“Dauntless” in the Face of Adversity: The Politics of Hope in Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy

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Griffith, Sarah
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Since the turn of the millennium, there has been an increase in publication and popularity of dystopian narratives in young adult literature. Most contemporary research on the genre has focused on consideration of its popularity, and its merits and shortcomings, resulting in little consensus among scholars, often stemming from lack of a concrete definition of the term ‘dystopia’. Differing from classical (Orwellian) dystopia, this thesis analyzes Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy and whether it conveys hope, based on the criteria of critical dystopia, those being recovery of history and protagonists’ responsibility for their choices (Baccolini, 2003 & 2004), protagonists’ political agency and the text’s relatability to the reader (Donawerth, 2003), and the proposed addition of the young protagonists’ unconscious and social sense of self, all considered within the context of Jacobs’s (2005) philosophy of hope. Using Jung’s (1958) theory of integration, gender representation was found to be skewed, favouring the trilogy’s male protagonist while undermining its female protagonist. This analysis provides evidence that the hero achieves integration and an unconscious sense of self, while the heroine does not, therefore compromising its standing in terms of how protagonists claimed responsibility for their choices given the heroine’s disproportionate guilt. Within the framework of reader reception and response theory, it was also determined that the Divergent Trilogy misrepresents and underrepresents racially and sexually diverse characters. Succumbing to stereotypical racial and LGBTQI tropes, as well as ignoring qualities associated with class, the narrative does not exhibit recovery of history, and does not successfully extend its reach towards diverse teenagers, therefore failing in comprehensive relatability to its audience. Finally, employing Erikson’s (1964) psychosocial stage of identity versus role confusion, and the importance of Jacobs’s (2005) philosophy of hope, Divergent’s hero and heroine were determined to have achieved their own political agency, along with a social sense of self among their chosen community. Because the Divergent Trilogy fails to meet the majority critical dystopian standards, falling into stereotypical traps of misrepresentation in terms of gender and diversity, its overall conveyance of hope is weak. Implications of this analysis and other scholarly observations suggest that young adult literature has a way to go in terms of rectifying these shortcomings, but encouraging critical literacy in a young adult audience is imperative if they are to see and understand the social implications of these limitations in current contemporary young adult literature.
Young adult literature , Dystopian fiction , Divergent trilogy