Divergent Literary Elements


Young Adult, Dystopian

Setting and Context

Dystopian Chicago, many years in the future

Narrator and Point of View

Divergent is narrated in the first-person present tense. The point of view is that of the novel’s protagonist, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, a 16-year-old girl.

Tone and Mood

The dominant tone of Divergent is 'anticipatory'. When the story begins, the Faction world has seen years of peace. On the surface all seems to be well, but the feeling is uneasy. There is nothing explicit to suggest change or danger is approaching, but the atmosphere is neither light nor relaxed. Roth takes on an anxious tone that keeps the reader anticipating for disaster to strike, for the next shoe to drop. This results in the novel’s mood being anxiety-filled and mysterious. As readers, we are meant to feel anxious and confused about what happens next.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist of Divergent is Tris Prior. There are many antagonists of differing levels of importance and power. For example, Peter, a Dauntless initiate who transferred from Candor, is one of the novel’s minor antagonists. He terrorizes Beatrice and her friends, stabbing one boy in the eye and arranging an attempted murder of Beatrice. However, his antagonism pales in comparison to the evilness, power, and influence of Jeanine Matthews, head of Erudite and the orchestrator of the attacks on Abnegation. She is the novel’s major antagonist.

Major Conflict

The major conflict in Divergent is difficult to recognize and identify because it is obscured by secrets, mystery, and other minor conflicts. For example, early in the novel it seems as if the major conflict is Tris’s acceptance and assimilation into Dauntless. Will she be able to successfully pass through Dauntless initiation while keeping her Divergence a secret? At first, that is the novel’s pressing problem. After a time, however, we begin to realize that the major conflict goes beyond Tris and her personal affairs. There is a larger issue in the form of Erudite’s revolution and their vendetta against Abnegation, which ultimately takes center stage. Furthermore, as more secrets come to light we realize that Tris’s Divergence isn’t unique to her, and that there is a Faction-wide conspiracy to suppress and eradicate Divergence. Thus, Divergent’s major conflict is only revealed to the reader as it is revealed to Tris.


The climax of Divergent begins when Eric is about to kill Four and Tris stops pretending to be brainwashed like the other Dauntless members in order to save him. At this point “the jig is up” and Tris and Four must fight for their lives. The climax continues as the serum is successfully administered to Four, and Tris’s mom saves Tris—but dies in the process. The climax ends when Four fights off the effects of the serum and he and Tris escape Dauntless headquarters.


Shortly after Beatrice and Caleb return from their aptitude tests a moment happens between the siblings that foreshadows future events. Caleb tells Beatrice that, at the Choosing Ceremony, they must think of their families and of themselves. Shocked by this advice, Beatrice says, “The tests don’t have to change our choices,” to which Caleb replies, “Don’t they, though?” (Roth 66). This rhetorical question foreshadows Caleb’s decision to leave Abnegation and join Erudite. Although on the outside he seems like the poster child for Abnegation, selfless to a point that annoys Beatrice, the aptitude test revealed his true inner nature to him. His test results give him the courage and fortitude he needs to leave his family behind in exchange for living in the faction best suited to him.


When Four confronts Peter about his attack on Tris, he says, “I understand why you’re worried, Peter. The events of last night certainly proved that you are a miserable coward” (Roth 482). This sentence understates Peter’s fear about his chances of successfully entering Dauntless. He is so warped by his fear of failure that he stabs another initiate in the eye and arranges for Tris to be murdered in an effort to cement his path to success. Saying that Peter is worried is an understatement and does not convey the all-encompassing anxiety he has about his future in Dauntless.


Because the world of Divergent is set in a dystopian Chicago sometime in the future, the novel has many allusions to the present-day United States. An important example of this is Marcus’s speech at the Choosing Ceremony. When he gives an account of how the Faction system came to be, he alludes to many of the issues plaguing our world today—wars about race and religion, economic crises, rampant nationalism, etc. By including aspects of our own societies in the world-building of Divergent, Veronica Roth makes the story of Tris and her friends more relevant to modern readers.


See “Imagery” section of this ClassicNote.




The vastly different but parallel lives the different factions lead are the major source of parallelism in Divergent. Each person born into the system follows the same life trajectory. They are raised in the ways of their birth faction until they turn 16. At that point, everyone takes the aptitude test and chooses the Faction in which they will remain. Once they enter into their faction, everyone goes through an initiation process. This process ranges wildly from faction to faction. For example, in Dauntless initiation, not everyone is guaranteed to pass, whereas in Abnegation acceptance is assured. Still, although the end results may be different, the overall structure and life path remains constant across the different Factions.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The names of the factions are an example of metonymy. Metonymy describes when a word refers to something else that it's closely associated with. When characters in Divergent say things like, “Those who blamed aggression formed Amity” or “My brother, born for Abnegation, Erudite?” they are not referring to the adjectives “amity” or “abnegation” or “erudite”. Rather, they are talking about the people who compose the faction or group that each adjective stands for.


In Divergent, nonhuman entities are not so much personified as they are anthropomorphized. For example, during her zip-line ride Tris describes the wind as wrapping around her fingers and pushing her arms back. In her description Tris gives the wind human-like qualities. When deciding between personification and anthropomorphism, the type of human quality matters. Personification involves ascribing thoughts, feelings, and personalities to inhuman entities, whereas anthropomorphism is the attribution of physical human abilities. The way the wind wraps around Tris and pushes her around is mostly physical, and so it is an example of anthropomorphism.