Divergent Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Aptitude Test (Symbol)

A compulsory test taken at age 16, the aptitude test is one of the pillars that hold up the Faction system of Divergent's dystopian world. The test tells the taker which of the five factions they belong in by presenting them with simulated scenarios. Depending on the choices the test taker makes during the simulations they are sorted into Abnegation, Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, or Candor. Individuals are not required to choose the faction the aptitude test tells them, but it definitely influences decisions. An unknown number of people are Divergent, meaning they show an affinity for more than one faction. These individuals are typically murdered for the threat they pose to the Faction system. The aptitude test is a symbol of social stratification, the Faction system itself, and the controlling role the Faction government plays in the lives of the people.

You Are What You Wear (Motif)

A central motif of Divergent is that ‘you are what you wear'. Each of the factions has a specific way of dressing—a way imbedded with significance and connected to the core tenets and beliefs of the faction in question. Abnegation members dress in drab, shapeless, gray robes that stifle any attempt at individuality or attention grabbing. This adheres to the core tenets of the Abnegation faction: mainly to be selfless and think of oneself last. Spending time on one’s appearance would be considered an act of utmost selfishness and anathema to Abnegation. Candor members dress in black and white, “because their faction values honesty and sees the truth as black and white, so that is what they wear” (Roth 15). Amity members are outfitted in bright colors like red and orange, which are reminiscent of harvesting time. This is fitting, considering the Amity are in charge of producing food for the Faction society. The Erudite “must wear at least one blue article of clothing at a time, because blue causes the body to release calming chemicals, and ‘a calm mind is a clear mind’” (Roth 540). The justification for the compulsory wearing of blue is loaded with the scientific logic typical of the Erudite. Finally, the Dauntless wear black and often bear tattoos. Their role as the Faction system’s protectors is the reasoning behind the black garb they wear, while many of them often use tattoos to represent fears they have overcome and which no longer daunt them.

Clearly, each faction’s moral code or valued virtue informs their distinct uniform. Those uniforms are used to pick out the members of the different factions, thus reinforcing the idea of ‘you are what you wear’. The ability to differentiate between the factions based on clothing takes on a sinister element when the brainwashed Dauntless use the dour gray robes of Abnegation to target and murder its members.

Mirrors (Symbol)

Mirrors make their first appearance early on in Divergent. At the beginning of the novel Beatrice stands in front of a mirror that she is allowed to use only 4 times a year. The mirror transfixes her because it is the only time she can see her physical appearance and how it’s changed over the months. In this early scene mirrors are symbolic of knowledge of one’s outer shell. Later on, at the aptitude-testing site, the doors leading into the testing rooms are lined with mirrors. They are the last physical barrier between the test-taker and their future life trajectory. After passing through the mirrors the test taker will discover what character trait is dominant within them—honesty, peacefulness, bravery, intelligence, or selflessness. In this situation mirrors symbolize knowledge of one’s inner self.

Simulation Serum (Symbol)

The simulation serum is a chemical administered via injection that produces realistic simulated scenarios in the mind of the injection-recipient. Used mostly during the aptitude tests, Dauntless also uses the serum during the fear landscape section of their initiations. The serum stimulates the amygdala, the part of the brain in charge of processing negative emotions like fear, and this causes the creation of a hallucination based off of the recipient’s deepest fears. Later on in the novel, Jeanine Matthews concocts a serum that allows her to control the minds of the Dauntless. The serum symbolizes the ability to distort reality and control others.

The Power of Vulnerability (Motif)

One of the recurring ideas in Divergent is that there is power in being vulnerable. Whether they are genuine feelings or faked, weakness and vulnerability can lull your opponent into a false sense of security, giving you the upper hand. This is a tactic Four advises Tris to use following her assault at the hands of Al, Peter, and Drew (Roth 409). The power of vulnerability is also alluded to outside the context of battle. It is only by letting their respective guards down and being vulnerable with one another that Tris and Four are able to bask in the power of their feelings for each other. Being vulnerable requires trust, something both of them have in short supply because of their various secrets. By trusting each other, being vulnerable, and sharing their secrets, Tris and Four become a powerful team against their foes.