A young female narrator sits nervously in front of a mirror while her mother cuts her hair. Along with her sixteen-year-old peers, she is about to take an aptitude test to match her with one of society’s five factions. After the test, she will decide whether to stay in her current faction, Abnegation, or leave it forever. As she heads to breakfast with her mother, she reflects on her family’s unselfish life and feels guilty for wanting to leave it behind.
On the bus ride to school, the narrator’s brother Caleb, who is also sixteen, gives up his seat to another rider. As they arrive, she asks Caleb if he is nervous about the test, but instead of answering, he asks her the same question. She lies about her anxiety and they leave for separate classes. In the crowded hallway, a boy from the Erudite faction calls her “Stiff” and knocks her down. She explains that tensions between the Abnegation and Erudite have grown recently. As she does every day, she pauses at a window to watch dozens of pierced, tattooed students from the Dauntless faction jump out of a moving train. After scolding herself for watching, she continues on to class.
Classes over, the narrator awaits testing in the cafeteria. There is no way to prepare, so she watches students at the Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, and Candor tables. While Caleb is being tested, the narrator thinks about his easy selflessness and wonders why she finds it so difficult. Caleb is pale when he returns, but he stays quiet, since discussing results is forbidden. When the next group is called, we learn the narrator’s name is Beatrice Prior. Her test administrator, a Dauntless woman named Tori, has a tattoo of a hawk on her neck. After Tori asks Beatrice to sit next to an ominous-looking machine, Beatrice impulsively asks about the tattoo. Tori explains that she chose the hawk, a symbol of the sun, after conquering her fear of the dark. She attaches wires to Beatrice and gives her a vial of liquid to drink.
Beatrice awakens in the empty cafeteria. A voice asks her to choose between two baskets on a table, one containing cheese, the other a knife. Beatrice resists, the baskets disappear, and an angry dog enters ready to attack. Recalling that looking in a dog’s eyes is a sign of aggression, she lies down, and the dog becomes friendly. When a little girl appears and the dog prepares to pounce, Beatrice tackles it and is suddenly transported back to the mirrored room. She walks out onto a bus and sees a scarred man holding a newspaper. He asks whether she knows the man on the front page, a murderer who has just been caught. Though he looks vaguely familiar, Beatrice senses danger and professes ignorance. The man accuses Beatrice of lying and says she could save him if she confessed, but she refuses.
Beatrice awakens to find Tori looking concerned. Tori briefly leaves the room, leaving Beatrice to worry that she will be left factionless and in poverty. When she returns, Tori explains that the test was inconclusive. Instead of eliminating four factions, it only ruled out two: she possesses traits of Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. These results make her “Divergent.” Tori warns Beatrice that the label is extremely dangerous and she should never tell anyone about her results. She sends Beatrice home to think about how to handle the next day’s choosing ceremony.
Beatrice plans to intercept Caleb and ensure he doesn’t reveal her early return to their parents. As she passes through the decayed factionless sector, an unkempt man approaches and asks her for food. She gives him a bag of apple slices and he grabs her wrist, asking her about the choosing ceremony. As she prepares to hit him, he lets her go and tells her to choose wisely.