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Women and Sexuality 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.
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon

Divergent has been praised by some for its strong female protagonist. Tris Prior is a powerful, even heroic character, and during the course of the novel she protects the weak and saves countless lives. More importantly, Tris’s heroism seems directly tied to the fact that she is a young woman: her gender gives her a powerful tool for fighting evil. It’s worth considering the novel’s take on women a little more closely.

The majority of Divergent is set in a society that’s openly, even blatantly, masculine in its structure. The Dauntless—who are government by men and men only, it would appear—celebrate combat, aggression, violence, and other qualities that are more commonly associated with men than women. When Tris arrives at Dauntless, few people take her seriously, because she’s a woman, and a small, unintimidating woman at that. On a basic level, the structure of Dauntless society sends a strong message to Tris, telling her to be frightened, submissive, and meek. Throughout the novel, Tris responds to this “challenge” from masculine Dauntless society, sometimes by imitating masculine behavior, and sometimes by using her gender to her advantage.

At times, Tris tries to succeed by imitating the masculine norms at Dauntless, but often, she’s most successful when she doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a woman. She masters the basics of personal combat, but never really excels at fighting: frankly put, biology is against her—she’s not big enough to defeat an opponent like Peter. Tris’s most impressive feats at Dauntless occur outside the domain of combat and aggression. During the capture the flag game, for example, she uses quick thinking to find her opponents before they find her. While it’s certainly true that Tris lives in a masculine community, she’s able to gain respect herself through intelligence, wit, and strategy—avenues that, while not necessarily feminine, are certainly less stereotypically masculine.

One major sign that Tris’s gender is essential, not incidental, to her strength is the role of sexuality in the novel. Tris isn’t a 12-year-old “tomboy”—during the course of the book, she discovers and explores her sexual desires via her relationship with Tobias (and at one point, it’s strongly implied that Tris loses her virginity to Tobias). At the novel’s climax, Tris’s romantic desires become a weapon as well as a source of pleasure: when Tobias is brainwashed into wanting to kill Tris, Tris is able to “break through” to her lover by communicating her feelings, causing Tobias to regain control of his mind. Quite literally, Tris’s (heterosexual) feminine romantic feelings save her life. Because Roth foregrounds Tris’s passion for Tobias throughout the novel’s climactic chapters, we never lose sight of the fact that she’s a strong woman, not just a strong, genderless character.

From a feminist viewpoint, there are two major ways for young adult novels about women to go wrong. First, the book can make the mistake of depicting women as passive “damsels in distress”—waiting for heroic men to save them. Divergent certainly doesn’t make this mistake, as Tris isn’t just the protagonist of the book; she’s arguably the strongest and most competent character. Second, young adult novels sometimes depict women as almost androgynous characters: while they are, in fact, female, nothing they say or do can identify them as women. Divergent doesn’t shy away from gender or sexuality: Tris is a woman, with strong sexual desires for men. Although she learns to spar with the men surrounding her, she doesn’t try to imitate these men. Instead, Tris pioneers her own brand of bravery, becoming a true heroine in the process.

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Women and Sexuality Quotes in Divergent

Below you will find the important quotes in Divergent related to the theme of Women and Sexuality.
Chapter 21 Quotes

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.


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Chapter 23 Quotes

Whoever he is, I like him. It’s easier for me to admit that to myself now, in the dark, after all that just happened. He is not sweet or gentle or particularly kind. But he is smart and brave, and even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. That is all I need to know. I watch the muscles in his back expand and contract until I fall asleep.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four
Page Number: 288-289
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tris sleeps in Four's bed, while Four sleeps on the floor. Although there's no physical interaction between the two of them it's clear that Tris is beginning to feel attracted to Four: she likes his "masculine smell." But Tris's attraction to Four runs deeper than the physical. Tris admires Four for being strong and fast--in short, for being a perfect Dauntless warrior. But furthermore, Tris likes that Four is honorable: he treats Tris like a strong woman, even when he's saving her single-handedly. In short, Four is the ideal Dauntless warrior of the "old days" (before Eric rose to power). Four is tough and brutal, but he also believes in the old-fashioned values of honor and respect.

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

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.

Chapter 30 Quotes

Simulation Tobias kisses my neck. I try to think. I have to face the fear. I have to take control of the situation and find a way to make it less frightening. I look Simulation Tobias in the eye and say sternly, “I am not going to sleep with you in a hallucination. Okay?”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four
Page Number: 393-394
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Tris has a strange encounter with Tobias in her hallucination (a hallucination that's being administered to train her to control her own emotions). Tobias--who by this point is involved in a  secret relationship with Tris--kisses Tris. Tris, who's still sexually inexperienced, is frightened and a little intimidated by Tobias's advances. And yet she's confident enough in herself to summon the courage to turn Tobias down, asserting control over her own hallucinations.

The passage suggests the relationship between maturity, fear, sexuality, and coming-of-age. Tris is clearly attracted to Tobias, but she's also afraid of sex and her own sexuality. In facing her fears and turning Tobias down, Tris becomes a more mature, confident young woman, taking control of her own fears at the same time that she takes control of her relationships with other people. In short, Tris confronts her fears of sexuality and learns how to deal with fear itself.

Chapter 31 Quotes

“Sometimes I wonder,” I say, as calmly as I can, “what’s in it for you. This…whatever it is.”
“What’s in it for me,” he repeats. He steps back, shaking his head. “You’re an idiot, Tris.”
“I am not an idiot,” I say. “Which is why I know that it’s a little weird that, of all the girls you could have chosen, you chose me. So if you’re just looking for…um, you know…that…”
“What? Sex?” He scowls at me. “You know, if that was all I wanted, you probably wouldn’t be the first person I would go to.”

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four (speaker)
Page Number: 401-402
Explanation and Analysis:

Tris and Tobias bicker over sex and attraction. Tris accuses Tobias of using her for sex (not an unreasonable claim), but Tobias angrily insists that he's not--if he just wanted sex, he'd have gone to a different woman.

Tris and Tobias seem equally inexperienced with relationships, even if Tobias is more experienced with sex per se. Tris clearly lacks confidence in her own beauty and intelligence, hence her refusal to believe that Tobias is interested in her in any serious capacity. Tobias, for his part, is clumsy in the way he defends his actions. In all, the passage is refreshing insofar as it shows two young adults talking openly and frankly about sex and sexuality. Neither Tobias nor Tris is very experienced with romance, but by talking with one another, they're gaining experience.

Chapter 38 Quotes

I have done this before—in my fear landscape, with the gun in my hand, a voice shouting at me to fire at the people I love. I volunteered to die instead, that time, but I can’t imagine how that would help me now. But I just know, I know what the right thing to do is. My father says—used to say—that there is power in self-sacrifice. I turn the gun in my hands and press it into Tobias’s palm.

Related Characters: Beatrice Prior / Tris (speaker), Tobias / Four , Andrew Prior
Page Number: 475
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic scene of the novel, Tris points a gun at Tobias, who's been brainwashed to fight on behalf of Eric and Jeanine. Although Tris knows the "right" Dauntless thing to do is to shoot Tobias, she finds herself unable to hurt her friend and lover. Instead of embracing violence, like the good Dauntless soldier she's been trained to be, Tris opts for the way of Abnegation: she sacrifices her own safety and security to protect Tobias.

The passage proves that Tris, in spite of her success among the Dauntless recruits, can't be pinned down as Dauntless. A true Divergent, she alternates between Dauntless courage and Abnegation virtue. In the end, she seems to place a higher premium on love and compassion than on victory--a sure sign that she's transcended the petty factionalism of her society.

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.