I’m seriously losing track of how many “the truth is revealed!” chapters we’ve had in Divergent. Get ready for another infodump! [Ariel says: This time with even truthier truth!]
Chapter 15: Tris
Tris kicks off the conversation by taking out her new plot device, the photograph (Hey, at least it’s not the “hard drive of simulation” data MacGuffin anymore), and recognizes David as a man next to her mother in the photo. For some reason, Tris thinks this:
All the hope growing inside me has withered. If my mother, or my father, or my friends were still alive, they would have been waiting by the doors for our arrival.
So, I guess Tris’s train of thought is 1) people I don’t know about but that other people thought were dead are not dead, 2) maybe the people I saw die in front of me are alive too! I seriously don’t know what else this is.
[Ariel says: I really thought for a second that Tris was going to think, “Is David my real dad?” Because this series is basically turning into a soap opera what with characters once thought dead not being dead. Next up, evil twins!]
Meanwhile, the infodump.
“My name is David. As Zoe probably told you already, I am the leader of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. I’m going to do my best to explain things,” David says.
We learn that the information in the Edith Prior video about how the outside world needs moral support in the battle against human nature is – incredibly – not exactly correct.
“The first thing you should know is that the information Edith Prior gave you is only partly true. […] She provided only as much information as you needed to meet the goals of our experiments”
We also learn that the United States still very much exists. And that Americans still assume everybody just knows everything about them.
“A long time ago, the United States government—”
“The united what?” Uriah asks.
“It’s a country,” says Amar.
They do elaborate a bit from there, but I feel like it’s really important to convey just how long this chapter drags on. David and Amar are pretty awful at explaining things, which in a better-written book probably could have been a pretty interesting show-don’t-tell moment about how ineptly the Chicago experiment was designed. Of course, this is not that book, so it’s more so a kajillion pages of Veronica Roth desperately trying to make her sci fi allegory make any kind of sense.
“There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes — a gene called ‘the murder gene'”
I shit you not, we have reached the point in this series where it’s explaining that there’s a gene that makes you want to murder people. Go big or go home, I guess. [Ariel says: Actually there is a gene they have found is linked to violent crimes. But it’s only referred to as “the murder gene” by the media (of course). I highlighted the scientific name in the search below:
David explains how the US government became interested in “enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens” by “correcting” such genes, including
genes for murder, cowardice, dishonestly, and low intelligence. This, in America, which is well known for its politicians understanding science.
I can’t imagine isolating a gene for murder, or cowardice, or dishonesty.
It’s not just you, Tris.
“Obviously there are quite a few factors that determine personality, including a person’s upbringing and experiences,” David continues
We’re on page 121 of the third Divergent book, and it finally got some science right.
“[D]espite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity. That’s how the genetic manipulation experiment was born. It takes several generations for any kind of genetic manipulation to manifest, but people were selected from the general population in large numbers, according to their backgrounds or behavior, and they were given the option to give a gift to our future generations, a genetic alteration that would make their descendants just a little bit better.”
By this point, most of the characters are reacting with confusion or disgust. Meanwhile, I’ve never felt like I had more in common with Tobias.
Tobias is staring at his shoes.
David continues his explanation and we learn that – somehow – this experiment where they had a population breed with itself for several generations to decrease the expression of genes already appearing within that population didn’t work.
“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says.
Sure, such as compromised immune system function, higher infant and neonatal mortality, reduced fertility rates, stunted growth, mental retardation, increased occurrence of recessive diseases such as sickle cell anemia or hemophilia, and many other deleterious traits that arise in an inbred population…
“Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty… and you take away their compassion.”
…or that. [Ariel says: I was on board for the science of a gene that has actually had some real scientific backing, but what the fuck is this book talking about now? At this point, I’d rather they started talking about genes that caused people to enjoy ham sandwiches.]
Allegiant continues to try incredibly hard to make any of this sound plausible.
“Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves. Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation. If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”
Hm, so five traits total. I bet that’s a coinci-WAIT A GODDAMN MINUTE.
He is talking about the factions.
Yep! Thanks, Tris! Now, since Tris succinctly-
And he’s right to say that every faction loses something when it gains a virtue: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling.
