During the time she spends training with the Dauntless, Tris Prior learns how to confront her deepest fears, and indeed, this is one of the most basic lessons she learns from her Dauntless mentors. The entire culture of the Dauntless community is centered on fear, as the Dauntless believe that fear—or rather, cowardice—is the most basic problem with the human race. Thus, the path to success and peace necessarily involves mastering one’s fears and becoming brave. In general, Divergent shows how Tris “comes of age” by understanding and dealing with her fears.
One of the novel’s most important points about fear is that everybody, without exception, feels it. Tris and her peers go through rigorous training, during which they’re made to vividly experience their fears. Every one of the new recruits is shaken by this challenge: fear is their common denominator, bringing them closer together. One could even say that fear is the most fundamental thing “about” the characters, some of whom (Four, for example) are actually named after their fears.
If fear is a basic part of being human, then growing up requires us to make sense of our fears. Interestingly, Divergent suggests that being brave doesn’t mean eliminating fear altogether; rather, bravery requires us to come to terms with fear and deal with it even if we can’t actually defeat it. During Tris’s Dauntless training, she’s injected with hallucinogenic serum that makes her experience her worst fears, but over time, Tris learns how to cope with her fears. She accepts that she’ll always be frightened of the same things: drowning, losing her family, etc. Instead of trying to “hide” from these fears, Tris forces herself to accept them as realities. Because she’s Divergent (and thus has access to a unique mental state that’s never fully explained in the book), Tris has an easier time than most staying sane during her training: she’s able to tell herself, “This is just a hallucination.” Tris’s courage and composure in the face of fear make her seem mature and adult-like to her peers among the Dauntless—and to readers.
Tris’s struggle to come to terms with her fears is more than an important part of her training, though. It also represents one of her greatest strengths as a heroine. While many of Tris’s peers and friends are easily manipulated by the propaganda released by the Erudites, Tris “sticks to her guns,” recognizing that the Erudite are trying to scare the other factions into obedience. In general, Tris isn’t as susceptible to manipulation and scare tactics as her friends. In no small part, this is because she’s courageous; her Dauntless training has taught her to accept fear instead of trying to bury it altogether. Everyone feels fear, Tris included. But Tris is special: she learns how to deal with her fear in a productive way. In general, she’s the heroine of the novel not so much because of her intelligence or her combat skills, but because she’s Divergent: because of her Divergence, she’s able to use fear in a productive way, becoming a brave, full-grown adult in the process.
Fear, Bravery, and Maturity ThemeTracker
Fear, Bravery, and Maturity Quotes in Divergent
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.
“The chasm reminds us that there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy!” Four shouts. “A daredevil jump off this ledge will end your life. It has happened before and it will happen again. You’ve been warned.”
It takes me five rounds to hit the middle of the target, and when I do, a rush of energy goes through me. I am awake, my eyes wide open, my hands warm. I lower the gun. There is power in controlling something that can do so much damage—in controlling something, period. Maybe I do belong here.
“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.
My heart beats so hard it hurts, and I can’t scream and I can’t breathe, but I also feel everything, every vein and every fiber, every bone and every nerve, all awake and buzzing in my body as if charged with electricity. I am pure adrenaline.
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.”
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.
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.”
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?”
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.
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.