Last time on Dauntless, wait, so the Erudites actually are evil? That’s a shitty plot development but it is kind of a twist in that I expected there to be a twist.
Tris explains Abnegation just makes you do thirty days community service to get in, presumably because they can’t be picky. This actually suggests that Abnegation is a growing faction, because people do join every year and apparently kids leaving has been incredibly rare before now. On the other hand, we don’t know if they’ve been having kids at replacement rate.
I’d like to take a moment to get into that. So far, we have lots of people with same-year siblings, no mentions of twins, only one non-same-year sibling, and no mention that anyone has more than two. Here’s what I’m thinking.
Women getting pregnant immediately after childbirth is extremely difficult to do, and there’s really no reason to want to normally. But we also know the area they live in is a lifeless wasteland and even at the very edges of their city the most she sees are that a minority of the few trees she sees in the distance are green. We know things in Chicago closed down (the Ferris wheel) in advance of whatever happened, and that other things, like houses, were later fled in a hurry.
I think the whole area’s contaminated and they’re another group that came here later and tried to build in the ruins. They may not even know exactly what’s wrong, or it might be they do know but after the faction split they’re unable to make a unified decision in what to do, or it may be that leaving could be even more dangerous. For whatever reason, they’re staying in a contaminated area and this is affecting them.
We have seen no pregnant women. My theory is that if you want to have children, you have to go to some sort of clean room, try to flush some of the contamination, get pregnant possibly with artificial insemination or implantation, wait out the pregnancy away from the toxic dust, then have a kid and raise them for a while in the clean area. This is a lot of investment, so they try to do two pregnancies in a row to minimize the time. They either don’t have the means to cause twins or perhaps more likely, twins aren’t considered a good investment because twins often have developmental delays similar to premature births, meaning there might be a higher risk of miscarrying and the whole thing being a waste of time and they’ll just need to stay in the safe room even longer after birth to make up for it anyway. Two back to back pregnancies produces one healthy and one probably healthy kid even if it’s going to be pretty rough on the mom.
This also explains why nine-to-eleven months delay seems to always produce same year kids – all the mothers to be go to the hospital at the same time, get pregnant at the same time, etc, and it’s apparently deliberately set so both kids will end up in the same year of school.
The only problem with this is that a society that needs to put this much energy into reproducing should be one that values the resulting kids. On the other hand, if this is required to have healthy kids and they don’t bother to give this treatment to the factionless, that does explain why no faction wants to take their kids.
Back to the story:
One of the older members reads the Abnegation manifesto, which is a short paragraph about forgetting the self and the dangers of self-involvement.
So you know what your birth faction’s manifesto is but you made no reference to it while we’ve been discussing factions turning away from their original missions? I don’t know how to take all this but that Abnegation is sticking to their original mission, which given we know they’re shitty leaders and have no recourse for abuse, just means there is nothing worth saving here.
Anyway Abnegation initiation is all very peaceful, Dauntless opposite.
I see someone fall off the path on the Pit wall and, judging by his screams and the way he grabs at his leg, he broke something.
I know you’ve got other things on your mind, but what happens to someone like this? Does Dauntless use the train thing to get rid of anyone weak or injured, or are they sane? I wouldn’t have thought this was a concern at the start of the book but it turns out they’re a berserker suicide faction.
I stare at my plate of food. I just grabbed what looked good to me at the time, and now that I take a closer look, I realize that I chose a plain chicken breast, a scoop of peas, and a piece of brown bread. Abnegation food.
I sigh. Abnegation is what I am. It is what I am when I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. It is what I am when I am put to the test. It is what I am even when I appear to be brave.
For christ’s sake, Tris. You were too stressed and the room too chaotic to be thinking about what you wanted, so yes, you defaulted to the food you usually had access to because humans eat a wide diet and have to memorize what’s edible through slow experience. Also, I don’t know why they even have Abnegation food if it’s unDauntless to ever eat it.
Am I in the wrong faction?
You hate Abnegation. You love Dauntless. Hell, you love Dauntless even though they’re objectively terrible AND want to kill you AND plotting with the faction you hate more than anything else in the world!
And you know what the worst part is?
The thought of my former faction sends a tremor through my hands. I have to warn my family about the war the Erudite are planning, but I don’t know how. I will find a way, but not today. Today I have to focus on what awaits me. One thing at a time.
She is actually facing a question of what to do and where her loyalties lie and if she’s Dauntless or Abnegation. She does have a perfectly good way of warning her family. First, she gets on a train. Then, she gets off a train, walks into the Abnegation headquarters, and tells them.
This would have gotten her kicked out of Dauntless even before she did something similar and got a special warning they were furious with her. It runs the risk of outing herself as divergent as well. It means that, for someone who said they’d rather be dead than factionless, she’s running a risk of getting to be both.
