(Attention! Contains Spoilers!)
Lately I have given opportunities to certain authors who, at other times, I would have rejected. I recently discovered a writer named Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent Trilogy. I read the first (of the same name) and the second (Insurgent). This week I’m going to buy the last one (Convergent), but the curiosity has already led me to the spoilers, so I can comment here also about the outcome of this story. I decided to write about it because I could perceive a very biblical worldview, though the novel itself is not considered properly Christian or theological. He considers as presupposed the doctrine of total depravity of man and the failure of the human being in trying to repair the problem of humanity on the basis of his own knowledge.
I was really impressed by the author’s originality. It is a dystopian novel, set in the not-too-distant future in the city of Chicago. Society was divided into five factions: Self-denial, Audacity, Erudition, Openness, and Friendship. All citizens, live with their family and are educated in the home faction until they turn 16. At that age, everyone should go through a process of choice. First, they perform an aptitude test to find out which faction each one identifies the most. However, regardless of the outcome of the test, the individual has the power to choose which faction he wishes to unite. After the choice, there is no possibility to go back and he must spend the rest of his life in the chosen faction. Those who are not able to choose or who can not adapt to the place of choice are expelled from society and live miserably in a social category where they are called the “factionless.”
The protagonist of the story is called Beatrice Prior and she comes from the Abnegation faction. She is also the narrator, that is, the novel is in the first person, with a non-omniscient narrator, everything that happens is from Beatrice’s point of view. The story begins when she, at age 16, needs to go through the process of choice. Beatrice discovers that she is not a normal girl. She is “divergent.” A divergent person is one who has strong abilities for more than one faction. Beatrice has the necessary skills to choose between Abnegation, Erudition and Audacity. Being divergent in that society is a very dangerous thing, for they can not be controlled or manipulated like those whose vision and ability are focused on only one quality. The test instructor, Tori, of Audacity, advises Beatrice to remain in Abnegation, so she would be less likely to be discovered by the Erudition leaders, who seek to exterminate the divergent and control the whole society, making Abnegation, which is the Responsible for the governability of the city, is discredited and is annihilated.
However, Beatrice always had many doubts about the decision she wanted to make, and she had always admired the fearless and adventurous way of the Audacity. So she leaves the Abnegation, joins the faction of Audacity, and changes her name to Tris. The whole novel recounts her initiation process, the difficulties she goes through, and, above all, how she begins to understand their divergence, while at the same time hiding this characteristic from everyone, since her life is in danger if discovered. For this, it counts on the help of Four (Tobias), a personage that, due to the proximity with Tris, gains an almost protagonist importance in history. He is the initiator’s instructor, he is 18 years old, that is, he underwent the initiation process two years ago.
Well, I will not dwell on the plot, this is not the goal. I decided to write about Divergent for the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this text. As he had said, it is not a Christian work, and the theological parallels are not as evident as, for example, in The Chronicles of Narnia or in the Cosmic Trilogy by CS Lewis (Incidentally, with regard to literary quality, Of Lewis is much smarter). However, this does not seem to have been the intention of the author. What Veronica Roth did was simply create a story from her own worldview. She is avowedly Christian, was converted to college, the same time she wrote the trilogy.
One of the things that most caught my attention was the way the work defines the human being: bad, without exception. Man is always inclined to do evil. In the speech at Beatrice’s ceremony of choice, Marcus explains why, many years earlier, society decided to split into factions: “They concluded … that the fault was in the human personality, in the human inclination to evil, whatever Their form. ” (p. 48). On another occasion, Tris reflects on a teaching from his father: “Human reason is able to justify any evil; That is why we should not depend on it ” (p. 111). Tris’ mother also mentions the problem at another time: “Humans, in general, can not be good for long before evil enters again and poisons us” (p. 454).
This thought is totally biblical. In Romans 3:10-12 Paul, referring to Psalms 14:2, states that “there is not one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; There is no one who seeks God. All have gone astray, and become useless together. There is none that doeth good, there is none. “Christianity teaches that every man is born inclined to evil. If you depend on your own will, no one ever chooses to seek God, so he is lost. Man tries in all ways to solve social, moral, ethical, political, etc. problems, using his own intelligence and fighting militantly to defend his ideals. However, according to Christian thought, no matter how high that seems to be and no matter how hard one strives to attain it, the natural evil within us will never allow anything to remain good for long and nothing can Be really good if God is not present. This is the basis of the novel. Men tried to solve the problem of social disorder by creating the factions, initially it might have worked, but by the time the story goes on we understand that the system is declining and that man has not ceased to be evil, as Tris herself , “When we get rid of one bad thing, another one replaces it” (p. 418).
At the end of Insurgent and beginning of Convergent we better understand what is really happening in this society of factions. In fact, only the city of Chicago lives under that system. When they realized that the problem was intrinsic to the man, the social leaders decided to carry out a test, surrounding the city and placing therein forgotten people, that is, that they took the “serum of the memory” and they forgot all the life that they had taken until So. They would be watched from the outside, for the idea was that if one forgets his sinful and violent past, he could begin again without sinning. Obviously, that was not the result. Sometimes we think about how unfair it is to pay for the sin of Adam and Eve, as if, by their fault, we are also sinners. But I believe that if the story began all over again and I was put there in the place of Eve, I would have acted the same way or worse. The human being is evil. He always chooses evil.
