Divergent's Identity Crisis

By Dakarai Jane Bonyongwe

Divergent book series

Divergent is famous for more than just Theo James and Shailene Woodley’s portrayal of the celebrated characters Tobias Eaton (Four) and Beatrice Prior. A huge theme in this series is that of identity and the consequences of the failure to assimilate into one’s socially assigned role.

Identity asks the age-old question ‘Who am I?” and you’d be surprised to find that many people lack an answer to that question. We meet people every day, particularly in the university setting we’re in, and our task is to learn as much about them as possible in order to decide whether or not to create bonds with them and, if we choose to do so, to sustain those bonds. If a stranger asked me who I was I would respond by giving my name and typically that would suffice. What happens when my mother asks me that same question? Clearly she knows my name, so she has to be asking about something deeper than just that. She’s asking about what makes up the self in me.

What’s interesting about Divergent is that it is a world built around the idea that people’s identities can be classified so easily without getting to the root of who you actually are.

“People, I have discovered, are layers and layers of secrets. You believe you know them, that you understand them, but their motives are always hidden from you, buried in their own hearts…”

The real issue the world inside Divergent has is not that people like Tris are undefinable, but that they are more authentic about the fact that there is more to them than what the world is willing to work with and accept. It is ironic that she becomes labelled as someone without identity when arguably she is one of the few who possesses it.

“I feel like someone breathed new air into my lungs. I am not Abnegation. I am not Dauntless. I am Divergent.”

Tris in the film adaptation of Divergent

In the society in the books, each social faction: Amity, Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, and Erudite possesses a specific attribute that we can only hope each person has to some extent. Being altogether a peaceful, selfless, brave, honest and intelligent individual is being the ideal human in our society, but in these books that is seen as a threat despite each faction striving to create the ideal through having these factions co-exist and work together. It is illogical to think that they are pursuing exactly that which they persecute. If they could not reconcile with individuals that embodied this unification, then what hope was there in trying to achieve it? You’ve also got the factionless, those who are incongruous and don’t belong to any group for similar reasons to the divergents. Either they too fail to assimilate into the faction, or they disagree with it, losing their only chance to be a part of a group.

This franchise pointed out how dependent we can be on worldly labels and how easily conditioned we have become to fitting the definitions of the roles we have been cast.

The point of this article was to highlight the deeper issues of identity as found in Divergent and to encourage you to think more deeply about this. Furthermore, it serves to encourage you to engage more thoroughly with the texts you’ve read as a child, and are reading now, and to ask questions about what it’s actually trying to convey beyond the love story (guilty) and beyond how good the movie adaptation is.

Images courtesy of Talent Dynamics and Rolling Stone