Allegiant Chapter 17: Tris
After Tobias’s nighttime adventures in the last chapter, Tris wakes up as some of the Bureau employees are finishing their night shift, and has an adventure of her own to, like most things in Divergent, a metaphor that only sort of makes any sense.
[The sculpture] is a huge slab of dark stone, square and rough, like the rocks at the bottom of the chasm. A large crack runs through the middle of it, and there are streaks of lighter rock near the edges. Suspended above the slab is a glass tank of the same dimensions, full of water. […] another drop falls, then a third, and a fourth, at the same interval. A few drops collect, and then disappear down a narrow channel in the stone. They must be intentional.
So there’s a not-quite-mainstream (English major mainstream, anyway – it’s where the cool kids hang out) concept known as an “overdetermined signifier”, where something isn’t quite able to convey everything it’s intended to, whether it’s trying to represent multiple unrelated concepts simultaneously, or trying to be symbolism while also explaining the meaning that symbol is supposed to be symbolic for. In other words, it’s basically English Major for “trying too hard”.
Why am I bringing all of this up? Well…
“It’s the symbol of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare,” [Zoe] says. “The slab of stone is the problem we’re facing. The tank of water is our potential for changing that problem. And the drop of water is what we’re actually able to do, at any given time.”
Do keep in mind that “the problem we’re facing” is evolution, and “what we’re actually able to do” is eugenics. That is the point in Divergent we have hit. Humanity has fucked itself over with mass-scale eugenics, and is trying to fix the problem with more eugenics.
Tris’s reaction to this is, as always, precious. Or at least it would be, if the reader weren’t supposed to be taking her seriously.
I can’t help it— I laugh. “Not very encouraging, is it? […] Wouldn’t it be more effective to unleash the whole tank at once?”
The whole tank of… metaphorical genetic change over time???
Zoe explains why Tris’s vague suggestion doesn’t make sense (because that is not how genetics work), but this is Divergent, where METAPHOR IS KING:
“genetic damage isn’t the kind of problem that can be solved with one big charge.”
“I understand that,” I say. “I’m just wondering if it’s a good thing to resign yourself quite this much to small steps when you could take some big ones.”
I shrug. “I guess I don’t really know.”
Like not knowing a concept has ever stopped this book from trying to be a big metaphor/statement about that concept.
Sigh. The book quickly stops trying to be deep about itself to move along. Zoe has Tris’s mom’s teenage-ish journals and wants to give them to her, and also has a favor to ask of her. Zoe takes Tris to a research lab she works in, and Tris continues to experience a not-stupid society for the first time:
“Do the colors of the uniforms mean anything?” I ask Zoe.
“Yes, actually. Dark blue means scientist or researcher, and green means support staff— they do maintenance, upkeep, things like that.”
“So they’re like the factionless.”
“No,” she says. “No, the dynamic is different here— everyone does what they can to support the mission. Everyone is valued and important.”
Until Tris learns about capitalism and then learns that they’re not.
Because Divergent just won’t quit while it’s ahead (or at least “way way behind but seriously please just stop“), Zoe explains more about the science behind the genetic manipulation city experiments.
Astute readers might remember I’ve been critical of this aspect of the series.
“After a few generations, when your city didn’t tear itself apart and the others did, the Bureau implemented the faction components in the newer cities— Saint Louis, Detroit, and Minneapolis— using the relatively new Indianapolis experiment as a control group.”
Oh, hey, wait! That was actually something I criticized as a throwaway joke last week! I guess they do have an actual control group (in other words, biology major for “the one we do literally nothing to so we have a point of reference for the test subjects we are doing stuff to”) for this experiment! Guess I should rescind that criticism n-
“So in Indianapolis you just… corrected their genes and shoved them in a city somewhere?” […]
“Yes, that’s essentially what happened.”
HAHA NEVERMIND THAT’S NOT EVEN REMOTELY WHAT A CONTROL GROUP IS.
“Genetically damaged people who have been conditioned by suffering and are not taught to live differently, as the factions would have taught them to, are very destructive.”
Hey, you know what probably isn’t helping them with that whole conditioned to be destructive thing? Calling them fucking “genetically damaged” all the time.
They finally get to the lab so they can stop trying to talk about science (ironically!), but this gets immediately ruined anyway.
“Sit. I’ll give you a [tablet] with all Natalie’s files on it so that you and your brother can read them yourselves, but while they’re loading I might as well tell you the story.”
Aren’t these basically text files? Your phone today can download a Word doc in like twenty seconds. How does this process take longer in Divergent‘s future of disposable brain-interfacing microcomputers injected into the bloodstream?
Zoe’s lab partner – who is named Matthew, because that’s just karma for you – explains that Zoe’s mother was “a fantastic discovery” from “inside the damaged world” whose “genes were nearly perfect”, because literally nothing that has happened in this story’s narrative has any meaning.
Matthew (not me) explains that Tris’s mother was brought to the Bureau, then volunteered to go into the Chicago experiment to resolve a crisis (ok, I guess I did just explain all that…)
“The Erudite representative had just begun to kill the Divergent, of course,”
I don’t even have a snarky joke. That’s exactly the level of laziness I’ve come to expect from this series.
Ever since then, Tris’s mom stayed in the experiment to extract the Divergent from the experiment before the other test subjects murdered them. After story time, Matthew (still not me) also asks Tris if she and Tobias would mind having their genes tested.
“Curiosity.” He shrugs. “We haven’t gotten to test the genes of someone in such a late generation of the experiment before, and you and Tobias seem to be somewhat . . . odd, in your manifestations of certain things.”
Even among the specials, Tris is still special. What a fun message.
“You, for example, have displayed extraordinary serum resistance— most of the Divergent aren’t as capable of resisting serums as you are,” Matthew says. “And Tobias can resist simulations, but he doesn’t display some of the characteristics we’ve come to expect of the Divergent.”
Question of the Day: What do you think this will mean for Tobias/Four, and will he have to change his name again?