Cover of first edition
|Cover artist||Joel Tippie and others[a]|
|Genre||Science fiction, dystopia, young-adult fiction|
|Publisher||Katherine Tegen Books|
|April 25, 2011|
|Media type||Print (hardcover), e-book|
|Pages||487 (first edition)|
|LC Class||PZ7.R7375 Di 2011|
Divergent is the debut novel of American novelist Veronica Roth, published by HarperCollins Children's Books in 2011. The novel is the first of the Divergent trilogy, a series of young-adult dystopian novels set in the Divergent Universe. The novel Divergent features a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago and follows Beatrice "Tris" Prior as she explores her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their social and personality-related affiliation with five factions, which removes the threat of anyone exercising independent will and re-threatening the population's safety. Underlying the action and dystopian focused main plot is a romantic subplot between Tris and one of her instructors in the Dauntless faction, nicknamed Four.
The novel has been compared to other young adult books such as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner because of its similar themes and target audience. In particular, the novel explores the themes common to young adult fiction, such as adult authority and the transition from childhood to maturity, as well as such broader motifs as the place of violence and social structures within a post-apocalyptic society. Its major plot device, the division of society into personality types, is one used in other science fiction works. Beyond its literary context, Roth's open declaration of her religion as a Christian has brought commentary from Christian communities both endorsing and challenging the novel.
Roth wrote Divergent while working on a Creative Writing degree at Northwestern University, and it was quickly purchased for publication alongside the subsequent books in the trilogy (completed in October 2013). Summit Entertainment purchased the media rights to the book in 2011 and subsequently produced a film adaptation titled Divergent which was released March 21, 2014. The film, a success amongst audiences, generated $288,747,895 at the box office despite mixed reviews from critics.
Background and setting
The novel is Veronica Roth's debut novel and was published a little over a year after Roth graduated with a Bachelor's degree from the Creative Writing program at Northwestern University. Roth wrote the novel during her senior year winter break and sold movie rights to the novel before she graduated.
The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. Roth indicated that she did not originally intend to use Chicago as the setting:
"I wrote the rough draft and I felt like it needed a more grounded sense of place, and I looked at the city I had described, which is all these trains constantly moving, and this lake marsh, and these rivers. And I realized that it was Chicago already, and it was just because that's the city I've known and loved the longest."
In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, survivors were divided into five factions based on their dispositions: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual. Each year, all sixteen-year-olds must take an aptitude test that describes the one faction for which they are best suited. After receiving the results, they can decide whether to remain with their family's faction or transfer to a new faction. Those who do not complete initiation into their new faction become "Factionless", and are forced to live in poverty on the streets of the city.
Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior is born into an Abnegation family. She doesn't feel like she belongs in Abnegation, because she doesn't see herself as naturally selfless. Her aptitude test also supports this, inconclusively indicating aptitude for three factions: Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. The test proctor warns her never to share this information, as it makes her a 'Divergent.' Before Choosing Day, Beatrice agonizes over whether to stay in Abnegation with her parents, or change to a different faction. On Choosing Day, Beatrice decides to leave Abnegation and join Dauntless; her brother, Caleb, chooses Erudite.
The Dauntless instructor, Four, explains that not all Dauntless initiates will be allowed to enter the faction: only the top ten will stay; the rest will be dismissed and become factionless. This is unusual as most factions allow everyone who completes initiation to enter the faction. During her initiation, Beatrice renames herself Tris and befriends several other transfer initiates — Christina, Al, and Will — but coming into conflict with others — Peter, Drew, and Molly. She also befriends some Dauntless-born initiates, including Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene.
Initiation into Dauntless is in three stages. The first involves learning how to handle guns and knives as well as engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the other initiates. Despite being physically weaker than most of her fellow initiates, Tris finishes in sixth place by beating Molly, who is ranked fairly highly. Once the rankings are announced, a jealous Peter (who finished second) stabs the first-place finisher, Edward, in the eye with a butter knife during the night.
During parent visiting day, Tris realizes that her mother's original faction was Dauntless. Meanwhile, Erudite stirs dissent against Abnegation leadership in the city's government, accusing Abnegation's leader, Marcus, of abusing his son, who joined Dauntless two years before. Reports vilify Tris' parents because both of their children switched factions and falsely claim that Abnegation is hoarding supplies.
