Analysis: Chapters 16 – 18

In Divergent, society as a whole is obsessed with categories. The government divides people into factions and forces them to conform to strict standards in every aspect of their lives. In Dauntless, these categories are further broken down into hierarchies. In Abnegation, Tris’s old faction, no one was allowed to stand out, express pride, or take individual credit for accomplishments. Even though the faction had leaders like Tris’s father, they were part of a council that made decisions collectively. In Dauntless, by contrast, members must constantly fight for supremacy, especially at the initiation stage. The training process creates an oppressive atmosphere of competition between trainees by threatening them with expulsion if they fail. Rather than encouraging friendship, it turns them into enemies bent on forcing each other out of the faction.

Even though Dauntless training encourages initiates to look out for themselves, friendships and cliques have formed. Peter, Drew, and Molly, a group of friends from Candor, share a sense of merciless brutality. Ironically, though they’re from the honest faction, they’re willing to lie and sabotage their competitors in order to secure their places in Dauntless. Peter is particularly brutal, and he gets away with maiming Edward because Tris and Christina assume that Dauntless approves of his tactics. By contrast, Tris and her friends are more nuanced characters. They have complicated feelings about the training and ranking process. Their complicated feelings make them more sympathetic than the Candor trio. Al can’t bring himself to hurt anyone even though he’s afraid to be kicked out of the faction. Will is doing well enough, but he’s struggling with his loyalty to Erudite, since its leaders are releasing reports attacking his new friend Tris’s faction. Christina cares about Tris, but she’s also jealous when Tris gets singled out by the Dauntless-born trainees.

A clear divide exists between initiates who were born in Dauntless and those who transferred in from other factions. Prior to this section, the two groups have been separated, but in these chapters they interact both formally and informally. Tris’s outing with Uriah and the other Dauntless-born initiates highlights the differences between these experienced trainees and their transfer counterparts. Having grown up Dauntless, they’re much more comfortable taking risks than the “new” kids, and most have insider knowledge of the process. Some, like Uriah, have the benefit of learning from their older siblings’ experiences, while others are simply used to climbing great heights and acting like daredevils. When Uriah invites Tris to come along on their special outing, she feels special, like they’ve welcomed her into the popular crowd. Moreover, their gleeful zip lining reminds Tris of the aspects of Dauntless that made her join in the first place: the camaraderie, the sense of fun and adventure, and the chance to push boundaries without hurting anyone.

Fun is hard to come by in Dauntless, especially during the second phase of training, which is focused on exploiting the trainees’ fears. Four explains to Tris the complicated process by which the computer measures each trainee’s fear level and coping skills. When these details are combined with Tori’s earlier explanation of the aptitude test, readers begin to realize that the government has developed multiple technologies for social control without the knowledge of most faction members. This secrecy is troubling, since it means that almost no one knows about the computer programs – much less what they actually do – until the moment they’re subjected to them. By creating hallucinations that induce fears which are then monitored, the tests are supposedly teaching the trainees how to overcome their fears. But both the aptitude test and the fear simulation are traumatic experiences for Tris and the other trainees. The intense emotional reactions these simulations cause suggest that government leaders want to make the Dauntless afraid to question authority. The information these tests provide is easy to exploit, and it seems likely that Dauntless or some other authority is planning to use them for nefarious purposes.