I’ve been waiting for this moment for ages you guys! The moment I don’t have to write a “previously on” opening to remind you of the shitty ongoings of previous, and often forgettable, chapters! Also, Divergent.
It’s important I note that even though Beatrice doesn’t start going by Tris until a few chapters in, I’m just going to refer to her as Tris because I’m writing this blog post and that’s that. [Matthew says: And I did the opposite, because we’re professionals over here.]
The very first paragraph marks my endless confusion about what the fuck is up with Tris’ faction Abnegation. If that sounded like garbled nonsense to you, please bear with us because Tris doesn’t clear up the whole factions issue for chapters. [Matthew says: I know “chapters” doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s a lot of time to read a book without understanding the only thing anyone ever talks about in it. The very first paragraph also marks my endless confusion about what is up with FACTIONS.]
“There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.”
Since my initial read through of this book, my feelings about this have not changed. Despite the fact that this won’t become clear until a little later, the faction of Abnegation is all about being selfless and never thinking about yourself. If this sounds like the most tedious and painful existence, that’s exactly how it seems in the book.
Anyway, only being able to look at yourself in a mirror “on the second day of every third month” (which…what? Do they mark their calendars with “June 2: It’s hair cutting day!!!”) just doesn’t make sense. [Matthew says: It’s probably more like “It’s hair cutting day 🙁 “] If they want to limit the time they’re allowed to spend in front of a mirror, fine, but what if you have something caught in between your teeth? It’s not selfish of you to want to get something out of your teeth – in fact, if we’re going to get really picky about it, you’re probably going to gross out people around you if you don’t get it. You may ruin their day.
We utilize this time in front of the mirror for the tried and true trope of the narrator describing what they see in the mirror.
A lot can happen to a person’s appearance in three months. In my reflection, I see a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose—I still look like a little girl, though sometime in the last few months I turned sixteen. The other factions celebrate birthdays, but we don’t. It would be self-indulgent.
If Abnegation did celebrate birthdays, I imagine their cake would just be a cement block with “Happy birthday” written on it sadly. Abnegation is the Eeyore of the factions.
[Matthew says: Between the “narrator describes what they see in the mirror” trope and the “confusion over who she really is” trope, I’m amazed Ariel didn’t go with this gif.]
Tris’ mom asks her if she’s nervous about the upcoming plot.
Today is the day of the aptitude test that will show me which of the five factions I belong in. And tomorrow, at the Choosing Ceremony, I will decide on a faction; I will decide the rest of my life; I will decide to stay with my family or abandon them.
Rule 1 of dystopian YA fiction: There must be a mysterious ceremony that sets off a chain of dramatic events for the protagonist.
We walk together to the kitchen. On these mornings when my brother makes breakfast, and my father’s hand skims my hair as he reads the newspaper, and my mother hums as she clears the table—it is on these mornings that I feel guiltiest for wanting to leave them.
In short, Abnegation is so boring that the only time Tris feels bad about wanting to leave them is on a semi-pleasantly boring morning.
After the most dull breakfast in the world, Tris and her brother Caleb head to school. Their bus ride is the perfect opportunity to introduce the faction Candor.
The Candor man wears a black suit with a white tie—Candor standard uniform. Their faction values honesty and sees the truth as black and white, so that is what they wear.
This is the moment where I knew this was definitely YA geared towards high school students who feel like they don’t belong to a clique. “I don’t dress like goths or preps or burnouts – WHO AM I??”
I guess Veronica Roth just didn’t know where to sit in the high school cafeteria, thus, Divergent was born.
Tris mentions that they pass by a building “that was once called the Sears Tower,” alerting to the fact that she is in Chicago, and there is a 50/50 chance she’ll run into Matthew’s family. [Matthew says: Possibly! It’s already the building that was once called the Sears Tower TODAY.] I’m not sure what faction they’re in because they are too divergent for me to decide. [Matthew says: There are also already factions in Chicago that you’re born into and you could disgrace your family if you decide to leave one for the other! Although there are only two, and they’re Cubs fans and White Sox fans.]
She also mentions that only Dauntless ever ride trains, and I only mention this because it is the first of one million times this will come up. You’ve been warned.
At school, we learn that kids from all factions go to school together until they’re 16 and choose their factions, then they’re faction-schooled. We also continue to learn that everyone really hates Abnegation.
Then an Erudite boy in a blue sweater shoves me. I lose my balance and fall hard on the ground.
“Out of my way, Stiff,” he snaps, and continues down the hallway.
My cheeks warm. I get up and dust myself off. A few people stopped when I fell, but none of them offered to help me. Their eyes follow me to the edge of the hallway. This sort of thing has been happening to others in my faction for months now—the Erudite have been releasing antagonistic reports about Abnegation, and it has begun to affect the way we relate at school. The gray clothes, the plain hairstyle, and the unassuming demeanor of my faction are supposed to make it easier for me to forget myself, and easier for everyone else to forget me too. But now they make me a target.
Also ahead, the second mention of the Dauntless and fucking trains.
At exactly 7:25, the Dauntless prove their bravery by jumping from a moving train.
To answer your question, no that never stops being stupid, and to answer your follow up question, no they never stop doing this and it never stops being mentioned. [Matthew says: In case you’re confused about this, Chicago’s “subway” is actually above ground, on elevated rails about a story or so up! You guys are learning more about Chicago than you are about the basic premise of Divergent so far.]
My father calls the Dauntless “hellions.” They are pierced, tattooed, and black-clothed.
They are lazy depictions of what being “cool” and “alternative” look like. Did I mention that the owner of Hot Topic was also the founder of Dauntless? It was a really big boost for business.
