Analysis: Chapters 37 – 39

During the book’s climax, Tris fully melds the two main impulses that have defined her throughout the novel. In multiple situations, she opts for a course of action that requires both generosity and courage. The start of war is the ultimate test of her character, and even in a brutally violent environment, selflessness has become her automatic response. After she decides to find the control room, she briefly wonders why she didn’t hesitate to undertake what she knows is essentially a suicide mission. She has questioned her own actions and the actions of those around her throughout the book. Even when she can’t answer these questions, she doesn’t stew with indecision or doubt. A strong protagonist, she takes action rather than dwelling on her worries and fears.

Tris’s father and Marcus think all Dauntless members are reckless, but Tris challenges them by saying the faction taught her to be both selfless and brave. As they move through the Pit, Tris’s father comes to realize that her statement isn’t a paradox. Though he questions her callousness at first, he quickly learns that the current situation requires rethinking Abnegation’s strict values and even adopting some Dauntless ones. Indeed, Tris’s ability to juggle her Dauntless and Abnegation traits is ultimately what saves her, Caleb, and Tobias. As she leads her family and Marcus through the Pit, she’s primarily concerned with their safety, and though she doesn’t commit to nonviolence, she tries to inflict less harm than Dauntless usually do. She could easily kill Peter, but she wounds him in the arm instead. Just as Tris’s mother showed that violence can be used for selfless purposes, her father learns the same lesson in time to sacrifice his life and save his daughter’s.

As Tris confronts Tobias in the control room, she wonders if she can be forgiven for everything she has had to do up to this point. Like her earlier thoughts about God while she was trapped in the glass tank, the question suggests that she continues to struggle with her actions. She’s grown increasingly aware that both she and life itself are more complex than the factions acknowledge. Her desires and motives differ from one moment to the next, and the problems she encounters sometimes seem to require selfish and violent solutions. But she becomes hyper-aware of the problem with this view when Marcus observes that pain sometimes serves a greater good. Though Tris doesn’t necessarily disagree, Marcus has clearly used this idea to justify his own abusive behavior toward his son, and potentially for other nefarious purposes. Although Tris never explicitly mentions an afterlife, she wants her actions to reflect well on her after she dies, and selflessness always makes her feel more righteous than violence does. When she offers to sacrifice her life instead of killing Tobias in the control room, she makes a conscious choice to embrace her Abnegation values over her Dauntless ones.

As Tris and Tobias depart Abnegation, possibly forever, she takes another step toward adulthood. Over the course of a single night, she has nearly died multiple times, as well as lost both her parents and become factionless. She left her parents behind by choice when she switched factions, but now that they’re gone for good, she and Caleb will truly have to grow up on their own. As they head toward the Amity faction, Tobias tells Tris he loves her, suggesting that now that her parents are gone, her main emotional support will be her romantic relationship with Tobias. The ending hints that Tris is about learn more about who she is beyond “Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave,” a cliffhanger that paves the way for the next book in the series.