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Identity, Choice, and Divergence Theme Analysis

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.
Identity, Choice, and Divergence Theme Icon

In a way, Divergent is a book about choosing who you are. Because most of the characters in the novel are young adults, they’re trying to find identities for themselves and choose what kind of personality to have, or, in another sense, which “club” to belong to. Roth raises many important questions about identity: How do we choose an identity? What are some of the advantages of choosing the same identity as someone else? What happens if we want to change identities?

In the fictional futuristic society of Divergent, people choose their identities once and only once: a process that readers will recognize as absurd. When the city’s residents turn 16, there’s an elaborate ritual that culminates in the 16-year-olds choosing one of five “factions” to live with for the rest of their lives: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. Each faction corresponds to a specific personality type—for example, the Dauntless are bold, aggressive, and brave. In short, then, the city’s teenagers are forced to make a permanent choice about what kind of people they want to be, at the exact age when they should be experimenting with many different identities. As anyone who’s been a teenager will know, it’s impossible to decide who you are at the age of 16: inevitably, whatever decision you make at that age will come to seem like the wrong one.

Part of what makes Tris Prior such a sympathetic and relatable protagonist in Divergent is her refusal to stick to one faction: just like the average reader, she can’t make up her mind what kind of person she wants to be. At times, she thinks she “truly” belongs among the Dauntless; at others, she’s convinced that she’s most comfortable among the people of Abnegation, who are selfless and Puritanical.

Although only a tiny fraction of people in the city are Divergent (according to the novel), Tris comes to realize that nobody around her has a “truly” fixed identity: in other words, everyone is at least a little Divergent. The characters who seem the most quintessentially Dauntless or Abnegation, such as Tobias or Natalie, Tris’s mother, are revealed to have other identities, hidden beneath the ones they display to the public. The novel’s point isn’t that Natalie is really a Dauntless pretending to be Abnegation, or Abnegation pretending to be Dauntless. Rather, the suggestion is that nobody is Dauntless or Abnegation 100 percent of the time. People’s identities change constantly, and forcing people to choose one identity for themselves—particularly at such an early age—only leads to frustration. In the end, we see Tris embracing this truth. Throughout the book, she’s bounced back and forth between two or three different factions—in the novel’s final paragraph, however, she recognizes that she’ll have to “go beyond” any one of these factions. Identity, she comes to see, isn’t an outcome, to be decided on at the age of 16—instead, it’s an ongoing process.

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Identity, Choice, and Divergence Quotes in Divergent

Below you will find the important quotes in Divergent related to the theme of Identity, Choice, and Divergence.
Chapter 1 Quotes

We walk together to the kitchen. On these mornings when my brother makes breakfast, and my father’s hand skims my hair as he reads the newspaper, and my mother hums as she clears the table— it is on these mornings that I feel guiltiest for wanting to leave them.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Natalie Prior , Andrew Prior , Caleb Prior
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatrice Prior, the protagonist of the novel, faces a difficult decision. Now that she’s a young woman, she can either choose to live among her peers and her family—the Abnegation community—or she can choose to live in one of four other communities, each of which embodies a different moral or psychological value. Beatrice aspires to live somewhere else—she feels constricted by the strict moral code of Abnegation, and craves a place where she’s allowed to be brave and daring. And yet she feels guilty about her own aspirations—she knows that leaving her family will cause them a lot of pain and sadness. In short, Beatrice is a highly relatable narrator: like any good hero or heroine, she aspires to go out and try something new. And yet she's also moral and thoughtful enough to think about the consequences her actions have for others.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

“Beatrice,” she says, “under no circumstances should you share that information with anyone. This is very important.”
“We aren’t supposed to share our results.” I nod. “I know that.”
“No.” Tori kneels next to the chair now and places her arms on the armrest. Our faces are inches apart. “This is different. I don’t mean you shouldn’t share them now; I mean you should never share them with anyone, ever, no matter what happens. Divergence is extremely dangerous. You understand?”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tori (speaker)
Related Symbols: Divergence
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

Tori, an administrator for the character test that all city residents must take, discovers something important about Beatrice. Beatrice has a rare quality called Divergence, which allows her to embody multiple personality types at once. Where most people in the community are brave or humble or intelligent, Beatrice alternates between multiple characteristics, or has aspects of all of them. As Tori explains, the government doesn't like Divergent people.

Tori doesn't explain why, precisely, the government is so averse to Divergence. Even so, we've already noticed that Beatrice's society is based on strict order and control. People's identities are fixed, in such a way that everyone in the city has a natural career path, a natural group of friends, etc. When someone like Beatrice refuses to go along with the city's strict classification rules, she inadvertently challenges the authority of the city leadership.

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.

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 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 23 Quotes

Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me. But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her. “Stay away from me,” I say quietly. My body feels rigid and cold, and I am not angry, I am not hurt, I am nothing. I say, my voice low, “Never come near me again.” Our eyes meet. His are dark and glassy. I am nothing. “If you do, I swear to God I will kill you,” I say. “You coward.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Al
Page Number: 299-300
Explanation and Analysis:

Tris comes face-to-face with her former friend, Al. Al has supported Tris before. But as it becomes clear that Tris is a talented, dangerous soldier, Al begins to resent her success. Desperate to rise to the top of the soldier rankings, Al conspires with other Dauntless recruits to kill Tris. Later--after the plan fails--Al tries to make amends with Tris.

Tris considers forgiving Al--as her Abnegation community would do--but in the end she refuses to let her old friend off so easy. She's been so thoroughly schooled in the Dauntless code of behavior that she instinctively treats Al with hostility. Tris recognizes that she's changed enormously since her days in Abnegation: in spite of all her objections to Dauntless, she's grown into more of a true Dauntless soldier than she'd thought.

Chapter 28 Quotes

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.