Analysis: Chapters 10 – 12

This section shows Tris using mental toughness to compensate for the fact that she’s small and relatively weak. She knows she isn’t the strongest contender, and this fact makes her nervous and insecure throughout the physical portion of the tests. Though she is desperate not to be ranked last, she knows doesn’t have the skills or strength to best Peter in a one-on-one fight. Still, even after Al advises her to give up early during the match, she refuses to take the easy way out, doing her best to appear tough even though she’s doomed to lose. Even after Peter beats her up badly, her priority is to appear strong: she leaves the hospital in the middle of the night so Peter can’t say he put her there overnight. Her bruises may be visible, but she doesn’t want anyone think she’s afraid, since it could mean losing her place in the faction.

In addition to fighting each other in public, the initiates are forced to interact constantly in the dormitory. Tris compares it unfavorably to her room at home, where she slept alone. The dorm is a shared space, so it exacerbates and magnifies conflicts that start elsewhere. It also places everyone’s bodies and behavior under scrutiny. At one point, Tris finds that Peter has spray painted the word “Stiff” all over her bed, violating both her dignity and her privacy. Events in later chapters will confirm that the dorm isn’t safe, and that name-calling isn’t Peter’s only mode of attack.

The game of capture the flag gives Tris a chance to show her true strengths. By climbing the Ferris wheel, she doesn’t just appear fearless: she also gains a real tactical advantage over the other team. She’s unafraid to act independently and to demonstrate leadership in a group that includes both transfers and those born into the faction. When the others look to her for direction, she devises a plan quickly and executes it confidently. And although Tris is upset that Christina wants to take the flag at the moment of victory, her deference to her friend shows that she is willing to share her accomplishments, a classic Abnegation trait. In fact, while Peter, Molly, and Drew constantly call her “Stiff” as an insult, Tris will often find that the instincts she learned in her home faction are advantageous during Dauntless training.

Tris’s insecurity makes it difficult for her to accurately interpret the motivation behind others’ actions. She is given to intense self-doubt and mood swings, especially concerning Four’s feelings for her. When he leaves her fight early, she convinces herself it’s because she performed poorly. When he and Eric choose capture the flag teams, she thinks Four only picks her so he can blame her if they lose. And as he scrambles down the Ferris wheel while she hangs on for dear life, she fears he’s left her to fall. All these assumptions prove to be wrong, suggesting that her fear of failure sometimes blinds her to reality.

During the Ferris wheel scene, Tris and Four’s previous brief interactions expand into a full-blown flirtation. As they climb up the wheel, Tris realizes she has one advantage over the Four: he’s afraid of heights, and she isn’t. The realization helps her feel slightly more comfortable with him, but it also impresses her. During the fights, when Eric refused to allow concessions, Four argued that acknowledging the strength of others is a form of bravery. Unlike Eric, an unapologetic bully, Four shows courage by acknowledging Tris’s strength and confronting his fear of heights head-on. The danger and exhilaration of the expedition puts them in close physical contact, as well. Tris doesn’t quite know how to acknowledge her excitement at their growing closeness, and often focuses on her physical reactions. She finds herself unable to breathe or notices her heart pounding, but doesn’t say why.