Stage two involves simulations, similar to the aptitude tests, which force the initiates to face scenarios symbolic of their fears. Because Tris is Divergent, she recognizes that she is under a simulation while others do not, and can work the simulations to her advantage, thus achieving the top ranking in the test. Seeking revenge, Peter, Drew, and Al attack Tris, threaten sexual assault, and attempt to throw her into the chasm at Dauntless headquarters, but Four intervenes. Later, Al begs Tris's forgiveness, but she rebuffs him, and he later commits suicide.
The final stage of Dauntless initiation is a fear landscape, which gathers all of their fears in a single simulation. In the fear landscape, all of them, Divergent or not, will be aware that they are under a simulation and must use the skills they learned in the previous stages to overcome each fear. While preparing for this stage, Tris's relationship with Four continues to grow, and he lets her into his own fear landscape. Tris learns that Four only has four fears in his landscape, a record, hence his nickname. She also learns his real name, Tobias, and that his father is Marcus, the very Abnegation leader who Erudites accuse of physically abusing him during his childhood. Four later shares with Tris information he has discovered about the Erudite's plans to use the Dauntless to stage an attack on the Abnegation.
Tris successfully overcomes seven fears in her fear landscape. After her test, Tris, along with all other Dauntless members, is injected with a new "tracking" serum that is supposedly only activated if someone goes missing. Before the official initiation ceremony, Four invites Tris back to his private apartment, and Tris expresses her feelings for him. Soon, the ceremony begins, the final rankings are posted, and Tris discovers she has been ranked first. In the midst of celebrating, though, she suddenly realizes that the Erudite will use the "tracking" serum to force Dauntless members to carry out their plans of invading the Abnegation.
During the night following the ceremony, the serum induces a simulation and all of the Dauntless become sleep-walking soldiers ordered to attack the Abnegation compound. The serum does not work on Tris or Tobias (Four) because they are both Divergent. After arriving at the Abnegation compound, Tris and Tobias try to break away from the pack to escape. However, Tris is shot, but not mortally wounded, and when Tobias refuses to leave her behind, they are captured and brought before Jeanine, the Erudite leader. She injects Four with an experimental serum, which counteracts the Divergent effect by controlling what he can see and hear. Jeanine directs Tobias to be sent back to the Dauntless control room to oversee the attack, and sentences Tris to death. Tris wakes up sealed inside a real-life glass tank that fills up with water, but her mother breaks the tank and rescues her. As they escape, her mother reveals that she is also Divergent, but while helping Tris escape, she is killed. Tris escapes but is forced to kill Will, who attacks her while under the influence of the simulation.
She finds her father, Caleb, and Marcus in the safe house, and they resolve to go to the Dauntless compound to find the source of the simulation. Fighting their way through Dauntless headquarters, Tris' father sacrifices himself to clear the way for Tris to reach the control room. When she confronts the mind-controlled Tobias, he attacks Tris. In the fight, Tris realizes she cannot bring herself to kill him, and surrenders, causing Tobias to break through the special sight-and-sound-only simulation. Freed, Tobias helps Tris shut down the Erudite simulation and free the remaining Dauntless from their mind control. They rejoin Caleb and Marcus, as well as Peter, who had helped Tris find the control room in exchange for his safety. The group then boards a train to the Amity sector to find the rest of the Abnegation survivors, leading to the events described in Insurgent.
Many reviewers note how the style of writing within the novel offers a distinctive quick prose that creates a reading experience that is fast-paced. For example, writing in The New York Times, Susan Dominus described the style as "brisk pacing, lavish flights of imagination and writing that occasionally startles with fine detail". Abby Nolan, from The American Prospect, noted that Divergent follows the structural and stylistic patterns of both The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road.
