Themes

Courage versus Cowardice

Courage is defined as the strength to persevere in the face of fear, danger, or difficulties. In the world of Divergent, however, two opposing definitions of courage struggle for preeminence. While the Dauntless manifesto defines courage as the ability to transcend personal fears, Eric chooses to corrupt the very definition of the word for his own purposes. When Christina taps out in her fight with Molly, Eric threatens to expel her from the initiation program. To salvage her reputation, Christina must hang over the Chasm for five minutes; to fail is to invite certain death. Although Christina manages to redeem herself in Eric's eyes, the effect upon the rest of the initiates is not lost. Similar incidents of coercion during the training process lead Tris to conclude that she has traded "cowardice for cruelty" and "weakness for ferocity."

Because we experience Dauntless through Tris’s eyes, we discern her fears intimately. In Dauntless, initiates are pushed to the breaking point and failure to comply with orders may be fatal. By utilizing visual, tactile, auditory, and kinesthetic imagery, Roth highlights the terror associated with such an initiation process. While Christina hangs over the Chasm, Tris is faced with either letting her friend die or surrendering herself to a similar fate. At the very least, any help Tris extends to Christina will be equated with insubordination, which will almost certainly result in exile to the factionless sector. So Tris is forced to watch helplessly as Christina fights to stay alive. Through the world of Divergent, Roth draws attention to the problems that arise when unadulterated brutality is allowed to supplant traditional benchmarks of courage.

Relationships, Affection, and Intimacy in a Dystopian World

In Tris’s Abnegation world, overt displays of affection or intimacy are frowned upon. When she defects to Dauntless, however, Tris must not only survive the dangerous training of a Dauntless initiate but also navigate a new and complex web of interpersonal relationships. Despite her initial discomfort with intimacy—highlighted by her reaction to Edward and Myra’s public...

(The entire section is 1145 words.)