No spoilers are present in this discussion
So Allegiant came out on Tuesday and I was all
I read the entire book in one day and I CRIED like a baby because it made me FEEL ALL THE THINGS. Like it’s supposed to. And because I fucking Love Tris, guys. I love her. I want to be her best friend and her girlfriend and TO BE HER all at the same time. I. Love. Her.
And while there is, I’m sure, a lot of debate going on out there in Internet land about the BIG BOLD THING Roth did that people (including me) have a lot of FEELINGS about, I am not going to discuss the big bold thing except to say two things:
1) To the Haters: Roth doesn’t owe it to you personally, existentially, spiritually, or grammatically to end the story any other way then however she god damn wants to because it is HER story. It’s hers, not yours, and she gets to do what she wants. You get to have opinions about it, sure, but this expression of personal betrayal because she did something you don’t like? Fuck that. Go ahead and throw a tantrum but you are acting like a child who didn’t get her own way and life, as it turns out, is not a wish granting factory.
2) I thought what she did was very brave especially as she had to know the haters would freak the fuck out the way they did. So props for being brave and all “I do what I want” especially from a relatively new author. Also I thought it worked. I can’t say I liked it because it made me sad but that is because IT WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME FEEL SAD and since it succeeded that is good. And also I thought it fit and was different from other books and made interesting existential points that are being discussed somewhere else so go find them. Later. Read this first.
Also, I want a moment to be really excited that there was another gay character. A minor character, yes, but he was there. And while I obviously love reading books where gay people are not ONLY minor characters, it can be so easy to just default all minor characters to cis/het white boringness, but including minor characters that are queer is a small but mighty declaration that the author recognizes that queer folk exist and even if none of the characters that are the focus of the story happen to be queer that queer folk do EXIST in the world. So yay. That was nice. There is one in Insurgent also.
What I want to talk about is a point that interested me and possibly no one else, or at least no one else I’ve seen yakking about it online, and that is Tris’s struggle to reconcile the conditioning she underwent in Abnegation for 16 years with the person she wants to be. How she, perhaps more in Allegiant than the other books, has to sort through all the things she was taught by Abnegation, by her parents, all the things she thought she knew and left behind, but ALSO all the things she was told by Dauntless, all the things she thought she discovered or changed or rejected. It’s a lot to sort through.
Maybe this interests me particularly because I was raised Mormon, so I GET this struggle. I left the Mormon church when I was 18 and I was all “Fuck all the things I am going to leave and be a totally different person you will never even recognize and I’m never coming back ever and fuck you again.” (what? I’m kind of intense that way)
But what they don’t tell you is that it is almost impossible to really truly make a clean break from your past. Any past. Because its your past. It’s a part of you. And something as all encompassing as Mormonism, or for Tris- faction life- is not something that ever really goes away.
I spent a long time trying to forget about everything that had to do with the religion I was raised in. Whether or not that is fair, I don’t know, but that was how I felt. But little things still hit me at odd moments. I realize that the melody of the solo piano piece playing on my Pandora station is a Primary song (a children’s Sunday school song), one of my favorites and I almost sing along, but then feel guilty about wanting to sing along. Can I still like the songs when they represent something I rejected? Is that cheating? Being a bad ex-mormon?
I realize that I don’t remember the 13 Articles of Faith, or the words to a hymn or who is prophet right now and I’m happy about that. Happy that there are elements I’ve managed to get rid of. It’s a victory. Look – I can do it! I can get rid of the past. I can cut it away from myself. But those are small victories because mostly everything else I was ever taught I remember because of these tapes we used to listen to that taught everything in songs and so since it was set to a melody it is forever etched onto my brain matter. And I visit my cousin and we listen to one of the songs from said stupid tape that he found on Youtube and I love it. And I feel guilty for loving it. Can I still have happy memories of those stupid tapes and the inside jokes they generated between my siblings and cousins?
