Tris begins her fear challenge. She finds herself alone in a strange place, with grass and concrete buildings. The sky is green, and birds fly around her. Crows snatch at Tris, but she’s able to ignore the pain they cause her. Tris finds a gun in her hand, and she uses it to shoot away the birds.
Tris’s first challenge, significantly, are birds, which seem to be a fear of hers, but also to represent her family. This is perhaps Tris’s most basic, long-lasting fear: the fear that she’s alienated and disappointed her parents.
The landscape changes: Tris is now on the edge of a beach. Waves cascade over her head, throwing her to the ground. Tris manages to remain calm and hold onto the rocks, preventing herself from being crushed by the waves.
Tris is also frightened of water and drowning, as we’ve seen in her previous fear challenges.
The scenery changes again: this time, Tris finds herself in a dark place, surrounded by cackling enemies. Tris notices Peter carrying a torch. Peter jabs the flame at Tris, burning her flesh. Then Tris begins to smell something odd: rain. Raindrops crash down on her, hurting her burnt skin. Tris wishes that she only had four fears—but of course, she has many more.
One of Tris’s fears is of her peers in the Dauntless community—both because Peter and Al tried to kill her, and because of the constant sense of competition that makes it seem like they are all, on some level, enemies. Throughout all this, however, Tris remains fairly calm—she’s able to “stand outside” her own experiences to the point where she can wait for the test to be over.
Tris finds herself back in the Abnegation headquarters. She notices that the room is lined with mirrors. A man whose face is covered with scars walks closer and closer to Tris. Tris tries to tell herself that this is imaginary, but she can’t stop herself from screaming. Tris takes her gun and shoots herself in the head.
Tris is daunted by the sight of a mysterious man, and the presence of mirrors suggests that this fear represents a major part of Tris’s own self-image. Tris is sometimes willing to sacrifice herself without thinking, hence her decision to shoot herself in the head. She is, in perfect Abnegation form, selfless.
Suddenly, Tris finds herself sitting next to Tobias. She notices a huge bed behind her. Tobias smiles, and pulls off Tris’s jacket. He kisses her, but Tris doesn’t feel well. She tells “simulation Tobias” that she’s not going to have sex with him. Tobias disappears.
Tris’s most recent fear is the fear of sex and sexuality. She’s so inexperienced with sex (and grew up in such a repressed, Puritanical community) that she regards it as frightening and sinister.
Tris finds herself facing her parents and brother. She also becomes conscious of a gun pressed to her head. She hears Jeanine’s voice saying, “Do it.” Tris realizes that she’s pointing her own gun at Caleb. Caleb says, “It’s okay.” Again, Tris hears Jeanine’s voice, ordering her to fire a gun. Jeanine counts down from ten, and Tris feels a growing sense of panic.
Tris keeps circling around her most fundamental fear: her fear of losing her family forever. Tris can sense that she’s been pitted against her family—because she’s in a different faction, she’s being coached to hate the people of Abnegation and Erudite.
Tris remembers something Tobias told her: selflessness and bravery aren’t so different. Although she’s holding a gun and pointing it at Caleb, Tris decides to put the gun down, thinking “Shoot me instead.” There’s a click and a bang, and then the simulation ends.
At the end of the day, Tris is strong enough to sacrifice herself rather than hurt her family. It’s also telling that this comes with her realization that selflessness and bravery—that is, Abnegation and Dauntlessness—aren’t inherently different.