EXPLORE THE WORLD OF BEATRICE PRIOR’S DYSTOPIAN CHICAGO AND THE PATH TO ALLEGIANT.
“Decades ago, our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality—of humankind’s inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray.
“THOSE WHO BLAMED AGGRESSION FORMED AMITY.
“THOSE WHO BLAMED IGNORANCE BECAME THE ERUDITE.
“THOSE WHO BLAMED DUPLICITY CREATED CANDOR.
“THOSE WHO BLAMED SELFISHNESS MADE ABNEGATION.
“AND THOSE WHO BLAMED COWARDICE WERE THE DAUNTLESS.
“WORKING TOGETHER, THESE FIVE FACTIONS
HAVE LIVED IN PEACE FOR MANY YEARS.”
—MARCUS EATON, DIVERGENT
Before Beatrice Prior’s Choosing Ceremony, before she discovers the unrest and growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, how did this society come to be?
TALKS ABOUT UTOPIAN WORLDS
If utopian fiction became the new trend, instead of dystopian fiction, I wouldn’t read it.
If you actually succeed in creating a utopia, you’ve created a world without conflict, in which everything is perfect. And if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling—or reading! It would be all “Jenny thought she might not be able to attain her lifelong dream of marshmallow taste tester for a little while . . . but she did!” and “John’s dad said he couldn’t go to the movies, so John asked really nicely and his dad changed his mind.” I’m bored already.
But if I were going to create a utopia, I would make a world in which people are focused on their personal, moral obligations, and strive to be the best possible version of themselves. They would be allowed to choose whatever path they wanted in life. They would know what was expected of them, they would have a clear purpose, and they would have a strong sense of group identity and belonging. And there would be five factions. . . .
Oh, wait. I tried that already.
But seriously: DIVERGENT was my utopian world. I mean, that wasn’t the plan. I never even set out to write dystopian fiction, that’s just what I had when I was finished— at the beginning, I was just writing about a place I found interesting, and a character with a compelling story, and as I began to build the world, I realized that it was my utopia. And then I realized that my utopia was a terrible place, and no one should ever put me in charge of creating a perfect society.
Maybe it’s a little depressing to think that my vision of a perfect world is actually so messed up, but I think it means that I don’t really understand what “perfect” is. To me it’s all about virtue and responsibility; to someone else it would be about happiness and peace, and happy drugs would be pumped into the water supply—but that sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Because both of us are wrong about perfect. We have no idea what it would look like, and our approximations of it are incomplete.
And that gives me a lot of hope, because if I don’t know what perfect means, it’s not something I can reach on my own. Which means that I can stop trying to be perfect and just try to love the people around me and the things I’m doing. And strangely enough, that’s Tris’s journey. She tries selflessness on for size, and then she tries bravery, but at the end, it’s what she does out of love that’s more important than any virtue.
I think maybe utopian fiction would actually look just like dystopian fiction, depending on who you are. To the heartbroken person, a world that eradicates love might be a utopia; to the rest of us, it isn’t. To the person who doesn’t have a plan, a world in which everything is planned out for you might be a utopia; to those of us who like to choose our own adventure, it’s definitely not.
So maybe I’ve changed my mind—maybe I would read utopian fiction. Or maybe I already am. What a scary thought.
I have been asked in the past if I made up the words for the faction names. I didn’t, but I did intentionally choose unfamiliar words, for an assortment of reasons. One of them is that I wanted to slow down comprehension of what each faction stands for, so you learn as much by observing as by the name of the faction itself. Another is that the definitions of the more obscure words are more specific, in interesting ways. And a third is—since I’m being honest here—that they sound cooler.
People have also commented that the faction names are different parts of speech—three nouns (Candor, Amity, Abnegation) and two adjectives (Dauntless, Erudite). (For the record, I love this kind of grammar consciousness.) I am aware of that, and it was something I thought about in revisions. The reason for the discrepancy is that each faction chose their own names independently, just as they wrote their own manifestos independently, and formed their own customs and rules independently (to a certain extent, anyway). Keeping that in mind, I tried to pick the words that made the most sense for each faction without considering the other factions too much.
Abnegation: 1. to refuse or deny oneself (some rights, conveniences, etc.); reject; renounce. 2. to relinquish; give up
VERONICA: I like the verbs in that first definition: “refuse,” “deny,” “reject,” “renounce”—active forms of stripping things from your life. As opposed to “relinquish,” “give up” in the second definition—which are more passive.
Amity: 1. friendship; peaceful harmony. 2. mutual understanding and a peaceful relationship, especially between nations; peace; accord. 3. cordiality
VERONICA: It’s not just about banjos and apple-picking. It’s about cultivating strong relationships and trying to understand each other. Oh, Amity.
Candor: 1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness. 2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality.
VERONICA: That definition helped me flesh out Candor more, particularly in the second book, INSURGENT. The faction is not just trying to develop honesty—they’re also trying to develop impartiality.
Dauntless: fearless, undaunted. (Undaunted: courageously resolute, especially in the face of danger or difficulty; not discouraged.)
VERONICA: It’s those two definitions (“fearless” and “undaunted”) that I found so fascinating. Being fearless and being undaunted are two different things. And the characters in DIVERGENT struggle with that distinction.