Divergent | Study Guide

Veronica Roth

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Course Hero. "Divergent Study Guide." May 17, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Divergent/.

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Divergent | Themes

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Manifestations of Courage

Much of Tris's growth in the narrative is connected to her understanding of courage. The characters in Divergent each offer examples of different types of bravery, including false bravery or the lack of courage. One of Tris's most profound discoveries over the course of her journey is that selflessness and courage are often synonymous. When she transfers to Dauntless, she leaves Abnegation because she feels she is incapable of selflessness. Tris views herself as an inherently selfish person and hopes that Dauntless will suit her. What she learns as she struggles through the Dauntless initiation is that she is capable of compassion and selflessness, though she thinks of these things as courage. By leaving Abnegation and joining Dauntless, Tris comes full circle to her Abnegation roots of selflessness.

The deaths of Tris's parents are the most poignant examples of courage manifesting as selflessness. When Tris's parents sacrifice themselves to give Tris a chance to live, she is able to understand how closely linked selflessness and bravery are. Her parents didn't think before giving their lives for her. They ignored their fears and their own needs and acted out of the belief that saving their daughter was the right thing to do. Their sacrifices give Tris the opportunity to contemplate sacrifice and death in a new light. She is able to look at Al's suicide and understand why what he did was not brave. She feels in her gut that Al's decision to take his own life was wrong, and her parents' deaths help her understand why she feels that way. Al used death as an escape from his pain and guilt. In his case, Tris sees that the courageous choice would have been for him to face the things he has done and take responsibility for them.

When Tris first joins Dauntless, she is drawn by the reckless bravery and vitality of the Dauntless children she sees. She feels alive in moments of danger or reckless abandon, such as climbing the Ferris wheel or zip lining off a skyscraper. What Tris comes to understand, however, is that this type of thrill seeking does not exemplify true courage. These situations allow Tris to enjoy herself by taking risks, but they don't involve a true setting-aside of fears or self-interest. Characters like Eric or Peter enjoy a thrill but don't command real courage. They are focused only on self-interest and self-advancement and will do whatever is necessary to look out for themselves. In short, they are extremely selfish and therefore not brave. Divergent is built around the idea that selflessness and bravery are one and the same concept and that true bravery is usually also an act of selflessness.

Self-Discovery

Tris's journey of self-discovery is a central theme in Divergent's narrative. While many of the other characters enter the story and remain static in terms of personal growth, Tris's character undergoes many transformations of self-awareness and maturity. At the beginning of the novel, it seems as though Tris hardly knows herself. A childhood spent in Abnegation has taught her to always think of others before herself, and for Tris, this meant that she had little opportunity to reflect on her own personality and sense of self. When Tris leaves Abnegation to join Dauntless, she takes the first steps toward self-discovery. Initially, she sees her choice as indicative of her selfishness and desire to cultivate her own courage. Later, she begins to understand that courage demands that she give up her selfish nature.

One of the most critical ways in which Tris experiences growth is in her friendships. For Tris, who has never had meaningful relationships with anyone outside her family, these new relationships provide her with another opportunity to understand herself. Through her friends' feedback and responses, Tris learns more about what type of person she is. She is able to see herself through their eyes and is unfamiliar with what she finds. Christina, in particular, helps Tris strip away the Abnegation tendencies that tell her to try and blend in and downplay her appearance. Tris tries new clothes, eats new food, and gets a tattoo. She is beginning to exercise a sense of individuality that she never experienced in Abnegation.

One of the most profound ways in which Tris's understanding of herself changes is her understanding of selflessness. She initially sees herself as a selfish person. Then she encounters truly selfish people, such as Eric and Peter, during the Dauntless initiation. With Tobias's help, Tris begins to see how her acts of courage are actually acts of selflessness. Dauntless places Tris in situations that require her to act or to formulate opinions about other people's actions. This process helps her understand her own values and gives her the opportunity to exercise those values in an entirely new way. In order to understand selflessness and courage, Tris had to leave Abnegation and find herself.

Fear and Control

In Divergent, fear and control are often interlinked. Each of the Dauntless initiates struggles to control their response to fear. The second and third stages of initiation are all about the initiates facing and learning how to control their fears. As Tobias explains to Tris during the second-stage simulations, the goal of the process is not to eradicate one's fears—which is impossible—but instead to learn how to maintain self control in the presence of fear.

Most fears seem to be about a lack of control. Certainly, Tobias's and Tris's fears are all based on a fear of helplessness or loss of control. Tobias is made to feel helpless by his father, who physically abuses him. Both Tobias and Tris fear a scenario where they are forced to kill an innocent or someone they love. At the heart of these situations is the terror that arises from the characters' inability to control the situation. In Tris's fear landscape, the waves crashing her against rocks is a direct manifestation of her fear of losing control. Some of her other fears deal with control more subtly. Her fear of intimacy, for instance, is also an issue of control. In an intimate situation with another person, Tris becomes vulnerable, and, as a result, she gives up some of her control over her body, her emotions, and the situation.

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