Thursday, January 16, 2014

Divergent (A Throwback Thursday Reread)

Divergent  by Veronica Roth

Borrowed the unabridged audiobook from  my local library

I decided that I want to make my way through some complete series this year.  I've got it in mind to start at the beginning and work through to the ends of various trilogies and series. I will be starting with the books that are all available on audio from my local library.  

I read Divergent when it first came out and found the world Roth created and the system by which it is divided and run to be extremely thought provoking.  I don't think I want to review the book here. I'd much rather consider the implications of dividing people into 5 different groups with anyone who can't cut it in one of them, winds up "factionless" and living on the fringes of society. Remember how in Lord of the Flies, they essentially put a group of small boys in a vacuum and they still went to war, fought for supremacy, killed and maimed and bullied?  Even in a microcosm, and one filled with innocent and impressionable youngsters, the future of our world, does it all devolve into chaos and madness.  Divergent is this on a much larger scale, where the children are being divided and as each faction changes from year to year by the influx of new groups of children, the values proscribed by the people who came up with the factions, slowly erodes and becomes some bastardized version of the utopia they thought they were building. Well, of course, like in Lord of the Flies, every ideal is corruptible.

We see the world through the eyes of Beatrice Prior, who comes from the faction, Abnegation, a group of selfless individuals.  The Abnegation eat simple meals, do not use mirrors, they wear plain clothes that are primarily gray and, because of their selflessness, they are put in charge of the government.  Of course, there will always be bad eggs in any group and the other factions start grumbling that maybe the Abnegation aren't so selfless, maybe they are corrupt and someone should stop them.

At the age of 16, the kids in Roth's Dystopian Chicago all receive testing in the form of some serious mind games to help them figure out which factions they are suited for, and then they all choose.  The factions are Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Dauntless and Candor.  We've discussed the qualities of Abnegation.  The Amity are considered peace makers; the Erudite are the great thinkers; the Dauntless are the fearless protectors; and, the Candor are the truth tellers.  I don't see how any one person could be just one of those things.  Even if you are predominantly one of them, doesn't being human mean that you are so much more than any one label that can be attached to you?  

As I listened to the book, there were plenty of things I had forgotten, since it's been a couple of years and a few hundred books since I last read or thought about it. I spent the majority of the time thinking about what those choices meant and how they could be made.  There were so many  things that really made me pause.

First, children are raised in a faction, the one their parents chose when they were 16.  Those parents could have been born into that faction, or one or both could have transferred in as teens.  If they were both raised in the faction, then is that nature and nurture? Not only do the children, possibly, come by those qualities naturally, but that is what they are taught.  The children are all educated together, but there isn't any mixing of factions.  So, they don't really know much about one another.  If you are being raised by one or more parents who originally came from another faction, or two other factions, are they not predisposed to be a good fit for the faction they are born into?  

Secondly,  once a teen chooses a faction, if it isn't the one they were born into, they leave and live among strangers while they are tested to determine if they are fit to be initiated into the chosen faction.  If they don't make it through initiation, they become factionless, living on the fringes of society.  How crazy is it that children are expected to make a choice that equates to the rest of their lives?  Not just affects the rest of their lives, it is the rest of their lives.  There's no turning back, just succeeding or homelessness.  In fact, they subscribe to the motto, faction over blood, which means that they are expected to turn their backs on everything they know and never look back.  So, children born into a faction, probably never know what faction their parents were born into.

Third, the factions don't respect one another at all.  Which, clearly means that this set up isn't working. There are so many instances of the ways they mock and distrust one another.  The Erudite have a problem with the power in the hands of the Abnegation. They counter with rumors of corruption and hoarding of food and resources.  What we learn from Beatrice and her family is that they eat very plain food, when they get their allotted food supplies, they make a point of giving a good portion of their food to the factionless. The children never leave home without food packaged to give to someone in need. Not only that, but she gets to the Dauntless compound and has never seen most of the food the other kids from all of the other factions have been eating all their lives.  That certainly doesn't equate to corruption.  Of course, these instances aren't proof that  there is no corruption, but the reader gets an idea that a lot of the propaganda is purely conjecture. Where there are people, there is the possibility for corruption.  That's just crappy human nature.  Look at the political system in this country.  Even people who start out with the strongest moral compass and the desire to do right by the people who elect them to serve, often lose sight of what they set out to do.  In fact, right now, it seems that politicians of both parties are determined just to fight one another, and seem to have forgotten that we, their constituents,  even exist.

