Published on February 14th, 2014 | by Megan A. Ross0
Divergent – Veronica Roth
As I waited for Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games franchise, to begin playing on the big screen, I sat through the usual sprinkling of movie trailers. One preview in particular began with characteristics that were all too familiar, and I was certain the movie had started. Only, it ended up being a trailer for the upcoming book-turned-movie, Divergent. It immediately struck me as a repeat of The Hunger Games; the muted colours, the strong female lead, and the dramatic voiceover describing some sort of intimidating process involving adolescents. Granted, the story did vary beyond that, but it was clear that the dystopian theme was quickly becoming a trend much like the beloved ‘vampires in high school’ storyline. One remains hopeful though, that Divergent does not mark the beginning of another recycled idea.
The narrative centers on Beatrice Prior, a teenage girl who finds herself at odds with the conventions of the world she lives in. After completing a nondescript aptitude test, sixteen-year-olds are required to choose one of five factions, which they will go on to live with. Each faction is meant to represent a specific type of personality, whether an individual is selfless, brave, honest, knowledgeable, or peaceful. The main character, of course, does not readily fit any single category, but rather is ‘divergent.’ As such, Beatrice is a threat to the ordering of society and must keep her uniqueness hidden. Readers try to place themselves within one of the factions, but will undoubtedly struggle to do so, making it easy to sympathize with the conflicted protagonist. However, young adults are more likely to find her relatable for the remainder of the book compared to their older counterparts, as Beatrice endeavours to fit in and prove herself in the most proverbial ways.
I decided to read the first book of Veronica Roth’s series as I personally enjoy the dystopian genre. I was also curious whether Divergent warranted a movie adaptation, or if filmmakers were simply looking to cash in on a popular trend. After completing the novel, it is not hard to understand the appeal of making it into a movie, and it seems to me that doing so would be accomplished with relative ease. While Roth creates a society set in future Chicago much different than our own, it lacks the kind of depth which is found in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Handmaid’s Tale. Indeed, while these familiar staples of the dystopian genre similarly include characters that feel something is amiss with their world, Beatrice’s experience is described much more simply.
One can argue that it is unreasonable to compare the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent with these revered classics on the basis that the former are written for young adults. Or, the problem with such a comparison may be attributable to our expectations of a dystopian novel. This genre is extremely valuable in offering critiques of modern society, despite being set in the future. Furthermore, by presenting an environment so bleak, part of the reading experience is coming to terms with the hopelessness felt by the protagonists. There is skepticism regarding whether or not these modern teenager toils even deserve the label of ‘dystopian.’ Given that the main focus of Divergent is Beatrice physically fighting for her life while facing typical adolescent experiences in an atypical environment, the overwhelming injustice of society and struggle of mind is lacking. Rather than being concerned with correcting the wrongs that exist in the supposed dystopian future, Beatrice and the reader are relegated to being swept up in a tale primarily concerned with her immediate wellbeing.
I have not read the second and third book in the series, so Roth may have gone on to create a more mentally and emotionally demanding story. On its own though, Divergent is intriguing and holds your attention, while presenting a strong female lead who is respectable and likable. But, that is the extent of the feeling this book has drawn from me; rather than caring strongly for Beatrice, or fearing the constrictive government and society, or even enjoying the minor love story, my feelings remained superficial. Although, this has indeed proven to be sufficient motivation to compel me to see the movie version upon its release (Divergent is set to appear in theatres May 21st, 2014).