“Apart from them, we would not survive.” The silence that follows his words is heavier than other silences. It is heavy with our worst fear, the greater even than the fear of death: to be factionless. This is an excerpt from the book, Divergent. The passage indicates that in social groups, people are able to find stability and comfort, but at the same time, they may be seized with a fear of being outcasts who fail to get into any groups or to adapt to a group’s customs.
The twenty-something generation is in a position of being free to choose their own future. However, their fear of being failures can make their job choices more limited, creating increased anxiety about choices of groups to join. Voice of YA, a public opinion medium, praised the book, Divergent as “a novel drawing upon the anxiety and struggle of the youth who have to position themselves in this world.” The dystopian novel, Divergent, mirrors such unromantic reality and delicately depicts the fear of the twenty-somethings.
Restricted Society Mirrors Reality
In the novel, all members of society are divided into five factions and “faction customs dictate even idle behavior and supersede individual preferences” from occupation to dress. Although people have right to choose their own faction when they become 16, it is just “one of five predetermined ways.” Such a society resembles reality in terms of restricted choices. This is something those in their twenties can relate to. When the time comes for young people to choose the right path for their job and future, their predetermined surroundings serves to limit them, never letting them be to free. Kim Da-bin, a Junior in the College of Policy Science at Hanyang University(HYU), said, “If I wanted to be a hairdresser or musician, my surrounding factors would never allow me do it. All the options that I have are predetermined in some way.”
A free choice is hard to make. In the book, if one fails to complete the initiation into one’s faction, that person will "live in poverty, doing the work no one else wants to do,” naming as examples, the jobs of janitors, construction workers, and garbage collectors. The society in the book claims that “all occupations are equally honorable” which is a lie, and such is the case in the real world. “I am afraid of being labeled a loser more than doing such jobs for a living. For that, I just have to do my best not to fall behind and end up having such jobs. There is hardly any freedom,” said Kim Sang-ha, a Junior in the Department of Economics at Ewha Womans University. To blend into a community one deems as proper, everyone cannot help but run this race along a predetermined path to their future.
The Worries of the Youth in Both Worlds
Under these circumstances where an individual’s future occupation is restricted, a person is likely to agonize over whether he or she should follow what is personally desire or what social conventions say is right. Describing such troubles and emotions is what makes this novel, Divergent more convincing, more so since the novel is told in the first person. Along with the writer’s powerful expressions, the story helps readers particularly in their twenties, better sympathize with the characters’ feelings of helplessness.
Furthermore, Beatrice, the main character, agonizes over who her true friends are: the jealous friends or the encouraging competitors. There is an old saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed” but this is not the case in the story. Son Eun-jin, a Senior in the Department of Educational Technology at KonKuk University, said, "It is really sad how when it comes to getting a job, there are cases where friends become jealous about each other and as a result, the relationship ends. Competition overtakes friendship." The novel reflects such an unfortunate situation where a person lacks the freedom to even have friends.
A Divergent Who Has the Power to Have Wants
Being different from those around her in the novel, Beatrice has second thoughts about being in such a restricted society. She is a Divergent: a person who has composite characteristics identifying her as being eligible to join various factions as opposed to just one. Due to her different nature, she is able to “choose” her future. This means she can pursue her free will beyond the social conventions. However, not all Divergents actually pursue free will although they are able to obtain it. People who put their free will in actual practice are a minority in the real world as well as in the novel. This is because a lot of courage is needed for a person to actively pursue what is really wanted, which might entail leaving one’s group and even a part of oneself behind.
The Wall Street Journal commented about the novel saying, “Divergent means the uncontrolled who threaten the public order.” In the novel, if a person reveals him or herself to be a Divergent, his or her life will be imperiled. This, of course, is not new, and there are many cases in history. For example, Galileo Galilei was intimidated into giving up the Copernican Theory by the Catholic Church and Socrates was executed for his firm convictions, as were numerous other historical figures. "People like Beatrice who take action against the imposed beliefs of others feel they cannot be controlled and this terrifies those responsible for the imposition. I think the courage of those who take a stand is incredible because they follow their free will regardless of the possible negative consequences," said Yun Young-jin, a Freshman in the Division of Computer Sciences and Engineering at HYU.
Being a Divergent in a Restricted World
People in the real world are all Divergents in terms of having the free will to determine their future. It depends not on how oppressive a society is but rather on the individual’s decision to act upon his or her free will or not.
The novel is a prelude to the dystopian series of three by the writer, Veronica Roth. The story is something young people in their twenties who worry about their future can readily understand because of the metaphorically similar social conventions and constraints they feel around them as depicted in the novel. Such feelings and emotions will soon come to life when the movie adaptation of the novel is released in April, 2014.