Their primary purpose is to guard the fence that surrounds our city. From what, I don’t know.
This is never answered in this book, so don’t hold your breath. I’m assuming it’ll be addressed later on, but I’ve only just started the second book. I’m really hoping it’s zombies. Let’s just chuck as many popular tropes into this story as we possibly can. [Matthew says: This isn’t mentioned for another few chapters, but Tris explains that all of their food is canned now, and comes from far away. Except… nobody leaves the city? Because there’s a fence around it, protecting them from things far away? Can someone explain this to me? I’m more confused about how they get food in this book than anything else so far.]
[Matthew says: In case you’re not sure how selfless Abnegation is yet, you’re goddamned going to:
[Our neighbor] offered to drive us [to school], but as Caleb says, we prefer to leave later and would not want to inconvenience him.
Of course not.
They’re so selfless they somehow cycled right back around to actually kinda selfish somehow.]
Tris observes the other factions before the aptitude test.
At the Abnegation table, we sit quietly and wait. Faction customs dictate even idle behavior and supersede individual preference. I doubt all the Erudite want to study all the time, or that every Candor enjoys a lively debate, but they can’t defy the norms of their factions any more than I can.
Imagine how hard it would be to be Candor on a day you’re feeling tired and just aren’t in the mood for a “lively debate”. Or if you agree on a topic, God forbid. Come on, Jimmy, you’re not lively debating hard enough over there, what kind of Candor do you think you are, boy? [Matthew says: Wait, if Candor see the truth in absolute terms, what do they debate about? Like… ever?]
A Dauntless woman named Tori conducts Tris’ aptitude test. Essentially Tris lays down in a chair and has electrodes attached to her forehead which allows Tori to see what’s going on. Somehow science has progressed enough in this book that you can see what’s going on in people’s brains. Guess it’s about that time to whip out all a whole assortment of our handy science gifs.
WITH BONUS JESSE VIDEO INSTEAD OF GIF!!!
Anywho, the aptitude test consists of a few different scenarios in which Tris must make Decisions which determine what faction she belongs in.
1. Tris is in her school cafeteria.
On the table in front of me are two baskets. In one is a hunk of cheese, and in the other, a knife the length of my forearm.
Behind me, a woman’s voice says, “Choose.”
Step one of deciding the rest of your life = choosing between a knife and cheese. My very first note in this book: BUT HOW WILL YOU CUT THE CHEESE WITHOUT THE KNIFE? IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
Oh how naive I was.
Tris doesn’t choose either the cheese or the knife because she is divergent as fuck and apparently doesn’t love cheese as much as most other humans. If you weren’t convinced of her divergent-ness before, I hope you can appreciate it now. [Matthew says: This is like the beginning of Kingdom Hearts, where you have to choose a sword, shield, or magic staff. Except this makes no sense, because it’s a knife and a piece of fucking cheese.]
2. But UH OH Tris needed the cheese or the knife in order to fend off a rabid dog because Stephen King suddenly took over the wheel of this book.
Tris thinks on her feet and acts submissive, and just like that the dog is like “Aw I love you!”
3. BUT UH OH AGAIN a little girl shows up out of nowhere.
I blink, and when my eyes open, a child stands across the room wearing a white dress. She stretches out both hands and squeals, “Puppy!”
No, little girl! Disappear back into the thin air from whence you came while you still can!
As she runs toward the dog at my side, I open my mouth to warn her, but I am too late. The dog turns. Instead of growling, it barks and snarls and snaps, and its muscles bunch up like coiled wire. About to pounce. I don’t think, I just jump; I hurl my body on top of the dog, wrapping my arms around its thick neck.
4. Tris is suddenly on a bus and a man reading a newspaper with the headline “Brutal Murderer Finally Apprehended” keeps getting in her face demanding to know if she knows this guy.
[Matthew says: This is about when I stopped taking this book seriously. It’s all well and good to have a symbolism-heavy scene like this, and it’s an understandable enough storytelling sin to get carried away and make the symbolism too intangible to really make much sense, but I’m less willing to forgive a scene told entirely in symbolism before we get any context for what it even could symbolize. We’ve yet to get an explanation of the strange new world the book is set in, but we’re already supposed to understand it metaphorically through this acid trip of dogs and knives and strangers reading newspapers and cheese. This would be like if, instead of Hagrid saying “Yer a wizard, Harry,” Harry instead had a hallucination on his eleventh birthday about salmon, a mop, the ancient Aztecs, and pretzel buns. Are these completely arbitrary items that could mean anything? SO IS CHEESE.]
Tris looks at the picture and thinks the guy looks familiar, but she keeps telling the man she doesn’t recognise him even though she feels like she’s lying. How this is supposed to determine what one characteristic people are meant to embody for the rest of their life is beyond me.
The man freaks the fuck out like most insane people you’re unlucky enough to meet on public transportation:
“If you know him,” he says in a low voice, “you could save me. You could save me!”
I narrow my eyes. “Well,” I say. I set my jaw. “I don’t.”
Obviously, this is meant to signify that Tris isn’t selfless enough for Abnegation because she doesn’t care that she could save this random crazy dude on a train. [Matthew says: If only it was ever explained what any of the alternatives are!] Because how you choose to act in one moment signifies every action you’re going to ever take. And also each action you take can only mean one thing and one thing only! [Matthew says: Not taking the cheese only ever means you’re not Abnegation. It never means you’re lactose intolerant.]
Important question: Would you have chosen the cheese, the knife, or being divergent as fuck and chosen neither?