Veronica Roth’s trilogy, beginning with the book and movie Divergent, has been a recent hit with teens. Sixteen-year-old Tris and eighteen-year-old “Four” live in the remnants of Chicago, an area ravaged by war, surrounded by a guarded fence. Their society is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, and Dauntless. At age sixteen, citizens are tested and decide whether or not they would like to stay in the faction of their family of origin or whether they would like to join a different faction. Some citizens are “homeless” or “factionless,” literally and figuratively if they have failed their faction’s initiation, if the faction expelled them, or if they left it voluntarily. The “divergent” are citizens whose minds are most flexible and could live in more than one faction.
This last group is the target of Jeanine whose declared purpose is to create peace in the city. The divergent are more difficult to control and thus pose a challenge to her desire to be completely in charge. Tris and Four are divergent and fight against this woman’s attempt to wipe them out and their home faction of Abnegation.
While this book and movie have many interesting angles, these are some more closely related to theology.
1. Each of the factions was created in order to combat a human characteristic that contributed to the war that almost completely destroyed Chicago.
- Abnegation or selflessness is a response to selfishness such as vanity, greed and envy. These people served others and led the city.
- Erudite or knowledgeable is a response to ignorance. People from this faction were teachers and scholars.
- Amity or peaceful is a response to violence and aggression. These people grew food for the city.
- Candor or truthfulness is a response to deceit. People from this faction served in the legal field.
- Dauntless or fearlessness is a response to cowardice. The Dauntless provide protection from the outside world and within the city
Ask students, in small groups, to take the seven deadly or capital sins and create factions to combat them, defining the virtue that counteracts the vice and the role of each group in a small society. Christianity encourages growth in virtue. How does the approach from Divergent resemble and differ from the Christian approach?
Ask small groups to take one of the capital sins and match it to a Divergent faction. If some do not fit, ask students to create additional factions to supplement the Divergent five.
2. While there is some mention of religion here and there in the book, it is not a major topic. Tris’s father explains that focusing on those who believe versus those who do not simply causes further division.
- Where in the book/movie do students see behavior that is typically religious?
- How might a shared faith have united the different factions?
3. Jeanine justifies killing some citizens in order to gain control over the majority of the people so that there will be peace.
- Do modern nations use this rationale in warfare? Can controlled people really have peace?
You may have noticed that the heroine of the story is named Beatrice (Tris) and that the factions focus on a virtue that counteracts a vice is somewhat like Dante’s Purgatorio. Delving a bit into the way that Dante envisions Purgatory as a place that undoes vices through virtue might interest the students and provoke interesting conversation. If you worked on the seven deadly sins then this would be an interesting follow-up