One of the first things we notice about the futuristic society in Divergent is that it’s rigorously classified: almost all people belong to one of five factions, and within each of these factions, members are constantly ranked and assessed for their abilities. One byproduct of all this ranking and classifying is that a spirit of competitiveness hangs over the characters’ lives. Each one of the factions competes with the others for glory and power, and within the Dauntless faction, Tris Prior and her peers compete for a high spot in the all-important “rankings.” It’s worth exploring the theme of competition a little more closely, since the entire book is structured around different kinds of competitions, ranging from boxing matches to citywide wars.
Divergent suggests that competition builds group loyalty. In the early chapters, it’s established that the Abnegation community despises the Erudite for their pretentiousness and arrogance. More importantly, however, the Abnegation community defines itself in relation to the Erudites: when Tris’s father, Andrew, explains why he’s proud to live in Abnegation, he explains in the same breath why he’s proud not to live among the Erudite. The competitiveness between the factions in Divergent leads to a strong sense of solidarity within the faction—indeed, a common saying in the city is “faction before family.” (Although it’s never explicitly stated in this first novel, it seems likely that this is why the factions were founded in the first place: in a time of crisis, the city’s leaders created factions to promote loyalty and a strong herd mentality.)
Competitiveness inspires group loyalty, but ironically, it also encourages strong rivalries and resentments between members of the same group. This is apparent from day one of Tris’s life in the Dauntless community. Even as Tris makes new friends among the Dauntless, and begins to think that she “belongs” among them, she can’t help but form equally powerful rivalries with other Dauntless recruits, such as Peter and Molly. At one point, the new Dauntless recruits play a city-wide game of capture the flag—a good illustration of the paradoxes of competition. Tris and the other recruits are divided into two competing teams. In other words, the competitiveness of the game encourages loyalty and disloyalty: loyalty to fellow teammates and disloyalty to opponents. Competitiveness is both attractive and repellent: it brings people together in solidarity at the same time that it pushes people apart.
Tris Prior’s complicated relationship with the Dauntless reflects some of the paradoxes of competition. She’s intelligent enough to recognize that the purpose of the rankings and sparring exercises is to breed a sense of aggression, competitiveness, and group loyalty. And yet Tris can’t quite “stand outside” the competition: she enjoys competing, even when she knows she’s being manipulated. Competitiveness is a crucial part of Tris’s character: throughout the novel, she’s motivated to do well in the rankings, not only because she wants a bright future for herself but also just for the sake of the rankings themselves. As the novel closes, Tris is still trying to work out her feelings about competition: she knows it leads to rivalry and violence, but she still can’t help but enjoy it.
Competition, Groups, and Rivalries ThemeTracker
Competition, Groups, and Rivalries Quotes in Divergent
“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.
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.
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.
“It ends when one of you is unable to continue,” says Eric.
“According to Dauntless rules,” Four says, “one of you could also concede.” Eric narrows his eyes at Four.
“According to the old rules,” he says. “In the new rules, no one concedes.”
“A brave man acknowledges the strength of others,” Four replies.
“A brave man never surrenders,” Eric says, and Four and Eric stare at each other for a few seconds.
I feel like I am looking at two different kinds of Dauntless—the honorable kind, and the ruthless kind. But even I know that in this room, it’s Eric, the youngest leader of the Dauntless, who has the authority.
“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.
“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.”
“The leadership,” he says. “The person who controls training sets the standard of Dauntless behavior. Six years ago Max and the other leaders changed the training methods to make them more competitive and more brutal, said it was supposed to test people’s strength. And that changed the priorities of Dauntless as a whole. Bet you can’t guess who the leaders’ new protégé is.”
The answer is obvious: Eric. They trained him to be vicious, and now he will train the rest of us to be vicious too.
I wanted to be like the Dauntless I saw at school. I wanted to be loud and daring and free like them. But they were not members yet; they were just playing at being Dauntless. And so was I, when I jumped off that roof. I didn’t know what fear was.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.