Suggested Essay Questions
1.In what ways does Tris’s identity develop over the course of the novel?
Tris began the novel timid and unsure of herself and her desires, which was characteristic of her Abnegation upbringing: she was never allowed to focus on herself, so she never knew exactly what she wanted. Upon choosing Dauntless her bravery obviously begins to blossom, but she experiences some other changes as well. She forges friendships and relationships central to her identity, with people who bring out the best in her. And she learns that though she has chosen another faction, she can still be selfless; and indeed she is, time and time again. By the end of the novel, she is fully aware of herself as Divergent – someone who does not fit in, but who cannot be controlled. The events of the end of the novel reinforce who she has been – selfless – and who she wants to become – brave. There are many significant experiences to discuss, both good and bad, that shaped Tris as a person throughout her time in Dauntless.
2.Compare and contrast this rigidly structured society with our own. What are the pros and cons of each? Does one provide a more effective lifestyle than the other?
The distinctions between Tris’s society and our own are very apparent; their idea of becoming a good person involves selecting one virtue to cultivate their entire lives, while for us, being good and morally sound involves a mixture of all of their faction virtues and more. Socially, we have much more freedom of choice, but is that freedom always a good thing? Studying any of the five virtues of Tris’s world can indeed have positive effects on one’s life. It all depends on perspective; either could be seen as the more effective lifestyle, depending on how you look at it, but the faction system certainly makes some significant missteps in trying to control and direct a person’s identity and humanity.
3.Discuss the soundness of a government run only by a single faction. Is Jeanine Matthews truly wrong for calling for greater representation, or is it better to keep administration in the hands of the selfless?
This is certainly a far cry from our system of democracy. While having the innately selfless run the government seems like a respectable idea in theory, in practice it may fall short. Abnegation do not have the same goals in life as Erudite, Candor, Amity, or Dauntless, so therefore it is natural that their administration is called into question. Perhaps a system with equal representation from every faction would be a better strategy; though policy would not consist of extremely selfless acts, sometimes representatives do have to be selfish advocates for their people. And with everyone having a say, there would be much less chance of a rebellion the size of Erudite’s. Jeanine wasn’t entirely wrong in what she preached, but she certainly went about it the wrong way, and Abnegation wasn’t to blame for a system that had been flawed from the start.
4.What are the benefits of sorting people into social groups the way the factions are sorted? What are the drawbacks?
We tend to subconsciously sort ourselves into groups regardless; we gravitate towards people with similar interests as us, people with similar backgrounds, people who look like us. With a society organized into groups, citizens are always surrounded by like-minded people, and there is a much greater chance of getting along with those who think like you. On the other hand, though, that separation can promote intolerance and prejudice, which is obviously apparent in the novel; all the factions shunned the values of their competitors, promoting a far too separated way of life.
5.There are only five factions; are there any other human virtues missing from the list? Why would these be necessary in well-rounded citizens?
Valuing only honesty, selflessness, peacefulness, bravery, and intelligence seems like a very small slice of the vast majority of honorable human virtues. Another faction could exist based on loyalty; many of the problems in Tris’s world (and our own) are caused by betrayal and distrust. A faction based on diligence could ensure that all its citizens are hardworking and productive. And there could also be a faction based on creativity, which shapes the mind in many ways the other factions do not.
6.Discuss Tris Prior as our protagonist. Is she a reliable narrator? Does she always tell the truth? Are we constrained by her point of view?
Tris is typically a very straightforward narrator, though perhaps her point of view is often clouded by her own personal prejudices. We do not get a good sense of Peter’s character, for instance, because she is always so determined to hate him; perhaps there is more to him than meets the eye. We’re certainly constrained by her perspective, only knowing what she knows at any given time. We solve the mysteries of Four, her mother, and the Erudite-Abnegation feud only as soon as she does, because the story is told only from her first person perspective. The limits of this perspective does allow for some mystery and tension, though, as well as the strong impression of Tris as a hero.
7.What significance do Tris’s relationships have in her life?
Various relationships begin to blossom for Tris only after she’s left Abnegation. Her family is broken apart, but at a distance she seems to get even closer to her mother, learning more about her past than she ever knew before. In Abnegation, Tris never had true friendships, but in Dauntless she becomes close to Will, Christina, Al, Uriah, and some of the other initiates. Without them, she wouldn’t have had the support she needed to get through initiation. And finally, her relationship with Four has changed her in many ways; she’s been given someone to open up to, who in turn opens up to her, and for a person with as much to deal with as Tris, this is absolutely essential.
8.Compare and contrast Peter and Jeanine Matthews as antagonists. Who would be considered the central antagonist?
Both Peter and Jeanine serve as Tris’s enemies, but in very different ways. Peter is more present throughout the novel, causing trouble for Tris during initiation, her most immediate concern. But Jeanine is an antagonist on a larger scale; though she doesn’t make an actual appearance until late in the novel, we know she’s been behind the growing rebellion of the Erudite and the hunt for Divergent. Jeanine’s aims and the reach of her grasp lead to something much, much larger than a struggle for ranking during initiation. For this reason, only Jeanine can be considered the central antagonist.
9.In what ways is the brewing war between Abnegation and Erudite reminiscent of our societal power struggles?
Though the battle at the culmination of the novel is fought with high-tech innovations like simulations, the circumstances that caused it can be easily compared to the power struggles in our own society. It starts with a group of people believing they’ve been treated unjustly, with an unfairly small amount of say in government, and ends with a bloody battle to determine who stays and who goes. Revolutions and major modern-day wars begin in much the same way. Jeanine Matthews is representative of the persuasive, charismatic, and intelligent leader who is able to convince her people to rally against another group; in this case, Abnegation. Jeanine’s method of manipulation through propaganda (false claims about Abnegation) and disrespect for others based on a perceived difference or lack mirrors fascist leaders from history.
10.Which theme in the novel would you consider the most significant, and why?
Though many major themes in Divergent are prevalent, the one that constantly comes into play is the theme of identity and how one’s choices determine self. Tris is constantly making choices that define who she is, starting with the major one on Choosing Day and continuing throughout initiation, ending with her decision not to shoot Tobias in the control room in order to stop the simulation. Her identity develops further with every decision, and eventually she learns that she can truly be brave and selfless at the same time. This theme applies to other characters as well; Caleb, for instance, chose to switch to Erudite in order to stay true to his own identity, but eventually returns to Abnegation because he decides that Erudite’s plans were wrong, and he could not be a part of it. Each and every character in the novel makes at least one choice that aids in determining their identity; therefore, this theme is extremely significant.