Like in other pieces of children's and young adult fiction, the novel probes the place of authority and identity within the youth's relationship to parents and other social forces. Critic Antero Garcia describes the thematic similarity between these dystopian novels to be an interest in the "grasp of power between youth and adult authority" comparing the novel to Unwind by Neal Shusterman. In The New York Times, Susan Dominus stated that Divergent "explores a more common adolescent anxiety--the painful realization that coming into one's own sometimes means leaving family behind, both ideologically and physically". The Voice of Youth Advocates agrees, writing that Divergent shows the pressure of "having to choose between following in your parents' footsteps or doing something new". Similarly, critic Antero Garcia compared the thematic interest in the characters being "forced into limiting constraints of identity and labor associated with their identity" to the similar interest in forced identities and labor in the dystopian children's novels Matched by Allyson Braithwaite Condie and The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
Social structure and knowledge
Governments dividing populations into fragmented communities is a frequent device in YA children's fiction. For examples, YA classics like Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Monica Hughes’s The Dream Catcher, and Zilpha Snyder’s Green Sky Trilogy, all use this device to different ends. In her masters thesis, Ashley Ann Haynes describes the fractioning of societies within Divergent as supporting comparisons with Hunger Games. However, Divergent adds new layers of complexity by creating an illusion of democracy for the participants in the fractioned society, and these factions being controlled by outside force.
Some reviews criticize the depth and realism of the social structures within the novel. For example, Kirkus Reviews called the social structure a "preposterous premise". Similarly, Booklist called the structure a "simplistic, color-coded world [that] stretches credibility on occasion". In a review for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's student newspaper "Royal Purple News", Abrielle Backhaus notes how the "entire system seems insubstantial" and asks rhetorically "How could it be possible for any individual, with his or her infinite emotions and experiences, to be condensed to one single quality to tolerate for the rest of their lives and to choose at the mere age of 16?" In an interview Roth describes the social structure to have expanded from her initial conception, adding Candor to fill "a gap in the reasoning behind the world that needed to be filled".
Social structure most effects the novels themes by socially dividing different knowledge types that characters can access. In her book chapter exploring how literacy in different knowledge types effects the series, Alice Curry describes the factions, and character indoctrination in those factions, as deliberately creating knowledge gaps between initiates to different factions. Because of the initiation process, the characters become illiterate in the knowledge valued by the other factions. Tris's "divergence" allows her to be successful because she can become literate in a broad set of knowledges and information types, and thus she becomes more admirable to the reader. Curry argues that Jeanine's leadership within Erudite represents an academic "Ivory Tower" that alienates other types of knowledge, thus the book critiques academic learning, in favor of the broader literacy embodied by Tris. Curry compares the novel to Julie Bertagna's 2002 Exodus, describing both as using spaces and landscapes where knowledge is learned to critique "crumbling knowledge institutions", like academic spaces, that "dissemble" knowledge instead of facilitating deeper holistic knowledge literacies that create "understanding".
Violence and fear
Like The Hunger Games, Divergent depicts considerable violence for a Young Adult novel. The Publishers Weekly review emphasized this stylistic choice, calling it "edgy" and describing the initiation rituals that Tris endures "as spellbinding as they are violent [requiring] sadistic tests of strength and courage". But, as Susan Dominus points out, the novel doesn't keep this violence at the forefront of reader experience; she writes in The New York Times, that "Terrible things happen to the people Tris loves, yet the characters absorb these events with disquieting ease. Here, somehow, the novel's flights from reality distances the reader from the emotional impact that might come in a more affecting realistic (or even fantasy) novel."
When describing her inspiration for the Dauntless training their initiates through exposing them to their fears, Roth, in an interview for the website "PopSugar", says, though influenced by many sources, the most important was her "Psych 101 my first year of college [where] I learned about exposure therapy, which is when they treat people with fear, like for anxiety. It exposes them repeatedly to what they're afraid of, and gradually you become less afraid of it, or have a healthy level of fear, and I thought of the Dauntless then, because they're conditioning perfectly normal people to get over perfectly rational fears." Daniel Kraus's Booklist review of the novel described the intense psychological pressure as like "akin to joining the marines" but also providing the "built-in tension" that makes the novel a compelling read.
Though the novel does not maintain an overtly Christian thematic interest, some readers place the novels themes within this context because of Roth's professed religiosity. In the postscript "Acknowledgements", Roth emphasizes her Christian faith saying "Thank you, God, for your Son and for blessing me beyond comprehension." For some reviewers this element of Roth's lifestyle is important to the novel's impact; for example, when reviewing the novel for the Christian Ministry "Break Point", Sherry Early describes Roth as "a Christian" and the novel setting as "post-feminist, maybe even Christian". She also says that though the novel is "not overtly Christian", it follows a "Christian point of view" because it "fight[s] against the restrictions placed upon her by a controlling and totalitarian state" and because "Tris must also explore the cracks and imperfections within her own psyche." K. B. Hoyle also acknowledges that the novel would have a "Christian message", when reviewing the novel for the Evangelical book review organization The Gospel Coalition. However, Hoyle criticizes the novel for using profane terminology and for never "clarif[ying] what the practices are supposed to mean".
