In the future dystopia of Divergent, the residents of Chicago are divided into five factions based on predominant personality traits: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual. (Why not Dauntlessness and Erudition, to keep it all noun form?) The main character, Beatrice, grew up in an Abnegation household. Their group serves the needy and runs the government. Amity are farmers. Candor handles the courts and other legal matters. The Dauntless are the cops and soldiers of the city, and run around scaling buildings and metro bridges for fun. The Erudite are scientists and intellectuals. Those that don’t belong to any group are Factionless and live on the streets.
At sixteen, youths are tested to see which group is appropriate for them. They are told they can choose the group they prefer, regardless of test results, but this is clearly bogus because further group-specific testing weeds out those that use strategies not typical of that group, at least in Dauntless. Judging from the auditorium seating at the selection, the population is exactly divided between the five groups, which can be identified by their garb. Abnegation dresses in gray clothes and look like conservative Mennonites.
Obviously, Beatrice does not test tidily into just one category (she’s positive for three), or we would not have a title or a story. She is told that the Divergent are considered dangerous, especially by the Erudite, who are brilliant scientists but also include fascists that are trying to wrest control of the government from Abnegation. Beatrice opts for Dauntless because they’re cool and fearless and have the most fun (shades of Gryffindor, except that the group’s internal brutality is more like Slytherin).
Dauntless has two young trainers: one is a fascist ass, in charge of cadets from Dauntless families; the other, Cuatro, is an undercover Divergent, in charge of those from other backgrounds. Cuatro has a massive tattoo on his back that ought to give away his Divergent status to anyone with half a brain, but apparently no one has ever noticed, which is odd considering that there is just one large communal shower area in the Dauntless barracks. (The communal showers and the rows of unwalled toilets are fortunately not addressed again after our first glimpse of the accommodations.)
Divergents, according to the movie, are not susceptible to mind control as are ordinary folks. We see this in the tests in which Beatrice is supposed to face her deepest fears: she is able to say, “This isn’t real,” and emerge unscathed. We also see it when the Dauntless cadets are injected with a mind control drug and marched off to round up Abnegation so that Erudite can take over the government: Beatrice and Cuatro pretend to be affected as the others, but split off as soon as is feasible to rescue her parents and halt the slaughter.
Here are some of the stupid premises and contradictions presented in this movie:
♦ The average person is defined by a single primary motivation.
♦ The average person is easily controlled.
♦ Adults do not question the status quo.
♦ Even though Abnegation is the ruling group, there is no freedom of expression.
♦ There is no voice questioning the legitimacy of the system.
♦ The Factionless are useless bums even though many of them are also Divergent.
♦ Teenagers must save the world because adults are mindlessly conventional, helpless, or evil.
This kind of nonsense is typical of teens-save-the-world stories, unfortunately. At least in Harry Potter there were right-thinking, vocal, and powerful adults (Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix) involved in the struggle. Here, however, the only trustworthy adults (Beatrice’s parents) get killed. I do give them credit for heroism in their last hours.
When the assault is halted and the cadets wake up from the mind control and face the horror of what they have been doing, I would have liked to see Cuatro and Beatrice rally them in the name of sense to confront their brutal leaders who kill all nonconformists. Instead, the two catch a train and head for the open country beyond the city wall.
Likewise, although I haven’t read Hunger Games, I wonder why the kids don’t just get together at the beginning of the game and say, “Wait, this is stupid! We don’t need to kill each other. Let’s go after the producers instead.” But that would make for a short book.
Our own culture has dealt or is dealing with slavery, witch trials, Jim Crow, abortion, and euthanasia, to name a few human rights issues. There has never been consensus on these matters; there have always been vocal dissidents speaking out against what they perceive as injustice. So why do teen fiction writers present people as sheep?
The theme of government by humanitarians vs. government by engineers is interesting and makes me want to reread C.S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Planet and his essay on The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. Maybe I’ll write about that someday.