[Ariel says: What the fuck? Erudite has proven to be more cruel than Dauntless. Dauntless people can be cruel, but wasn’t it mostly the Erudites pretending to be Dauntless…there was plenty of kindness in the Dauntless faction…THINK OF THE CHOCOLATE CAKE. And there was plenty of nastiness in Abnegation (think Marcus).]
“Humanity has never been perfect, but the genetic alterations made it worse than it had ever been before.”
Inbreeding will do that.
“This manifested itself in what we call the Purity War.”
Wait, a fucking what happened?
“A civil war, waged by those with damaged genes, against the government and everyone with pure genes”
If nothing else, I have to credit Divergent for really committing to its ridiculous premise. Book one: We will restore civilization… with our genes. Book Two: We will restore HUMANITY… with our genes. Book Three: HUMANITY WAS TORN APART… by our genes.
America tried to figure out how to fix itself after the Purity War, which 1) resulted in “a level of destruction formerly unheard of on American soil” and 2) is really the real name we’re really going with, because “subtle” is not a word that is often written in the same sentence as Divergent…
“They would wait for the passage of time— for the generations to pass, for each one to produce more genetically healed humans. Or, as you currently know them… the Divergent.”
Case in point.
“That is why the Bureau of Genetic Welfare was formed. [Our] predecessors designed experiments to restore humanity to its genetically pure state.”
If you just heard a noise, that was the biology major half of me screaming.
“They called for genetically damaged individuals to come forward so that the Bureau could alter their genes.”
Wait, these would be the same individuals who started a war because the government experimented with their genes? The solution they accepted was to step forward for the government to experiment on their genes? Once more? With feeling?
I just feel like something is off
It’s not just you, Tris.
“Your city is one of those experiments for genetic healing, and by far the most successful one”
Wait, there were others that did worse than the one where the test subjects started committing mass genocide against each other? [Ariel says: My number 1 questions is, are these other cities as obsessed with serums as Chicago? Or is this like the deep dish pizzas of the Divergent world?]
“because of the behavioral modification portion.”
Hm. This is confusing and vaguely science-sounding. I wonder if it’s actually about-
“The factions, that is.”
IT IS ALWAYS THE GODDAMN FACTIONS.
Except weirdly enough – and I’m sure this is a sign of the apocalypse or something – for once I actually think the Faction system… makes sense!
“The factions were our predecessors’ attempt to incorporate a ‘nurture’ element to the experiment— they discovered that mere genetic correction was not enough to change the way people behaved.”
Guys, this means that for once this story understands that its conflation of genes and personality (eg, faction is both genetic and a personal choice except when it’s not) is total bullshit. AND that this entire “everything is genes” premise is bullshit! Even though earlier in this chapter we produced a goddamn “murder gene”, but ignore that for now. IT GOT IT PRETTY RIGHT FOR ONCE! And it only took until its third 500-page book.
David continues to explain what a wonderful social/scientific/inbreeding experiment Chicago has been.
“We have gone to great lengths to protect you”
“Except for the part where we put all of you in there with guns.”
“We wanted to make sure that the leaders of your city valued [the Divergent]. We didn’t expect the leader of Erudite to start hunting them down”
“Not that this seemed like a good reason to shut down or alter the experiment. Our test subjects dying and reducing the gene pool was totes awesome for our experiment to introduce change to the human genome! Hahaha… we’re such great scientists. We don’t even have a control group.”
“We don’t, after all, truly need your help. We just need your healed genes to remain intact and to be passed on to future generations.”
“So now if you’ll kindly keep inbreeding or fuck some randos so we can get a lot more of you, that’d be swell.”
Eventually, some of the people learning that the outside world literally considers them to be worthless, genetically damaged people get kind of upset.
“So what you’re saying is that if we’re not Divergent, we’re damaged,” Caleb says. His voice is shaking. […] “Because my ancestors were altered to be smart, I, their descendant, can’t be fully compassionate.” […]
“Well,” says David, lifting a shoulder. “Think about it.”
