The next morning, Tris prepares for target practice. Eric announces that today is the last day of stage one: afterwards, the initiates will move on to tougher challenges. Eric shows Tris and her peers how to throw knives. Tris notices that Eric seems to be in a particularly bad mood. He keeps glaring at Four, who’s also present for the training.
As Tris spends more time in Dauntless, she gets a keener sense for the competitiveness between Four and Eric. This suggests that Tris is becoming more mature and more perceptive.
After 30 minutes, all the trainees have learned to throw their knives, with the exception of Al. Eric orders Al to retrieve his knife from behind the target—while the other recruits continue throwing theirs. Al refuses, and Eric then orders Al to stand in front of the target. Four mutters that this exercise isn’t really necessary, but Eric reminds Four that he (Eric) is in charge. Eric orders Al to stand by the target while Four hurls knives. Tris protests that the punishment is useless—Eric is just bullying Al unnecessarily. Eric laughs and orders Tris to switch places with Al. Tris does so, reluctantly. She stands by the target while Four throws knives—at first with her eyes closed, then (after Four goads her) with them open. Four throws a knife, and it nicks Tris’s ear. Tris can tell that Four did this on purpose.
In this important scene, the characters show their “true colors.” Eric reveals himself to be a small-minded bully, more concerned about demonstrating his authority to Four than training good warriors. Four, meanwhile, proves himself to be calm and collected in the face of a fight, while Tri shows her bravery once again, and looks out for those who are weaker and more cowardly than she. (Her decision to “sacrifice” herself for Al also has conspicuous Christian overtones.)
Eric tells the other recruits that Tris is “daring,” and leaves. Tris angrily confronts Four and asks him why hurt her. Four smiles quietly and explains that he’s just done her a huge favor. Tris continues to be angry with Four, and Four asks her, “If I wanted to hurt you, don’t you think I would have already?”
It’s not exactly clear why Four cuts Tris’s ear—Four doesn’t offer a totally coherent explanation. However, we can infer that he’s trying to make Four seem like a victim, rather than a “teacher’s pet.” If Four hadn’t hurt Tris at all, Tris’s peers would have assumed that Four was favoring her.