'Divergent' Review: Where the Quest for Freedom and the Benevolence of Government Converge

I loved Veronica Roth’s “Divergent”… and I hated it. Before you dust off the psychiatric hospital recommendations, let me explain.

“Divergent” is a young adult dystopian science fiction novel, one of my favorite genres. Roth builds a world where citizens are divided based on their primary personality traits. A child of age may choose to join a different faction or remain with his or her family. Each tribe offers societal services compatible with their unique talents. The members of the Abnegation are selfless and modest. The people of Candor are honest and love to debate. Scholarly individuals go into Erudite. Hospitable, social members of the community are found in Amity.

The most intriguing faction, the Dauntless, crave danger and adventure.

The gaps between the buildings narrow and the roads are smoother as we near the heart of the city. The building that was once called the Sears Tower–we call it the Hub–emerges from the fog, a black pillar in the skyline. The bus passes under the elevated tracks. I have never been on a train, though they never stop running and there are tracks everywhere. Only the Dauntless ride them.

In a spellbinding story of action and adventure, Roth takes the reader on a train ride with the Dauntless, hand-in-hand with a girl from Abnegation struggling to find her place in society. “Divergent” examines the little boxes into which we organize ourselves and others, illuminating the young adult’s persistent dilemma of who am I? and where do I belong?

Today is the day before Visiting Day. I think of Visiting Day like I think of the world ending: Nothing after it matters. Everything I do builds up to it. I might see my parents again. I might not. Which is worse? I don’t know.

In spite of the narrow nature of each faction’s primary attribute, the characters are multifaceted and complicated. They surprise you. Themes of self-discovery and courage make the story a satisfying read.

So what’s my problem?

One of the plot developments is a power struggle between the Erudite (the scholars) and the Abnegation (the selfless). Due to their benevolent nature, the members of Abnegation make suitable leaders. I felt a little uncomfortable with this assertion. In my world, the scholarly people preach Marxism, and Harvard lawyers become politicians. But then I remembered that this is Roth’s world, and in a visionary society, politicians would have only the needs of the citizens in their hearts. So I pressed on. The Erudite want a little power for themselves. This is human nature, and it makes for a good conflict. No issue there. But I balked when Roth revealed the battle cry of the Erudite:

“Prosperity!”

The main character, Tris, cringes at the word:

“Prosperity. To me the word has a negative connotation. Abnegation uses it to describe self-indulgence.”

I beg to differ.

self-indulgence: indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., especially without restraint

The practice of self-indulgence actually hinders prosperity.

prosperity: The condition of being prosperous

prosperous: having or characterized by financial success or good fortune; flourishing; successful

prosper: to thrive, succeed, etc., or cause to thrive, succeed, etc. in a healthy way

antonyms: failure, hardship, loss, poorness, poverty

I fail to see the connection between self-indulgence and prosperity.

Tris’ brother, Caleb, appears to agree with me.

“Maybe it’s a good idea to have more than one faction in control of the government. And maybe it would be nice if we had more cars and… fresh fruit and…”

“You do realize there’s no secret warehouse where all that stuff is kept, right?”

Right. It has to be made or grown. Someone invests time and money into a factory or a farm; products and produce are thus created – created because individuals believe they will receive a reward if they work hard. Prosperity belongs to everyone participating in this system. Caleb’s vision of fresh fruit and a safe car beat empty shelves and a Moskvitch any day.

The houses on my street are all the same size and shape. They are made of gray cement, with few windows, in economical, no-nonsense rectangles. Their lawns are crabgrass and their mailboxes are dull metal. To some the sight might be gloomy, but to me their simplicity is comforting.

Comforting… like an apartment in the GDR. But you have to admit the writing is beautiful.

Roth is, herself, a young adult, which begs the question: what has happened in the last ten years that causes young people to see the government as benevolent and success as dirty? I sense a descent toward statism, and I can do nothing to stop it. So that is why I both love and hate this book.

Roth is a very talented new author. I truly look forward to more from her. “Divergent” is the first book of a trilogy, the second of which is slated to be released in 2012. Maybe one of those altruistic leaders will be caught in a government corruption scandal. Or people will realize that the absence of prosperity looks like this and this.

In spite of her revulsion to the word, I hope Roth has a prosperous career as a writer.

I hear the train horn. The train tracks loop around the Dauntless compound and then continue farther than I can see. Where do they begin? Where do they end? What is the world like beyond them?

Indeed. What will it be like?

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