With the infodump over, David leads the group to temporary sleeping quarters. Tris wonders if the reason for Caleb’s betrayal is because of his damaged genes, as though genes aren’t always the answer to everything in Divergent. She also ruminates on how her entire life has been observed by people running an experiment, which gets impressively dark, for a story that just threw “murder genes” at us.
Watching, when Peter attacked me. When my faction was put under a simulation and turned into an army. When my parents died.
What else have they seen?
Tris decides she needs some answers about how these people at the Bureau knew her mother. David continues to explain world-shattering things in the same way an elementary school teacher would teach times tables, which I get is his shtick, but it’s a stupid shtick and it doesn’t make me hate this character in a “good” way.
“She took a trip back to us once,” he says. “Before she settled into motherhood. That’s when we took this.”
“Back to you?” I say. “Was she one of you?”
“Yes,” David says simply, like it’s not a word that changes my entire world. “She came from this place. We sent her into the city when she was young to resolve a problem in the experiment.”
“So she knew,” I say, and my voice shakes, but I don’t know why. “She knew about this place, and what was outside the fence.”
David looks puzzled, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Well, of course.”
Tris is kind of awesome for a moment here:
“She knew you were watching us at every moment . . . watching as she died and my father died and everyone started killing each other! And did you send in someone to help her, to help me? No! No, all you did was take notes.”
“Tris . . .” He tries to reach for me, and I push his hand away.
“Don’t call me that. You shouldn’t know that name. You shouldn’t know anything about us.”
Tris has a few conversations with the others to see how they’re coping. So if you’ve wanted to read a handful of teenagers contemplate their existential crises…
Cara shakes her head. “It’s the only thing I am. Erudite. And now they’ve told me that’s the result of some kind of flaw in my genetics . . . and that the factions themselves are just a mental prison to keep us under control. Just like Evelyn Johnson and the factionless said.” She pauses. “So why form the Allegiant? Why bother to come out here?”
[Ariel says: Wait, though, Cara has proven to be brave and compassionate. So wouldn’t that go against this whole ‘but I’m just Erudite and vain’ bullshit?]
If there’s anything funny to be found here, it’s that I had those last two questions since this book started. It gets Tris thinking, though.
Now I’m wondering if I need it anymore, if we ever really need these words, “Dauntless,” “Erudite,” “Divergent,” “Allegiant,”
God, Divergent is the longest after school special ever.
Because this chapter won’t end already, Tris goes to talk with Tobias.
“Right now I’m just thinking about how meaningless it all was. The faction system, I mean.”
It’s not just you, Tobias.
Tris makes a weirdly good point about how the factions being set up by the Bureua isn’t all that different from how they grew up thinking that the factions were set up by… some people.
Now, I know that I shit on Divergent a lot for fable-esque social constructs that are somehow both oversimplified and overdetermind, but the chapters ends on a surprisingly relatable note about a social construct that, in comparison, actually makes sense.
I take his hand, slipping my fingers between his. He touches his forehead to mine. I catch myself thinking, Thank God for this, out of habit, and then I understand what he’s so concerned about. What if my parents’ God, their whole belief system, is just something concocted by a bunch of scientists to keep us under control? [Does it] have to change because we know how our world was made?
I don’t know.
It also ends on a cute note where Tris and Tobias push their cots close together and fall asleep holding hands and looking into each others’ eyes. You know, if you’re reading Allegiant for that part, and not the “what wacky pseudoscience bullshit is this entire story dependent on today?” part.
Question of the Day: So how do you feel about the Faction system now? I’ve seen a surprising number of comments on the blog from actual Divergent fans explaining the whole series to me (for some reason), explaining how it totally all makes sense once you read the whole thing. And I do, seriously, like how the book finally expressed awareness that it was conflating genetics and personal choices with this whole nature + nurture explanation of the Faction system. It almost seems like it turned a serious weakness into a strength, in the end!
Except then you have literally everything else we learned this chapter, which include murder genes, purity wars, and the government creating a program to increase the genetic likelihood of compassion. Not to mention how every time we learn more about the Chicago experiment, it becomes a stupider and stupider designed scientific experiment. Having a population breed within itself for generations to reduce the expression of traits currently within said population? My inner bio major is crying right now.
So what are your thoughts?