Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Erudite, Dauntless, Abnegation, Candor, Amity... Which faction are you?

4 out of 5 stars

I feel the need to make this less a review and more a rebuttal towards the many points others have brought up as the reason for why Divergent sucks/doesn't make sense/is lacking:

The book is one big initiation ritual, with the action only taking place in the last 100 pages.

Well, in a way the people saying this are right... and yet they're also wrong. Rather than being a delay to the story, the initiation is the story. Along the way, it's foreshadowed as to what's building up, the big issue which is settled, or starting the process of being settled, at the end of the book. But we need the initiation, the discovery of who Tris is at heart and what she's capable of, to come to fruition before the action could take place. Let me clarify that: Before the action could take place and result in a satisfactory story.

The world-building is lacking insofar as how the factions were created and the reasons why people would go along with the concept.

Okay, so we're never told how the faction system came into being. There's a mention of a 'great peace' after which the factions were formed, so from that we can infer that before that, there was a great war. And it must've been great and devastating and, probably, long, for people to want to divide and segregate themselves in such a manner; not only that, but subjugate their instincts in order to fit into such narrow definitions. Yet, we're human: for all that we say we're individuals and want to go our own way, very few of us actually have the courage to do so. Most follow along with the herd, even those herds who proclaim that they're individuals. Yeah, you're all individuals who are wearing the same thing, doing the same thing, thinking the same thing. Go individuality! As Tris's mom says near the end of the book: “Every faction conditions its members to think and act a certain way. And most people do it. For most people, it's not hard to learn, to find a pattern of thought that works and stay that way.” It's human nature to go with the flow; it's comfortable and it's easy. Just look at the many countries around the world with oppressive governments and little-to-no resistance. So for those critics who say Veronica Roth's five faction system is unrealistic or not well thought out, I say, it's very easy to see humans going along with such a system, even if it is biblically based (which is rather ridiculous and I'll get into the reason for that in a bit).

Why is Abnegation in charge of government when they're such wimps?

Right at the beginning of the book, on page 33, that decision is explained: Representatives from Abnegation make up the ruling council as that faction is seen as incorruptible because of its members commitment to selflessness. So, maybe that's a bit simplistic; after all, wouldn't you want someone from the intelligence or peace faction as well? Wouldn't the faction that prides honesty be just as incorruptible? Possibly. Then again, someone from Candor could be completely honest about how or why he took money as a bribe. So if all you're looking for is a ruling body that won't be swayed by bribes, it makes sense to use a faction that values selflessness above all else. That ruling body may not be particularly politically astute, but it will be inviolable.

Why would this society rely on, let alone trust, a military unit, Dauntless, which is basically made up of psychopaths?

Again, this is explained in the book. Dauntless was once a faction of brave individuals who followed the manifesto set out by its creators, one of lines of which reads: 'We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.' But recently the leadership of Dauntless changed hands and those that are now in charge emphasis a more ruthless and, yes, slightly psychotic edge to the training and behavior of Dauntless members. Not to mention certain of those leaders are in cahoots with Jeanine, the big villain of the piece, ***SPOILER***in their search to identify and weed out Divergents like Tris, not to mention start a war in order to overthrow the current government, ***END SPOILER*** which means even more they're going to do things and behave in ways more vicious than previous Dauntless. Basically, the faction is corrupting, which ties in with the increasingly noticeable corruption of the other factions, mainly Erudite and Candor. As a faction corrupts, it changes and it worsens. Which is why the Dauntless seem like nothing more than train-chasing, adrenaline-junky, building-jumping hooligans.

Tris is cold/robotic/lacking in sympathy/judgmental.

There are a lot of facets to this particular complaint. One part complains about Tris's problem with intimacy. I hate to seem like a broken record, but this is explained in the book. By growing up in Abnegation, Tris isn't used to physical contact, from hugs to shaking hands. So it makes sense that, while she and Four could do some innocent petting, the idea of full-on sexual relations with the boy would freak her out and make her pause. Believe me, I completely understand this point: I'm unused to physical contact myself; I'm not a hugger and the one time a strange man touched my shoulder (as a way to apologize for bumping into me, not in any perverted way), I flinched and freaked out internally. Yeah, probably more than you wanted to know about me, but, still, I know whereof Tris is coming from. Anyway, then there's the charge that she's judgmental towards her fellow initiates. Mainly this charge revolves around how she behaves when she hears the other initiate, Al, crying after their first night in Dauntless. Instead of comforting him, as she's been raised to do, she feels disgust that someone who looks so strong should act so weak. Yeah, it sounds pretty heartless, until you realize what she's dealing with: For her entire life she's been told to live only for the good of others, to deny herself in favor of helping others. Yet her instincts are contrary to this; she doesn't want to help others, at least not to the detriment of herself. If she helps Al, she's just reinforcing the test which placed her in Abnegation, but with all her heart, she knows she belongs in Dauntless. So, she has to be heartless if only to reinforce to herself that she's Dauntless. Mean? Yes. Logical? Not to anyone but a teenager. As far as other “judgements” she may pass, well, who the fuck among us hasn't had disparaging, nasty, biased, rude thoughts about others? If you say you haven't, you're lying. In the privacy of our brains, we're allowed to think what we like; it's when we break down and allow those mean thoughts to inform our actions that we fail as human beings.

