In a way, Divergent is a book about choosing who you are. Because most of the characters in the novel are young adults, they’re trying to find identities for themselves and choose what kind of personality to have, or, in another sense, which “club” to belong to. Roth raises many important questions about identity: How do we choose an identity? What are some of the advantages of choosing the same identity as someone else? What happens if we want to change identities?
In the fictional futuristic society of Divergent, people choose their identities once and only once: a process that readers will recognize as absurd. When the city’s residents turn 16, there’s an elaborate ritual that culminates in the 16-year-olds choosing one of five “factions” to live with for the rest of their lives: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. Each faction corresponds to a specific personality type—for example, the Dauntless are bold, aggressive, and brave. In short, then, the city’s teenagers are forced to make a permanent choice about what kind of people they want to be, at the exact age when they should be experimenting with many different identities. As anyone who’s been a teenager will know, it’s impossible to decide who you are at the age of 16: inevitably, whatever decision you make at that age will come to seem like the wrong one.
Part of what makes Tris Prior such a sympathetic and relatable protagonist in Divergent is her refusal to stick to one faction: just like the average reader, she can’t make up her mind what kind of person she wants to be. At times, she thinks she “truly” belongs among the Dauntless; at others, she’s convinced that she’s most comfortable among the people of Abnegation, who are selfless and Puritanical.
Although only a tiny fraction of people in the city are Divergent (according to the novel), Tris comes to realize that nobody around her has a “truly” fixed identity: in other words, everyone is at least a little Divergent. The characters who seem the most quintessentially Dauntless or Abnegation, such as Tobias or Natalie, Tris’s mother, are revealed to have other identities, hidden beneath the ones they display to the public. The novel’s point isn’t that Natalie is really a Dauntless pretending to be Abnegation, or Abnegation pretending to be Dauntless. Rather, the suggestion is that nobody is Dauntless or Abnegation 100 percent of the time. People’s identities change constantly, and forcing people to choose one identity for themselves—particularly at such an early age—only leads to frustration. In the end, we see Tris embracing this truth. Throughout the book, she’s bounced back and forth between two or three different factions—in the novel’s final paragraph, however, she recognizes that she’ll have to “go beyond” any one of these factions. Identity, she comes to see, isn’t an outcome, to be decided on at the age of 16—instead, it’s an ongoing process.
Identity, Choice, and Divergence ThemeTracker
Identity, Choice, and Divergence Quotes in Divergent
We walk together to the kitchen. On these mornings when my brother makes breakfast, and my father’s hand skims my hair as he reads the newspaper, and my mother hums as she clears the table— it is on these mornings that I feel guiltiest for wanting to leave them.
“Beatrice,” she says, “under no circumstances should you share that information with anyone. This is very important.”
“We aren’t supposed to share our results.” I nod. “I know that.”
“No.” Tori kneels next to the chair now and places her arms on the armrest. Our faces are inches apart. “This is different. I don’t mean you shouldn’t share them now; I mean you should never share them with anyone, ever, no matter what happens. Divergence is extremely dangerous. You understand?”
“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.
“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.”
Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me. But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her. “Stay away from me,” I say quietly. My body feels rigid and cold, and I am not angry, I am not hurt, I am nothing. I say, my voice low, “Never come near me again.” Our eyes meet. His are dark and glassy. I am nothing. “If you do, I swear to God I will kill you,” I say. “You coward.”
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.