonest with herself.

Chapter 34 Quotes

She presses her palms together. I see no vicious glee in her eyes, and not a hint of the sadism I expect. She is more machine than maniac. She sees problems and forms solutions based on the data she collects. Abnegation stood in the way of her desire for power, so she found a way to eliminate it. She didn’t have an army, so she found one in Dauntless. She knew that she would need to control large groups of people in order to stay secure, so she developed a way to do it with serums and transmitters. Divergence is just another problem for her to solve, and that is what makes her so terrifying—because she is smart enough to solve anything, even the problem of our existence.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Jeanine Matthews
Page Number: 431-432
Explanation and Analysis:

Tris comes face-to-face with her greatest enemy, Jeanine Matthews, the leader of the Erudite community. As Tris talks with Jeanine, she realizes the truth: Jeanine is using the people of Dauntless to wage an all-out war against the city. Jeanine is a cold-unfeeling woman, altogether unlike Tris's peers in Dauntless: she acts out of rationality, not anger.

The passage clarifies some of the differences between the Erudite and Dauntless communities (and perhaps, between a life of the mind and a life of individual bravery). The Erudite (or at least Jeanine) are coldly rational and unfeeling: their acts of evil are great, because they don't let sympathy get in the way. Even a Dauntless commander like Eric, in spite of his ruthlessness, isn't as dangerous as Jeanine: Eric thinks small, satisfying his desire for bloodshed in individual fights, not city-wide coups.

Chapter 36 Quotes

“I’m factionless now.”
“No, you aren’t,” my father says sternly. “You’re with us.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Andrew Prior (speaker)
Page Number: 449
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Tris reunites with her family. In the midst of the Erudite coup of the city, Tris leaves the Dauntless community altogether. She's been trained to think in terms of factions for so long that she can't conceive of a community for herself: without the Dauntless, she's nothing. But as Tris's father points out, Tris does have a community--her parents and siblings.

The quotation reminds us how thoroughly Tris has immersed herself in the Dauntless way of life throughout the novel. Factionalism has convinced Tris that her only true friends live in her faction--it takes Andrew's reminder to restore her faith in the family. The quotation further suggests that for most people in the city, Faction is family: a group that provides love, support, and acceptance.

Chapter 39 Quotes

Abnegation and Dauntless are both broken, their members scattered. We are like the factionless now. I do not know what life will be like, separated from a faction—it feels disengaged, like a leaf divided from the tree that gives it sustenance. We are creatures of loss; we have left everything behind. I have no home, no path, and no certainty. I am no longer Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave. I suppose that now, I must become more than either.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker)
Page Number: 487
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Tris comes to terms with her identity, or rather, her lack of an identity. Tris has been trained to think in terms of Factions--i.e., a person can be brave or selfless, but not both. At the end of the novel, Tris sees the absurdity of factionalism: she's brave, intelligent, selfless, etc.--there's no good way to reduce her identity to one quality.

Beyond Tris's disillusionment, her two home factions (Dauntless and Abnegation) have both been destroyed by the citywide coup, so Tris is now forced to transcend factionalism altogether. In so doing, Tris becomes a more identifiable protagonist. No reader of Divergent can be easily reduced to one overarching category--we're just as Divergent as Tris. In other words, we're meant to identify with Tris for going beyond life's simple categorizations.