My Thoughts on Veronica Roth’s “Allegiant”

No spoilers are present in this discussion

So Allegiant came out on Tuesday and I was all

imreading get out of my roomI 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).

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10 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Veronica Roth’s “Allegiant”

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I cried more than I’ve ever cried for a work of fiction. This book made me feel something, which is better than feeling nothing or worse feel upset with the Author. On a side note, I was stationed in Utah for a few years while i was in the military. I can’t help but compare them to Amity. I’ve never seen people so happy for no other reason than their belief. I have my own religious and philosophical views but I still get upset or depressed. I thought they only way such a large group of people was happy everyday was the same thing they did in Amity with the bread and serum. Thank you for sharing, it made me feel a lot better after the sadness I felt.

    1. That’s really interesting! I feel like there is a fine line between belief making people happy, and just pretending to be happy even though you’re not. There is certainly something to be said for choosing to be happy in spite of life’s challenges, but I’ve seen so many people, usually Mormons, with their eyes glazed over repeating how happy they are as if they’ve been conditioned to do it. Acknowledging that one is not happy is the first step to making changes to actually be happy. And no matter what, I don’t think anyone is happy all the time. We all get upset or depressed. I think that refusing to acknowledge those feelings as normal is problematic. Which all is an interesting aspect Roth brought up in her book!!

  2. I very much relate to so many of the parallels you drew between the religion of your childhood and this series. I got that, too. I was raised “non -denominational evangelical Christian,” plus homeschooled for middle and high school. So I also have similar feelings of intense relief at having escaped the Kool-aid, existing simultaneously with feelings of nostalgia – particularly when hearing songs. Plus also I’m with you on the librarian (not-post-secondary-school-certified… YET) and genderqueer fronts. Just found your blog (I’ve been reading for almost an hour! Not in a stalkery way, just like, Whoa, someone else knows what that is like?!), and it seriously kinda freaks me out that I’m not as alone and weird as I thought. So thanks 🙂

  3. I feel like the gay character wasnt even necessary. What was the point? It wasn’t even really important to the story line. That made mead that she did that. I dont understand why she put the detail in there. I am not in support of gay marriage, and it made me mad that there was no reason for him being there. Why’d he have to be gay? There is no reason why he couldn’t be straight.

    1. Well, Amber, you are certainly entitled to your opinion.
      However.
      For starters, I’m not sure what being in support of gay marriage or not has to do with this particular point. Gay people exist. We have always existed and we will always exist. The point of including gay secondary characters is to present a snapshot of the world that is accurate in its representation. It acknowledges that gay people exist, and it is important for gay people to see ourselves represented in books.
      The need to see ourselves represented in the books we read is evident by your aversion to a single character that you did not identify with, with whose identity you have a problem. An unfortunate side affect of privilege is the assumption that you should be able to stay privileged, that nothing around you should show anything other than a reflection of your privilege and that the books and movies and art around you should reflect your privilege instead of the diverse world you try to erase from existence. Because when you object to the inclusion of diversity in the books and movies and art around you that is what you are doing– trying to erase it from existence.
      Sorry to break it to you, but I exist.
      I counter your question by asking why did all the other characters have to be straight? There is no reason why they couldn’t be gay. There is no reason why all the characters in all the books can’t be gay. Except that we live in a world of straight privilege.

  4. “Thoughts on Allegient by Veronica Roth”, at first, I had supposed that the author had written this post because of the way you titled this and the way you write this with such authority, again, I believed it was her!!! lol

    To address your Haters note: though authors do write what they want and what suits their fancy, they also fear in disappointing their fans–I can say this with authority because, like Veronica, I, too, am a published author. I read an article where Veronica had said in so many words that “writing what the audience wants and keeping them in mind while I write is paralyzing!” but she also said that she believed to be true to her own heart. As for me, I write what my Muse tells me to and what feels right, but also with the hopes of pleasing my fans!

    As for the “Mormonism” and being selfish or not: yes, you are right that we are encouraged (never forced or excommunicated for otherwise) to practice charity as Christ had. We are encouraged to live like Him and by giving, we find true joy. And I believe that with all of my heart! I find joy when I lift another’s spirit, when I fight for a worthy cause. Never once had I been told that I would be kicked out if I wasn’t kind, or unselfish. I know I’m not brainwashed into being kind because I’ve been to the other side and grew up in a broken home. 😛

    As for my books: When I write novels (of which I *never* mention “mormonism”, though I am)! I write what inspires me and my trend is putting my characters through a lot and having them fight for what they believe and struggle and fall, but finally coming out strong at the end. RockStar: A rockstar goes through hell and when he believes he’s about to die… Baby’s Breath: A young teen finds herself pregnant and is panicked and believes abandoning the baby is her only option… (I must admit that I have had objection to this one but I have a clear purpose in it!) Hidden: A young man accidentally kills his girlfriend’s BFF and abducts gf and faces SO many things thereafter… I also intend on writing a story involving a gay couple and their son, which I might create controversy–perhaps on both sides…

    I do believe God leads me to write these things and I stand by them–every whit!

    I don’t think you’re hypocritical or betraying yourself by loving the Primary songs, or anything “Mormon” that pops up here and there! Why not love the little things that brought you joy when you were little? Whyever not? I don’t understand why you’d be so content to getting rid of it altogether and being proud of it as well. I’m sorry if it has caused you harm rather than the opposite. 😦

    I have been “Mormon” most of my life and admit that I’ve had to fight my way back into it. Would I do it again? Yes. I would. Never once have I felt it to be controlling. In honoring and sustaining our country’s laws, don’t you feel free? You don’t run a stop sign, a traffic light, obey the speed limit–sure, rules rules rules. Our government is very strict, controlling, but in obeying, we find freedom. Same thing with the “Mormons” (and any place worthwhile). There are reasons why these spiritual laws have been enacted (word of wisdom?): if you smoke or drink while pregnant, you’ll harm the baby (even the man’s sperm causes harm). The list goes on and where the Word of Wisdom steps in: everything in moderation! Oh, I want to eat that entire bucket of ice cream by myself!

    Also, regarding the “Mormons”: If a person in the church curls their lip up at me and says something snide, well, it’s their problem if they don’t like me. People are not perfect and never will be, and that’s something I need to tell myself if ever I find myself excluded.

    I have a friend who is gay and she is my best friend. She is very sweet and I respect and honor her as she does me. I love her, she’s my buddy!

    I want to say that I admire the way you’ve handled your comments above. I’m glad I’ve stumbled across your blog. 🙂

    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts as well. 🙂

    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

  5. I think this is probably why I enjoyed the Divergent series and many of the other dystopian novels, even if they weren’t the best books in the world: the MC figures out something is fundamentally wrong, and like Jonas in The Giver (the book; please don’t mention that abominable movie in front of me!), they do something about it.

    I grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church, went to an IFB college, and ended up teaching at an IFB school. Our rules were very similar to those of the Mormon Church, and even as an adult who had a full-time job, what I wore, what I watched, what I listened to, and how I spent my money were regulated by the church I attended.

    Eventually, I came to my senses and left, and whenever I read a dystopian book now where someone does the Tris-like brave thing and says, “This system sucks! Let’s change it already!” my brain is all, “Yeah! Change it! Wear the pants! Or no pants, or whatever you want!”

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