Obviously there are many things about Mormonism that I don’t like and don’t agree with, one of which is that I feel Mormonism is very controlling. Kind of like the factions and being controlled by serum and people watching you on screens all day. But like the people we meet in Allegiant who genuinely think what they’re doing is for the greater good, also most Mormons are kind people who want to do good in the world, just like most people in most religions and non-religions and areas of life.
And when Tris says this about her father, “a born Erudite, not Divergent; a man who could not help but be smart, choosing Abnegation, engaging in a lifelong struggle against his own nature, and ultimately fulfilling it. A man warring with himself, just as I war with myself.” I see me, and I see my father – a man who wants to do good in the world, who has a sense of humor and honor and a pretty normal past. A man who chose to commit himself to this faith that I rejected because he really thinks its best for him and for me. And I know how Tris feels having hurt him when she chose to turn her back on everything he had devoted his life to. And I see how that guilt adds to the weight she carries and affects all her choices.
Tobias says, “Abnegation children rarely know their parents in any significant way, because Abnegation parents never reveal themselves the way other parents do when their children grow to a particular age. They keep themselves wrapped in gray cloth armor and selfless acts, convinced that to share is to be self-indulgent.”
And I read this and I cry because there have been times in my life when I have thought “I do not know my own parents and they do not know me.”
The deification of self-sacrifice is problematic, and something I feel Abnegation and Mormonism have in common. To be selfish is one of the worst things you can possibly be. The examples we are told to follow are those that give until they don’t have anything left and then give some more. But I was never able to be that good and so I always felt I failed at life because I could not be that selfless. If I had been selfless I would have stayed Mormon because leaving hurt the people I loved, but I am not that selfless. If I had been selfless I would have never come out of the closet because it hurt the people I loved, but I am not that selfless.
“I am selfish. I am brave.” (Divergent)
Even though Tris knows that she had to choose Dauntless, that she had to do all the things she does and that all those things were brave, I think she never does quite get over the guilt of ‘failing’ at being as selfless as she was always taught she should be.
My therapist observed once, when I was telling her about my childhood, that I had always felt that I was too much for my house, my family, my religion. And those two words unlocked something in me. Because that was it. I was too much, too intense. I felt too deeply. Communicated too directly. My feelings, my passions were too big. Like Tris.
Tris’s Abnegation upbringing was stifling but she realizes through Allegiant that it is still a part of her, that there are good things they taught that are worth holding on to. That the least among us is still valuable. That those with should help those without. That the means matter as much as the ends. Like Tris, there are pieces of my past, there are teachings of the church I left that are worth holding on to. That deeds matter more than words. That we should love and serve each other without ulterior motives. That if we have the power to help others we should. That we should always be grateful for what we have.
These are things that make me who I am. That make me passionate about how libraries work to be an equalizer for those who don’t have access to internet at home or never learned to read well or don’t speak English. That make me want to work with the queer kids who can’t ask anyone they know about who they are and so come to the library instead looking for answers. That, quite frankly, keep me going through month 6 of the job hunt because I know that as frustrating and shitty as this is, it could absolutely be 100 times worse.
And one of the many things I love about Tris, is that she figures it out. She figures out that we take pieces of everything around us, all the teachings and all the labels and everything everyone else says, and that being a whole person means selecting what we want and setting everything else aside – not away, just aside– to create a new person that is totally unique. The factions were formed because people wanted a world for themselves, a place to belong. They wanted to be able to say “I am this and this is who I am.” I’ve spent my whole life looking for a word that describes me. I’m an ex-Mormon. I’m a lesbian. I’m a librarian. I’m a nerd. I’m a friend.
Tris sheds Abnegation for Dauntless but learns that neither fits her, really. Only when she goes back to her Abnegation past and unpacks it can she move forward. Only together with all the other lessons she’s learned and things she’s experienced and people she loves does she truly find who she is.
“I don’t belong to Abnegation, or Dauntless, or even the Divergent. I don’t belong to the Bureau or the experiment or the fringe. I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me— they, and the love and loyalty I give them, form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.”
Roth, Veronica (2013-10-22). Allegiant (Divergent Trilogy) (p. 455).