And, to go back to her selfless or brave question at the beginning of the story, she now has the choice of being brave or being selfish – it would take both bravery and selflessness to sacrifice her future and possibly her life to warn Abnegation. Even Abnegation, while grateful, may not be able to do anything for her afterward, because to violate faction before blood is to violate a society-wide taboo. And there’s even the possibility it would be for nothing – Abnegation may not believe her. They’d have taken her leaving as a personal slight against them, and they believe Dauntless are unstable if not insane, so they would have reason to question her judgement or motives.
Tris considers none of this, even though she’s in a situation where completing her initiation into Dauntless is actually an act of cowardice.
It doesn’t matter what faction I really belong in. In two hours I will walk to the fear landscape room with the other initiates, go through my fear landscape, and become Dauntless. It’s too late to turn back.
Instead of all the things she could be thinking about, the author fills the space by having Tris ramble about how she’s stuck with this faction even though there’s been no sign at all she ever didn’t want to be here. As this book heads towards its conclusion, it turns into a pile of missed opportunities. I was sure that at some point in the book, emotional cowardice would finally be addressed, and here we are, three-fourths done, no sign it even exists.
The torture will be over soon, but can we forget the simulations? Will we ever sleep soundly again, with the memories of our fears in our heads? Or will we finally forget our fears today, like we’re supposed to?
Every now and then, the idea Dauntless are fearless pops back up again, even though none of the Dauntless ever suggest this and every time they appear they say that they have fears too. The fear that shattered Tris’ confidence in herself was the instructor’s own fear.
Ignoring what the book intends, I take the fact that Tris has transitioned from previously being particularly traumatized by what Peter did to her back to “our fears” with no distinction between simulated and real events that the simulations really do alter how the memories are written, so that after being triggered during the simulation, the real events were set to be only as scary as the rest.
Come to think of it, it’s possible Tobias might know that the serum alters memories, because he likely had lots of experience with re-experiencing traumatic memories before getting exposed to the serum and could tell that there was a distinct difference. It’d all depend on if he ever tried to make himself deal with fear in the Dauntless way before having the Dauntless simulation crutch. If so, he might notice that it only worked when facing it in the simulations he didn’t have to deal with the usual wound in a ball misery afterward he was used to. Otherwise, he’d probably just have come away with the idea that the solution always was to face your fears, because in the past he tried to avoid them then when he faced them in Dauntless it got better.
This might also explain why the Dauntless seem to like to keep rerunning their fears. It works really well in certain instances, and they keep chasing that feeling because they don’t understand what was the real problem and solution.
Anyway. By the time she starts moving, Marlene is already going through.
The screen on the left shows a black-clothed girl in the fear landscape room— Marlene. I watch her move, her eyes wide, but I can’t tell what obstacle she’s facing. Thank God no one out here will see my fears either—just my reactions to them.
So I guess it’s a deliberate choice not to show the fears publicly. This, I guess, gets back to them seeming much more focused on physical action types of bravery than what’s going on inside. One of the instructors was willing to bear her fears, but that’s the only sign we’ve seen of anyone admitting to an active fear and even then, come to think of it, she specified those were the fears of two years go, which is in line with Tori’s explanation of her tattoo being because she was scared of the dark. I don’t believe any Dauntless but Tobias has referenced a current fear and even he didn’t confess directly – he attempts to bluff his way up the Ferris wheel but she figures it out and none of the current Dauntless going on the cable joyride had any idea he feared heights.
This may get back to the factions getting twisted thing, or it may have been inevitable once Candor took honestly that the rest would be overly secretive.
All the chairs have people in them, because I guess the Dauntless like to play musical chairs. Uriah suggests she sit on his lap.
“Tempting,” I call back, grinning. “It’s fine. I like to stand.”
I also don’t want Tobias to see me sitting on someone else’s lap.
Tris not being too introspective, we don’t get further explanation on if she means she doesn’t want to hurt him by signalling she’s having second thoughts (given how Tris jumps on every little thing as a sign he’s not into her, she might be concerned he’d feel the same) or because she thinks he’s a jealous psychopath.
“Transfers, the order in which you go through the final test was taken from your rankings as they now stand,” Tobias says. “So Drew will go first, and Tris will go last.”
It’d be quicker to go the other way around, but I guess this way gives more of a show. See, once you know the scores of ten people, you know someone will need to beat the lowest score. If they go over that, then you might as well just end the simulation. I guess having an implied countdown might add to the stress, though, so maybe they don’t want that altering the scores.
But then Tris goes on to think exactly that she’s going to see how everyone does and therefore what scores she’ll need to beat, so I guess it’s hovering over everyone’s head either way.
Speculating about which fears I will have to face, and how many there will be, is useless at this point. I just have to remember that I have the power to manipulate the simulations, and that I have practiced it before.
