Thursday 3 May 2012

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Team Candor UK: The Dystopian Society in the Divergent Series

insurgent by veronica rothAs part of Team Candor UK's attempt to wow you with reviews of Insurgent by Veronica Roth and other cool posts, today I'm going to talk to you about my thoughts on the dystopian society in the series. Don't worry; so as not to spoil things for anyone, I'm going to discuss it without thinking of Insurgent (I'm not far into the book as I write this, only a few chapters, so no problem there), and without talking about the events of Divergent. Just the society in general will be discussed.

When reading Divergent, I thought of it as a dystopia within a dystopia. To explain what I mean,  let's take a closer look at what is meant by the term "dystopia". The following comes from Wikipedia's article on Dystopia.

A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian... People are alienated and individualism is restricted by the government.
Now, in some ways, before the events of Divergent that cause things to take a turn for the worst, you could say the society in the book is a little like this, but also not. If you look at Tris, for example, when in Abnegation, she isn't happy; the selfless life doesn't come as easy to her, therefore she is constantly checking herself to behave in the right way, her individualism is restricted. Yet, with the Choosing Ceremony, everyone has the chance to transfer to a different faction, where they can be themselves, the person they are.

Now, this all sounds very strange to me, it's not a society I would like to live in, but as I was reading, I was thinking... this actually seems to work. If you read further into the Wikipedia article linked, the society we see at the beginning of the book doesn't seem to fit anywhere. It doesn't seem all that cruel or oppressive at all. Who is being hurt by this society as it is? To back up what I'm saying, I'm going to quote Marcus, one of the Government leaders, when he makes his speech at the Choosing Ceremony:

"Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality - of humankind's inclination towards evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world's disarray... Those who blamed aggression formed Amity... Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite... Those who blamed duplicity created Candor... Those who blames selfishness made Abnegation... And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless... Working together, these five factions have lived in peace for many years, each contributing to a different sector of society. Abnegation has filled our need for selfless leaders in government; Candor has provided us with trustworthy and sound leaders in law; Erudite has supplied us with intelligent teachers and researchers; Amity has given us understanding councellors and caretakers; and Dauntless provides us with protection from threats both within and without. But the reach of each faction is not limited to these areas. We give one another far more than can be adequately summarized. In our factions, we find meaning, we find purpose, we find life."
Now, what about any of that sounds all that dystopian? There is no dictator that rules over everyone - in fact, the government is made up of those from Abnegation, whose sole purpose is to give and help without a second thought, this is not a selfish government. At 16, you get to choose the type of person you want to be, the work you want to do, what your passion is - no-one tells you where you have to be, it's simply down to you. Everyone has their place, a job, a purpose of their chosing. And everyone works together, it's a society that works! The only thing that makes this dystopian to me is the fact that, even if they work together, they're segregated. There may not be any major animosity, but there is still a feeling of "us and them". So yes, it's a dystopian society, under the guise of being utopian, but one that seems to work! I found it quite fascinating, and was smiling to myself at the idea that life can go well!

But then I read on, and I started to see some problems.What if you don't fit into any of the factions? What if you don't want to label yourself intelligent, peaceful, selfless, brave, or honest? Considering Marcus' speech, I can see how those qualities work well for a society, but for individuals? What if the qualities you value most aren't listed? What if you want a life doing something that just so happens not to benefit society as a whole - not because your selfish and don't want to contribute to society, but because it's simply something you're passionate about? End up as one of the Factionless, and live a homeless life? And what if you simply don't fall under just one bracket?

Reading further, other cracks started to show. It seems the one thing those ancestors who created the factions didn't factor in was human nature - or rather, they didn't think it would be a problem once the factions were in place and everyone is living in their own ideal where things are as they want them. Sometimes people just want things their way, even if they have things pretty good in their own little corner of society. Sometimes people want more power. Sometimes people will take drastic actions to get what they want. Actions that put lives and society as we know it at risk. Sometimes a dystopia can become even more dystopian. And sometimes, a dystopian society that seems flawed to us readers actually turns out to be much better than what's to come.

It turns out "humankind's inclination towards evil" can't be eradicated. At least not this way.

Thoughts, people? What do you think of Divergent's society?

You can read my review of Divergent here. Check back on 8th May for my review of Insurgent.

N.B. I would just like to point out again that this post is a discussion of what we read in Divergent only. Please keep that in mind when commenting. Please don't spoil Insurgent for those who have yet to read it. Thank you.

This post is part of Team #CandorUK's campaign for #InsurgentUK!


  1. I love this post, Jo! The Divergent society is such an interesting one I think and I completely agree about what you said about human nature and people taking drastic action to get what they want. Did your thoughts about the society change after you read Insurgent?x

    1. Thank you! :) With learning more about each of the factions, I still say it's not a society I want to live in, but when there are no issues, it does seem to work. But when there are issues... the crappy sides of the factions not directly involved show, methinks. They're not too great. But then there was that ending!! And, without trying to be spoilery, I guess I was wrong about what was thought about "human nature", in a way. Gosh, I can't explain what I mean without spoiling things, but hopefully you'll get what I mean! :)

  2. A fantastic,thought provoking post.
    I was particularly interested in what you were saying about the fractionless. If our protagonist was a member of this element of society, Divergent would probably read like a more traditional dystopian.

    1. Thank you! :) Oooh, you're right! I'd never thought of that! I did mention in my review of Divergent how I felt it was focussed more on Tris than on the society, but of course if she was in factionless, it would be more about how the society treats those people.
      However, apart from what we read in Insurgent - different book, and as I said above, just talking about Divergent - I do think the Divergent society could be completely different, and it would still be crappy. What I mean is, even in our own society, we have homeless people. If a book was written from the point of view of a homeless person, would it be all that different to the difficulties some people go through in dystopian novels? Rhetorical question really :)

  3. This is a fab post Jo! I hadn't really thought about the fact that it isn't really a normal dystopian society. I think they've picked values that are important to have a healthy society but I don't think it can be good for individuals to just pick one of those values. To a degree the Divergent society works but like you say there will always be some people who fall through the cracks - either because they don't quite fit just one faction like the Divergent or Factionless or because they aren't happy with how things are and they want to change things by taking power. Human nature is a fascinating thing!

    1. Thank you! :) I'm so glad you enjoyed it! That's it, the values aren't great for individuals. They should mix it up a bit! Well, to a certain degree. :)