Reviewers outside the Christian community have also noticed the Christian context of the novel. In a review of the book and first movie, David Edelstein observed the book's treatment of intellectuals as following a tendency in Christian culture to question genetic modification and majority: the intellectual Erudite faction are largely depicted as control-hungry villains pitted against the Abnegation faction, who are depicted as righteous and merciful. He wrote "The novelist, Veronica Roth, reserves her loathing for the 'Erudites', who spend their days in intellectual pursuit," and that the trend of intellectualism (thinking without feeling) "makes people apt to seize power and impose Maoist-like uniformity on entire populations — on pain of death."
Divergent has been well received. In a review in The New York Times, Susan Dominus wrote that it was "rich in plot and imaginative details", but also that, compared to other such books in the same genre as the Hunger Games trilogy, it did "not exactly distinguish itself". In a review for Entertainment Weekly, Breia Brissey said that it was "flimsier and less nuanced" than The Hunger Games but was good, giving it a B+ rating. Similarly, though critiquing the "simplistic, color-coded world", Booklist reviewer Daniel Kraus positively concluded that the novel was full of "gutsy action and romance" and called it a "spin on Brave New World". Kirkus said it was "built with careful details and intriguing scope". Common Sense Media commented on the book's "deep messages about identity and controlling societies" and on the "unstoppable plot that's remarkably original". It was rated 5 out of 5 stars and given an age 13+ rating.
The book debuted at number six on the New York Times Children's Chapter Books Best Seller list on May 22, 2011, and remained on the list for 11 weeks. It also spent 39 weeks on the Children's Paperback list in 2012, reaching number one. The Times changed its Children's Best Seller lists in December 2012, eliminating the Children's Paperback list and recognizing "middle grade" and "young adult" books separately; Divergent continued its run on the new Young Adult Best Seller list. The novel stayed on the list for 47 weeks until November 3, 2013. According to Publishers Weekly, the combined three volumes of the Divergent series sold over 6.7 million copies in 2013 (three million hardcovers, 1.7 million paperbacks, and just under two million e-books). In the lead up to the release of the film adaptation, Roth's novel topped USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list in January 2014.
Divergent won Favorite book of 2011 in 2011's Goodreads Readers Choice Awards, and won the senior category of the 2014 Young Reader's Choice Award. It was also number one in the Teens' Top Ten Vote, sponsored by YALSA.
Summit Entertainment bought the rights to film an adaptation of the novel in 2011. Summit recruited Neil Burger to direct. Initially, Summit gave the film a budget of $40 million, but Lionsgate later increased it to $80 million (which finally changed to $85 million) due to the success of The Hunger Games.
Shailene Woodley was chosen to star as Beatrice "Tris" Prior. The role of Tobias "Four" Eaton eventually went to Theo James after an extensive search. Kate Winslet was signed as Jeanine Matthews. Also recruited into the cast were Maggie Q as Tori, Zoe Kravitz as Christina, Ansel Elgort as Caleb, Miles Teller as Peter, Ashley Judd as Natalie Prior, Tony Goldwyn as Andrew Prior, and Jai Courtney as Eric.
Filming began in Chicago on April 16, 2013 and concluded on July 16, 2013, with nearly all filming taking place in Chicago. The film was released March 21, 2014, earning $150,947,895 in North America, and $137,228,004 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $288,175,899. The critic aggregating sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic both noted the films mixed reviews. However, audience surveyor CinemaScore showed that audiences were very receptive to the film.
- According to ISFDB a 2011 Australian printing, with apparently identical cover, credits the jacket art and design to Joel Tippie. But it credits other components, too, and "the cover seems to be a collage of multiple images including the not-seemingly-credited skyline."
- Divergent Universe series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved March 24, 2014. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
- "Divergent". Library of Congress Catalog Record (LCC). Retrieved March 24, 2014.
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