But remember, you weren’t technically told that was something the rest of them can do. The fear landscape differs because everyone’s aware it’s a simulation. You’re always aware you’re in a simulation and also you can manipulate the simulations, but it’s not clear if the two are the same things.
It amazes me how easy it is to tune out everything else—thoughts of war on Abnegation, Tobias, Caleb, my parents, my friends, my new faction fade away. All I can do now is get past this obstacle.
It shouldn’t be, because you should realize this is a selfish choice.
Christina is next. Then Will. Then Peter. I don’t watch them. I know only how much time it takes them: twelve minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes.
That’s interesting. It’s not just that it isn’t a perfect progression, but Peter, who isn’t just second ranked overall but specifically second in getting out of the sims, is now doing significantly worse than even the fourth ranked person. It’s a shame Tris has been so tuned out. What happened with his attempt on her life followed by Tobias’s attack may well have damaged his own confidence.
The next chapter is her turn.
I AM READY. I step into the room, armed not with a gun or a knife, but with the plan I made the night before. Tobias said that stage three is about mental preparation—coming up with strategies to overcome my fears.
And she actually does seem to manage this. We start with the birds.
The ground beneath me changes. Grass rises from the concrete and sways in a wind I cannot feel. A green sky replaces the exposed pipes above me.
But let’s pause a second to say what a very odd description this is. It’s not just that the sky is green but that the grass is there without a color attached even with the sky there to prime a mention – is the grass not green? (And have we ever been told the sky is blue? I’m not sure quite how badly things would have to go for the sky to change color, but something killed all life around Chicago and destroyed one of the largest lakes in the world.)
Anyway she’s figured out the crow thing is about control.
What combats powerlessness? Power. And the first time I felt powerful in the Dauntless compound was when I was holding a gun.
As I aim and shoot, I feel the same rush of power I felt the first time I held a gun. My heart stops racing and the field, gun, and birds fade away.
How the hell did that work? You’re afraid of being powerless and out of control, as symbolized by an endless flock of birds that can’t be fought, therefore you shoot them and that’s how you win? With what’s basically the symbol of impotent fear and destruction?
The tank again. I am not afraid of drowning. This is not about the water; it is about my inability to escape the tank. It is about weakness. I just have to convince myself that I am strong enough to break the glass.
Okay, you’re still not facing the fear so much as denying it, but at least that kind of works when it’s about weakness. But on the other hand, making these all metaphorical is really ruining the sense this is realistic. People aren’t afraid of drowning because they’re afraid they’re weak. They’re afraid of it because they like breathing. Tris’ particular scenario of being trapped and killed in front of people seems to be more a fear of something terrible happening and no one helping you, so I guess you could say a solution is to insist you’ll be able to handle it all yourself, but this is really about feeling you can’t rely on others and they might turn on you, and saying no you’ll lone wolf it up doesn’t seem to be really addressing that.
Weakness and inability to get out of the situation are still better served by my water monster pitch.
Anyway, she tries to break the glass. Doesn’t work.
I have another option. I can wait for water to fill the tank—and it’s already at my knees—and try to calm down as I drown. I brace myself against the wall, shaking my head. No. I can’t let myself drown. I can’t.
I’m starting to see why no one likes divergent kids.
She’s not thinking she needs to go as fast as possible, and doesn’t want to wait to drown. She doesn’t think she wants to be strong enough that she can face down the anticipation of drowning rather than having to accept it happen. She’s thinking drowning is way too awful and she needs to avoid it, completely missing the point of the exercise, therefore she retcons the entire scenario to say the glass is just thin ice and makes it break, because I’m sure “I declare reality to be different!” is so damn useful in daily life. I don’t know why we try to train soldiers to handle actual situations instead of teaching them to declare their enemies are armed with nerf guns. That’d work so much better.
Maybe the truth serum is just as subvertable. Maybe Abnegation checks people with it to see what people would do in a situation with no one watching them and no awareness they’re being tested, but any divergent kid still knows it’s a test and can just pretend to be nice. The factions can’t keep their values if kids can fake their way into them, especially when there’s been no mention of if the factions can kick people out after initiation for violating their tenets. You let in the wrong people, they can alter your faction, and the more it alters the more wrong people come in and warp it more. (In a better story, THAT would be where the Erudites came in – Eric succeeded at the test because Erudites made sure the test would pass him, and have inserted others kids in other factions the same way.)
Then we do drowning again!
What feels like a solid wall hits me from the side, forcing the air from my lungs, and I fall hard, gasping. I can’t swim; I’ve only seen bodies of water this large, this powerful, in pictures.
Then you shouldn’t be dreaming about it. The sensation of waves is not something you can understand from pictures, and given you can’t swim they wouldn’t be an issue for more than a few seconds because there aren’t big waves underwater.
What you are familiar with is a large body of “marsh” that appears to actually just be a mud lake. Those can function the same as quicksand. That would make sense for you to fear.