Then, there's Candor.  Is anyone completely honest, or completely open?  You can be nice or mean and not necessarily be truthful.  Whose truth are we even talking about?  There's perceived truth, which can be 180 degrees from what's factual.  My truth and your truth can be very different. The description of initiation into Candor is nonstop lie detector tests and a final exam of sorts made up of the candidates being given a truth serum and then everyone watches as they are asked personal and embarrassing questions. The goal being to remove the need for dishonesty by having you spill your most embarrassing stuff. Once everyone knows your deepest and darkest secrets, you should have no reason to hide or lie about anything else.  I'm not sure if it means that I'd never be a good match for Candor but, I don't think surviving that would make me want to share openly with the people who thought that was an acceptable way to treat me.

What you learn in the book is that Dauntless is not what it once was.  The original mission statement for the protectors of the realm, so to speak, was about bravery to serve and protect others. It wasn't just about being fearless, because brave and fearless are not one and the same. The way some, and increasingly more, Dauntless seek to prey on the weak, even within their own ranks is insane.  When Tris (Beatrice) chooses to  become one of the Dauntless, because she doesn't believe that she can be as selfless as her parents and her brother, she learns how few of the people who have chosen to join the Dauntless ranks will even be accepted.  They intend to make a large portion of the incoming class factionless.  

This is a society going off the rails. The Erudite, who are so quick to accuse the Abnegation of being corrupt, are actually so corrupt and scary with their plotting, that I can't believe no one thought to create some system of checks and balances here.  They create the serum that is used in the testing simulations. They control the news with its reports of corruption and creation of scandal. They plant people in other factions to make trouble and even go so far as to take over the minds and bodies of an entire faction to get what they want.  Is the suggestion here that smart people can not be trusted?  I know that the general idea is that a lot of thought equates to less feeling.  I know there are so many people who love plotting and clever machinations and manipulations, yet I have to remind myself of this fact, because it never occurs to me naturally.  

If you had to choose to be one thing, just embrace one quality which would you choose?  Could you choose?  What if it meant that you'd leave your family and the life you've had and never look back? What if it meant that if you made the wrong choice there'd be no turning back and you'd wind up homeless and living on the edge of society?  If I were raised in Abnegation like Tris, even if I knew I could never do the faction justice, I don't know that I'd be able to just leave my parents to become someone new. I don't know if that would be a selfless or selfish. I think I would be loathe to remain in Abnegation if I felt I wasn't good enough at being selfless.  Would I, with my peacekeeping tendencies, look to join Amity?  I'm a huge lover of knowledge, would I lean toward Erudite?  If I were younger than I am now, maybe the life in Dauntless would seem new and exciting, something I'd love to experience and of which I'd love to be part.  I don't think I could make that decision today.  I certainly wasn't ready to make it at 16.  I don't even know if the girl I was at 16 would recognize any of herself in me today. Could she possibly have made a decision that would force me into a pigeonhole that I couldn't escape without losing everything? 

Beyond all of that, how do you make your world make sense after you've divided the people into 6 groups and then pitted them all against one another, especially when you've instilled in a couple of the groups that they shouldn't take part in any of that?  Roth's Chicago is no place I'd like to find myself living.  I know that people are generally resistant to change, the devil you know and all of that, but Roth has taken away the unknown of her devils and I can assure you that I would be loathe to choose her world. I sure hope she's come up with some way to bring about real change and real growth for her people.  Of course, there are a half dozen people ahead of me for the audio version of the second book in the series, Insurgent. So, it looks like I will just have to wait and see what happens next.

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