Four isn't romantic, he's bossy, demeaning, arrogant, and brooding.

Once again, the book makes it quite clear what Four is attempting to do: dissemble. He wants to help Tris, but he can't come out and say, “Hey, guess what? This place is bugged and Eric is working for someone, we think from Erudite, who's on the hunt for Divergents. You've got a big bull's eye on your back, so try to be more discrete. Oh, and I like you, but if I show it in front of Eric, he'll just use that as ammunition to destroy me because I'm better than him, and he's already gunning for me. And if I go, you'll really be up shit creek without a paddle. M'kay?” It's Tris who is the problem, and this is the first big fail of Roth's. Tris can be a major idiot at times, taking her way to long to pick up on hints and other various 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' moments. She's kick-ass, that's for sure, but she needs to be smarter.

Why does Tris see Caleb's leaving as a betrayal when she herself leaves? Why does she immediately discard all of Abnegation's traits? Why does she feel the need to leave and join Dauntless in the first place?

I figured I'd join these up to save some space. Tris sees Caleb's leaving as a betrayal because she assumed, from his perfect Abnegation behavior, that he would stay, that he would be the one to console their parents as they recovered from her betrayal. The fact that he also chose another faction over Abnegation was shocking and that shock manifested as betrayal. She discards her Abnegation traits and appearance, getting tattoos and dressing in black, because, for one, it bonds her to her new faction and, for another, the greatest rule of all, repeated several times in the book, is Faction before blood. Her family is now the Dauntless faction. She must follow their rules. And, yeah, it's a bit about rebellion, but be honest, wouldn't you? If you lived a life of strict denial, where even looking in a mirror was forbidden, and then were told you could dress as you like, decorate your body as you like, be adventurous, do formerly forbidden things, are you saying you'd continue to live as you did before? Yeah, right, didn't think so. And that's why Tris felt the need to leave in the first place. She said it herself: Looking upon the Abnegation lifestyle as an outsider, she thought it was beautiful. The simplicity of it, the love. But when she imagined herself actually living that life, she couldn't fit in; she couldn't be genuine.

Why does her Divergent status mean she's so good at weapons and fighting, and so quickly?

I don't think it does. I think she gets better quickly in order to survive. However, the idea of her being Divergent making her somehow more capable than the others, when you think about it, it makes sense. After all, the whole idea behind being Divergent is that she has access to traits beyond one faction, which seems normal to use, but dangerously subversive to the world Roth created. More traits means the ability to think in more than one direction and thus a greater grasp of skills.

Her relationship with the other pledges felt fake and forced because they'd be friends one day and enemies the next.

Tris and Christina's friendship felt quite genuine, under the circumstances. After all, getting into Dauntless could rest on the fact that one of them might have to beat the other in the competition. So the aspect of wariness which pervades Tris's dealings with all the other initiates she's friendly with makes perfect sense.

Points that have been brought up which I agree with:
-Religion is casually mentioned, especially in regards to Tris, without any context. In a rigidly defined world such as the one Roth is setting up, religion is either banned, which could explain the quasi-underground sense of use I get when Tris and her father reference it, or it's mandatory. Either way is not clearly defined in the book.
-Nothing is said of the world outside of Chicago. We are told of a fence enclosing the city, which the Dauntless patrol, but against what? Who's out there?
-What's with the trains? Why do they run all the time? What purpose do they serve? Is it just understood that the Dauntless use them or do they use them illegally? Does anyone else ride the trains?
-What's the economic basis of the society? They use points to buy stuff, which, at least in Dauntless, are allotted monthly. How do they earn points? Are there demerits? Is the point system based on barter, behavior, what?

At the end of all this, what am I saying. Am I saying the world-building is complete? No. It's still got some holes and weaknesses. Is the story perfect? Hell no. Very few stories ever are. However, if I had a daughter and was given a choice of books for her to idolize between this and Twilight, I'd pick Divergent every single time, for the simple fact that Roth has written a female lead who has the strength of conviction to go her own way, to choose her own path in life, to choose a different life over a life she's known and lead and been instructed in since she was a child. Tris is a character who learns she can be strong, in many ways stronger than the men she's around, even the man she loves. And damn if that isn't refreshing!

Read June 8-10, 2012
Reviewed June 12, 2012

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