Curiously I am working on a review of a work that discusses the effects of Calvinism, especially in politics, from the 16th century (there is a chapter also dedicated to the background of the Reformation). I can not pass the reference in Portuguese because the book has not yet been published, but I will leave the link here as soon as this happens. The author is called David W. Hall and the book in English is called Calvin in the Public Square. There is a chapter in which he shows how Calvinist thought influenced American political philosophy at the time of its colonization / foundation. One of the fundamental points of the philosophy of that moment was that, however clever man may be, he will never be able to create a perfect social system because of his sin. Consequently, any political or social system is doomed to failure. From then on, it was justified the necessity of the ruler to submit to the divine will, since only God is able to create and to lead a perfect and immaculate government. The United States, at the time of its foundation, took this thought very seriously. But because of the fallen nature of man and also after the Enlightenment arises with his anthropocentric ideas, making us believe in the lie that, yes, there is something good within us, our tendency is to ignore God and His good will, Perfect and enjoyable. Indeed, with or without Enlightenment, before or after it, man has always believed in being able to achieve good things on his own merits, with his own goodness, and in defending his favorite political system.
Another thing that caught my attention was the characteristic of a divergent one. Since it has enough qualities to identify with more than one faction, it becomes more difficult to control. He is able to be brave (Audacity), selfless (Selflessness), intelligent (Erudition), honest (Openness) and kind (Friendship). Now, these are the expected characteristics of a Christian, not that the Christian possesses all of them, but must seek them out, and in Jesus, is able to attain them. Jesus Christ possesses all these qualities, so he is the Supreme Divergent. In addition, the novel presents the divergent as God-fearing people and come primarily from the Abnegation faction. On the wall of Fourth’s room is written, “So only fear the Lord” (p. 296). Jeanine, one of the leaders of the Erudition and responsible for commanding the annihilation of Self-denial, confesses: “One question that worries me … is: Why is it that most of the dissenters are people of weak will, insignificant and fearful of God, and of all possible factions, usually originating from Abnegation? ” (p. 442).
The divergent is not a good human being in contrast to bad human beings. They are equally wicked who have inexplicably received this rare ability. In the book Insurgent, when Peter accuses Tris of being as bad as he, she replies, “Maybe we’re both bad, but there’s a huge difference between us. I do not content myself to be like that. ” (p. 342). Likewise, the Christian is not a good person. He was born inclined to evil, choosing evil, like all people. The great difference is that, inexplicably, the Christian receives from God the gift of believing in him and choosing to seek him. That is, the Christian only chooses to seek God because he was chosen before. Christianity calls this irresistible, undeserved grace. In 1 John 4:19 we read that we are only capable of loving God because He first loved us, not the other way around.
Tris discovers that she has this quality of being divergent. She did not choose to be like this, as the other divergent people in history did not choose either. Instead, they were chosen. Marcus, the father of Four and one of the leaders of Abnegation, who is also divergent, told Tris: “We are not from here. We were placed here to achieve a specific goal ” (p. 405, from Insurgent). In Insurgente, when she is about to be executed by villain Jeanine, Tris finally begins to understand what their divergence means. The first conclusion she comes to is that what awaits her beyond life is not something that depends on herself or her good or bad deeds:
I think now would be the time to ask for forgiveness for all the things I’ve done, but I know my list would never be complete. Nor do I believe that whatever happens after life depends on a correct listing of my transgressions. (…) In fact, I do not believe that what comes next depends in any way on my actions (p.372).
After getting away from death with the help of the most unlikely person (Peter), Tris joins Marcus to try to salvage information that could change the whole fate of that bankrupt society that was under threat of being taken over by the faction. For this, they go to the Friendship headquarters to seek help. In the morning, as she walked, Tris observed a religious ritual and was invited to join the group. A lady took her hands, looked her in the eye and said, “May the peace of God be with you … even in the midst of difficulties.” Tris replied, “Why would she be, after all I’ve done?” And the woman replied, “The question is not you. It’s a gift. You can not deserve it, or it will cease to be a gift. ” (p .429). The grace of God through Jesus Christ is just that! A gift that we are far from deserving. The question is not us. If we were to choose for salvation, we would all be lost. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jn 2:9).
I have not read Convergent yet, just the spoiler, but what I can tell you from what I have discovered is that Tris comes to understand both his function and his divergence, that he uses it on behalf of his brother Caleb, a traitor, who did not deserve his mercy, and She goes so far as to sacrifice herself for him.
Anyway, there are many other parallels about which I could reflect here, but the text ended up getting a lot bigger than I imagined, so if you want to know more and get another list mentioning situations that you observed and that I did not put here, read the book. It’s an exciting read, you can not stop reading and it hurts when you have other things to do and need to close it. He has his problems, really is not a good literature, in the technical sense. But relieve these problems and the experience of this reading will be wonderful as it was for me!
Mariana Ferreira de Toledo
ps.: The references of the pages follow the translation in Portuguese of the publisher Rocco. This is a translation. To read the original in Portuguese, click here.