Beatrice Prior's house only has one mirror, and it's hidden behind a sliding panel for all but a few days of the year, when she gets a haircut. As members of the Abnegation faction, her family values selflessness above all else. Dystopian Chicago, where Beatrice lives, is divided into five factions, each of which represents one of the following five virtues: selflessness, peacefulness, honesty, intelligence, and bravery.
Today is an important day in Beatrice's life: the day she will take her aptitude test, to determine which faction her mind and personality are most suited for. Though children in dystopian Chicago are raised in their parents' faction, once they turn sixteen they have the option to transfer to a different faction or remain where they are. After Choosing Day, the new members go through an initiation process that varies per faction. Beatrice won't be obligated to choose the faction the results point to, but the test is supposed to help her make up her mind.
Beatrice heads to school with her brother Caleb; because Caleb is not yet a full year older than her, they will be taking the aptitude test and choosing their faction at the same time. Caleb appears to be the perfect example of an Abnegation boy; he even gives up his seat to a Candor man on the bus without a second thought.
Abnegation like Beatrice are often given a hard time by those from other factions; she is shoved by an Erudite boy in the hallway who calls her a "Stiff," the nickname the other factions hold for Abnegation members. Before going to class, Beatrice waits at a window and watches the daredevil Dauntless kids jump off a moving train as they arrive, something they do every morning.
After a long, anxious day of waiting, lunch ends and it's finally time to take the aptitude test. The administrators call ten names at a time, and Beatrice waits with her brother and their neighbor, Susan. It's mostly Abnegation administering the tests, but since no one can be tested by someone from their own faction, either a Dauntless or an Erudite will test Beatrice.
Caleb is called before her, and when he returns he's pale as a ghost, his fingers shaking. She's worried, but she can't ask him about his results, and he can't tell her. At last Beatrice's name is called, and she is led into a room where Tori, a Dauntless woman, waits to administer her aptitude test. She isn't as severe-looking as many of the other Dauntless, but she has a tattoo of a black and white hawk with a red eye on the back of her neck. Beatrice can't contain her curiosity; she asks what the hawk symbolizes, and Tori, surprised, tells her it symbolizes the sun, to remind her how she overcame her fear of the dark. Tori hands Beatrice a vial of clear liquid and tells her to drink.
A moment passes, and Beatrice stands in the school cafeteria, in front of a table on which are two baskets. One basket holds a chunk of cheese, the other a long knife. A woman's voice tells her she must choose one, but she refuses, and suddenly the baskets disappear and a massive dog starts prowling at her, teeth bared, and she realizes why she would've needed one of the objects. Beatrice remembers everything she knows about dogs and sinks down to the ground and lies down, hoping this will serve as a sign of submission. It does, and the dog begins to lick her affectionately.
Suddenly a child appears and runs for the dog, and it seems as if the dog is about to attack her when Beatrice decides to throw herself on top of the dog and wrap her arms around its neck to prevent this from happening. The dog and child suddenly disappear.
Beatrice finds herself on a bus, with all the seats taken. A man with a newspaper speaks to her, pointing to a headline reading "Brutal Murderer Finally Apprehended" and asking her if she knows the man in the photo. Though she vaguely recognizes him, she feels that something bad will happen to her if she says so, so she continuously denies that she's ever seen him before, despite the man's insistence that she's lying.
Beatrice wakes with a feeling of guilt, and realizes she is back in the testing room with Tori. Tori says that her test was extremely perplexing, and excuses herself for a moment, leaving Beatrice alone to worry that she failed. When Tori comes back, she announces that Beatrice's results were inconclusive; each stage of the test is meant to eliminate one or more factions, but in her case, only two were ruled out overall. If she had sneered at the knife and chosen the cheese, she would have been lead to a test to confirm her aptitude for Amity, but she didn't, so Amity is ruled out. And her dishonesty on the bus ruled out Candor. Beatrice's results contradicted each other, so none of the other three factions are ruled out; she displays equal aptitude for Dauntless, Abnegation, and Erudite.
Tori tells her that people with this kind of result are called Divergent, but she warns Beatrice that she must never reveal this information to anyone because Divergence is extremely dangerous. Beatrice agrees cautiously, then goes home to begin thinking; she will still have to choose a faction on Choosing Day tomorrow, regardless of her inconclusive results.
She walks home and spends time observing her city and thinking about her life in Abnegation. From the outside, the selflessness seems ideal, but she has trouble living up to the purity of thought. On the walk back she passes where the factionless people live in poverty. The factionless either never chose a faction, or they failed to complete initiation. They do the city work that no one else wants to do in exchange for food and clothing. Beatrice runs into a factionless man who asks her for something to eat. She feels threatened, and the man warns her to "choose wisely, little girl".
In the first three chapters, we are thrown right into Beatrice's world of factions with only little bits of explanation here and there; mostly we learn how things work as Beatrice narrates her daily life. Her world is a stark contrast of our own. In Divergent, young adults only make one major decision in their life - which faction to choose. Their life up until that point has been predetermined by the faction they were born into. Life afterwards is also rigidly constructed, and each person must follow the rules and roles of their chosen faction. The course of a person's entire life if determined on Choosing Day. Roth begins with the mirror anecdote in order to quickly illustrate the disparity between the real world and that of the novel: who can imagine only being allowed to look in a mirror a few times a year? The tone immediately is balanced between fantasy and coming-of-age.
On the cusp of adulthood, Beatrice Prior has characteristics of other major Young Adult protagonists, as well as the average teenaged reader. She is curious and unsure of herself, conflicted between serving her family and honoring her own desires, and yearning for possibility. In the world of Divergent, however, these traits are dangerous. We get a sense that Beatrice is going to be different from everyone else just by the way her inner turmoil over her life in Abnegation and which faction to choose is emphasized throughout the first and second chapters, before she takes her test. While everyone else is described as Abnegation through and through, especially Beatrice's own family, in the first chapters, she has a lot of trouble deciding whether or not her childhood faction is the place she wants to spend the rest of her life. It's pretty clear from the start that this decision will very difficult for her, and her choice will mean sacrificing a part of herself. This is a classic theme of coming-of-age works, as it relates to the choices young men and women must make in their own lives.
Beatrice's familial relationships are interesting to note as well. It seems like Abnegation do not place as much emphasis on familial love as we do in present day, probably because love can sometimes be seen as selfish. Beatrice clearly admires her mother for her adherence to the Abnegation way of life, but it's difficult to recognize an archetypal mother-daughter connection. It seems that Beatrice is closer to her brother, Caleb, over other members of her family, which makes sense because of how close in age they are, but even they don't have a typical brother-sister dynamic because of their upbringing.
The theme of choice and identity is established right away; though perhaps the gravity of the choice Beatrice has to make will be more evident in the next few chapters. The students wait in extreme anxiety to take their aptitude tests, because after all, the results could determine the rest of their lives. Even the nature of the aptitude test expresses the importance of choices defining your identity; in order to determine her faction match, Beatrice has to choose between the cheese and the knife, choose to save herself of save the child from the dog, and choose whether or not to lie to the man on the bus. The man's words at the end of the chapter serve to accentuate this theme even further: "Choose wisely, little girl." Beatrice must be wise, because this choice will determine what type of person she will become.
As is often the case with a novel's early chapters, there is a lot of foreshadowing. Tori's warning that Divergence is very dangerous and should be kept secret will certainly come into play later in the novel, and as previously stated, her discontentment with her Abnegation life signifies that she will choose to leave her childhood faction. Caleb's discomfort after leaving his aptitude test must mean something as well; clearly Beatrice isn't the only one with surprising results.