Thursday, April 17, 2014

Divergent's Dystopian Heroes

The story of Divergent is a classic tale wherein the same seeds of self-interest that bring man and his inventions to a ruined state now threaten the freedom and peace carved out of rubble. Human nature, especially the allure of Power and Envy, leads men to destroy each other, but self-imposed sorrows fail to teach them the true harms of human nature.

What or who will save the peace? What measures will insure that humans remain free, and who will fight on for the common good? The dystopian protagonist. Divergent, the film and novel by Veronica Roth, gives us two protagonists, Beatrice and Four. Both not only challenge human frailties, but fight for human freedom also. Better still, they fall in love (but more about their romance next week).

Beatrice demonstrates better than Four one of the traits of dystopian heroes: she doesn’t quite fit in her world and longs to escape. We meet Four after he's escaped the world for which he wasn't suited. 

Beatrice is the daughter of parents assigned to the Abnegation faction and the ruling class because members strive to supplant ego with service, replace vanity with humility, and suppress selfish urges through selfless action. For Beatrice, however, selflessness doesn’t come naturally. She’s never unkind or mean-spirited, but she doesn’t react quickly to the needs of others. Her human nature is not naturally selfless.

Dauntless faction members, on the other hand, seem to be kindred spirits for Beatrice. They dare, they dash, they demand attention. They run as a team with each one trying hard to outrun another. They are the ones to whom Beatrice pledges loyalty when she must choose, as all sixteen-year-old children do. She escapes her parents, both of whom are loving and caring, and becomes a member of Dauntless.

As a Dauntless initiate, Beatrice wears form-fitting clothing and chooses a tattoo. Her body becomes a weapon in the service of courage great enough to destroy fear, a human trait that often leads to ruin. She takes a beating and gives one. She leaps from moving trains onto roof tops. She lets go of her instincts to survive in order to drop several stories through a dark hole into an unknown below. She also dares to suppress a rebellion in order to save lives even if she loses her own.

Failed Fruit and Vegetable Market
All Human Endeavor May Be Fleeting
But Nature's Wild Impulse Endures
As a Dauntless initiate, Beatrice chooses the name Tris and meets Four, mentor to initiates. He doesn’t seem to favor her until she proves her mettle by not giving up and by working longer hours punching a bag to toughen up her hands and strengthen her muscle. She strives and dares leadership to become and remain a Dauntless team member. Four offers tips about how to win against bigger, stronger opponents, and as Tris and Four grow closer, they learn that they have in common Abnegation origins. They also realize slowly that each has serious reservations about the Dauntless leadership and its loss of comaraderie, its abandonment of a team spirit. Perhaps most important of all, Tris and Four are kindred spirits, both Divergents who see through ruses and conspiracies; they are therefore a threat to those who seek power.

Because Tris and Four need to hide their triple threat as Divergents from others in order to preserve their lives, viewers begin to understand that the brave new world is more of the paranoid old one. Through Tris and Four’s struggle to blend in and survive the enemies hounding them, we learn that the newly minted Utopia is actually a doomed Dystopia, and this lesson is the fourth feature of dystopian heroes.

Reading Challenge:

Read Divergent, the film, or read any of the dystopian books and films listed for the reading challenge last week. Don't miss reading the book either. I enjoyed it more than the film even though the film is quite good and respects the original book very much.

Writing Challenge:

Look left. Look right. Look ahead. Look behind. Someone in your life, present or past, is a dystopian hero, a rebel, a questioner, a fighter. Write a character sketch about them.