The next day, Four organizes fights between the new recruits. He explains that, since there’s an odd number of recruits, one of them will be sitting out. Tris notices that her name isn’t written on the wall, while the other recruits’ names are—it looks like she’ll be sitting out. As the recruits prepare for their fights, it occurs to Tris that her new friend, Christina, is probably her first real friend—although Tris had friends in Abnegation, it was hard to have a friendship where neither person wanted to talk about themselves.
By leaving Tris out of the competition, Four makes Tris unpopular (perhaps intentionally). He makes her seem to be even more of an outsider, too weak and frightened to participate in an important Dauntless bonding activity. Roth makes an interesting point here regarding Christina as Tris’s first “real” friend, suggesting that there must be an element of self-love and confidence (the qualities Abnegation suppresses) in allowing oneself to really become close to someone.
Tris surveys her peers. There’s Peter, Drew, and Molly, already a trio of friends. Christina explains that Peter has “always been evil”—Christina and Peter grew up together. Drew, Tris can see, is big and intimidating. Molly is tall, like Christina, and supposedly very mean.
It’s interesting to see the cliques within Dauntless. Although the purpose of the factions was to build group loyalty, the atmosphere of competition and combat actually creates new divisions within Dauntless.
The fights begin. Al fights Will, and Tris winces as she watches. Tris confesses to Christina that she’s uncomfortable hurting people. Will and Al continue fighting, and Eric yells at them not to slow down. Four, who’s also monitoring the fight, argues with Eric—Four claims that the fight could end when one of the competitors concedes. As Eric and Four argue, Will and Al continue fighting. Eventually, Al succeeds in punching Will hard in the jaw. Will falls to the floor, and Eric orders Al to drag him away.
There’s a fine line between Eric’s approach and Four’s: Eric seems to enjoy fighting for its own sake, while Four wants Al and Will to fight so that they learn something. Because of this, Four allows the fight to finish when one competitor has no chance of winning. But Eric outranks Four, suggesting that the Dauntless leadership echoes Eric’s sadistic point of view.
The next fight is between Molly and Christina. Molly hits Christina hard and fast, but Christina fights back. After a few minutes, Molly pushes Christina to the ground, drawing blood, and Christina yells that she’s conceding. Tris is so disturbed by the sight of her friend bleeding that she instinctively grabs Al’s arm.
It’s important that Tris grabs Al’s hand. First, this suggests that Tris has yet to be “toughened up”—she’s still a shy Abnegation girl. Second, it is a suggestion of sexuality, implying that she is developing a subconscious romantic interest in the boys surrounding her.
Eric, annoyed that Christina has conceded so early, drags Christina out of the room and orders everyone else to follow him. Eric pushes Christina to the pit and orders Christina to hang over the railing overlooking the water for five minutes—if she can’t do so, she’ll be factionless. Christina nervously hangs over the railing. After a few minutes, Christina looks like she’s about to slip. Al calls out encouragement for Christina, and Tris joins in. With her friends’ encouragement, Christina succeeds in hanging for five minutes, and Eric allows her to come back.
Here, we see how the factions create a sense of group loyalty and solidarity. Although Eric intends Christina’s punishment as a mere exercise in humiliation, designed to alienate her from her peers, the punishment ends up having the opposite effect. Christina’s fear and pain unites her with her peers, and they end up supporting her so vigorously that she succeeds in passing Eric’s challenge. Unfortunately, this kind of solidarity is the exception in Dauntless, not the rule.