I must not really be afraid of the water. I must be afraid of being out of control.
Why can’t people actually be afraid of things?
I was at a water park that had those wave pools and the water moving combined with your face getting splashed make it incredibly disorienting. You aren’t sure where you are but you have to keep moving just right to keep your head above water, and there’s too much stray water to actually be sure at a given moment if you can take a breath, and you’re always at risk of someone else’s inner tube blocking your way to the air. If you can keep your eyes above water and open it’s a lot of fun, if one person throws water in your face during the wave period it’s a nightmare.
I mean, there’s elements of control there, but no more than any other upsetting situation where you wouldn’t be in it if you could control it. This is about being disoriented in a hostile environment, suffocation, and being hurt. It’s about not knowing what to do.
She powers through this in a more conventional sense, of climbing the rock and running onto the beach.
Then it’s her burned at the stake nightmare.
“Smell that, Stiff?” Peter says, his voice louder than even the cackling.
“No,” I say. The flames are getting higher.
He sniffs. “That’s the smell of your burning flesh.”
When I open my eyes, my vision is blurry with tears.
“Know what I smell?” My voice strains to be louder than the laughter all around me, the laughter that oppresses me as much as the heat. My arms twitch, and I want to fight against the ropes, but I won’t, I won’t struggle pointlessly, I won’t panic.
I stare through the flames at Peter, the heat bringing blood to the surface of my skin, flowing through me, melting the toes of my shoes.
“I smell rain,” I say.
I can only assume they’re still watching the simulation because they want to see just how much she’s going to fuck up the test, because there is no way this is facing fears and she must have disqualified herself by now.
She then finds herself in her Abnegation room.
My eyes skip to the window behind me.
And to the man standing just outside.
Cold drops down my spine like a bead of sweat, and my body goes rigid. I recognize him. He is the man with the scarred face from the aptitude test. He wears black and he stands still as a statue. I blink, and two men appear at his left and right, just as still as he is, but their faces are featureless—skin-covered skulls.
I whip my body around, and they stand in my room. I press my shoulders to the mirror.
For a moment, the room is silent, and then fists pound against my window, not just two or four or six, but dozens of fists with dozens of fingers, slamming into the glass. The noise vibrates in my rib cage, it is so loud, and then the scarred man and his two companions begin to walk with slow, careful movements toward me.
Now this is a quality nightmare.
Simulation. This is a simulation. My heart hammering in my chest, I press my palm to the glass behind me and slide it to the left. It is not a mirror but a closet door. I tell myself where the weapon will be. It will be hanging against the right wall, just inches away from my hand. I don’t shift my eyes from the scarred man, but I find the gun with my fingertips and wrap my hand around the handle.
Let’s just take a moment and try to figure out any situation ever that this is applicable to. Any reason to want to test people’s ability to do this.
Moving on. She shoots the three people in the room, but then the window ones come in.
Pale bodies—human bodies, but mangled, arms bent at odd angles, too-wide mouths with needle teeth, empty eye sockets— topple into my bedroom, one after the other
For some reason she can’t just imagine other bullets and has to try actually dealing with the situation by forcing herself to be calm in the face of fear. And by deal, I mean she shuts herself in the closet so she doesn’t actually have to deal with it while trying to calm down. Still, at least it’s in the right ballpark. Anyway, this works and her next one is Tobias.
This is the fear I have no solutions for—a boy I like, who wants to…have sex with me?
It’s really easy to deal with, in part because this is a fear that really doesn’t map onto a simulation – as she says, “I am not going to sleep with you in a hallucination. Okay?” so the real issue she’s struggling with is dodged by getting an answer provided for her. She kisses him, fear mastered.
Then it’s time to shoot her family.
“Do it,” hisses a voice next to me. It is female, but harsh, like it’s cluttered with rocks and broken glass. It sounds like Jeanine.
What really disappoints me is that there’s been no fear of her being outed this whole time, and even when she’s in a situation that might do so, she doesn’t start to panic about it. The stake and burning dream doesn’t have Peter say it’s for being divergent, and she’s not worried anyone will realize what’s up when the simulation reveals she’s terrified of Jeanine and views her as a monster.
I release the trigger of my gun and drop it. Before I can lose my nerve, I turn and press my forehead to the barrel of the gun behind me.
This is not bravery. I do this all the time in nightmares. It’d be one thing if you actually think this is the end, but no one is afraid of getting shot in the head, they’re afraid of dying, and as fears go, an instantaneous death rather than, say, falling or drowning or bleeding to death, is not that hard. She just has to remember it isn’t real, and she knew things weren’t real even in the regular simulations. For that matter, the concept of being murdered, rather than dying by accident, should barely even be a cultural fear at this point – not only is there no murder but their “accident” rate is insane.