“Maybe we’ll make a home somewhere inside ourselves, to carry with us wherever we go.”
—Allegiant, Veronica Roth
The film adaptation of Allegiant just came out, and while I won’t have a chance to see it for a while still, this quote from the book struck me as perhaps the central idea of the Divergent series.
Perhaps that seems odd. The Divergent series is, after all, a post-apocalyptic, dystopian narrative. As such, it is focused on the individual against the world. Young adult dystopian novels aren’t about finding home. They’re about home having already been destroyed. They’re not about community; they focus on the single person or the ragtag band fighting against authority. YA fiction deals with the struggle to find identity and the search for purpose, almost always by getting outside the community.
The Divergent trilogy does all of this. But every good book or series needs something that distinguishes it from the rest of its genre. There has to be something that makes the Divergent books (and films) not just another Hunger Games or Maze Runner. Roth’s unusual blending of the importance of family, home, and community into a genre that thrives on the importance of individuality.
(Spoilers below. Unlike the film, I won’t be stopping halfway through Allegiant’s narrative. You’ve been warned.)
Tris, at the end of her time in the experiment, comes to realize that the problems with her home came from a failure to incorporate all the strengths and weaknesses of the different virtues. In the end, she can admire her parents, who moved beyond their commitment to selfless abstinence to die for what they believed in. They didn’t abandon who they were. In fact, they were selfless even as they died. But they were more than simply Abnegation. They became more than they were thought to be. Like her parents–though not solely because of there example– Tris comes to recognize the importance of all the factions, not as the ghettos of a city but as pieces of the soul.
Not only do we see the main character embracing this ideology of the Divergent (albeit in a very different way than the experiment designed her to), but we also see this Divergent identity as the whole purpose of the series. A community cannot function without the Divergent, without those people who exhibit multiple balancing virtues. The Divergent are not those with “healed” genes. The Divergent are those with whole souls, regardless of genetic makeup.
That’s why we have Four, from a literary standpoint. He’s more than a mentor and romantic interest. He is far more important than that. Why? Well, he’s not Divergent according to the experiment. But he is Divergent in the deeper sense. He is brave and selfless. His virtues balance each other. He is one of the true Divergent, able to rise above the situation life has handed him.
Tris notes of Four and his upbringing,
“I don’t know how it would feel, to hate your own history and to crave love from the people who gave that history to you at the same time. How have I never see. The schism inside his heart?”
Perhaps this, then, is what it means to be Divergent–to hold all the pain that life has allotted you, to face it, to feel that schism in your heart. But more, to feel the schism in another’s heart. To love someone so thoroughly that you take on their pain and their weakness and make it your own. And in doing so, you finally find yourself at home.