We’re now a week past Allegiant’s release and more and more people have finished, so I think it’s time to look at why this book is getting such a negative reaction. I’m going to look at things through the prism of the ending, because I think everything ties back to that ending.
Spoilers are abundant go away if you haven’t read it yet.
So that ending: Tris and the rebels decide to release a “memory eating virus” into the air at the compound to try and prevent the city of Chicago from being likewise reset. In order to do so, someone will probably die because of the vaporized “death serum” that is likely to be released. Tris volunteers to go. The official reason is she stands an outside chance of survival because “genetically pure” people like her have shown resistance to the serums. The unofficial reason: she damn well knows that Caleb volunteered because everyone in that room hates his guts and wants him dead. She doesn’t like him, but he is family and she can’t in good conscience send him to die. She goes. She dies. Chicago is saved. The experiment ends. A truce is drawn and Four narrates how everyone will hold hands and sing kumbaya because in Chicago at least the “genetically pure” (i.e. the Divergant…who weren’t already killed in the first two books) won’t look down on the “genetically damaged.” (i.e. Four, who wasn’t Divergant after all! Oops.)
As I said in my original review, from a plot point of view, Tris’ death was necessary. The second the rebels gathered in that lab to decide who was going to go into the lab and Caleb volunteered, I knew it was a red herring. Tris is not hardened in the way that someone even like Katniss had become by the end of Mocking Jay. To let Tris not go would have been a betrayal of the character. So why not let Tris have resistance and live? In my opinion, that too was a red herring. It was a way to give readers false hope that Tris might yet survive. The kind of set up we have was a classic heroic sacrifice. One must selfishly give up their life to save the lives of countless others. Tris has always been shown to hang on to her Abnegation morality and this move was the ultimate expression of that. The move was brave on the part of Roth. Rarely in fiction does an author kill off a protagonist, rarer still in young adult novels.
The problem I have with Tris’ death isn’t that she died, it’s the set-up that lead to the death for two reasons.
One: the science in this book is god-awful. Murder genes do not exist. Violence genes do not exist. Even if they did they are not the end all, be all reason that a person does something. You cannot “fix” a society by fixing a gene. You need to fix the underlying issues. You want less violence? Take guns out of the hands of the masses. Ensure the masses are well fed and have equal access to education and jobs and the chance for a secure life because it is inequality and desperation that leads to the kinds of acts that government is trying to stamp out. Patting someone on the head and being all “it’s all right, you couldn’t help yourself” is condescending and stupid. Think of it this way: a four year old starts to hit his playmates because they took a toy that he wanted to play with. The adult in the room doesn’t just giggle and say “oh how cute.” They take the child aside, tell that it’s wrong AND why it’s wrong and you correct the behavior. By having these people believe that the legit can’t help themselves they come across as bad parents and not legitimate scientists thereby undermining credibility in the plot. Oh: and making Four not actually Divergent? Total stunt writing to give his character motivation to join the rebels. From Chicago’s point of view he is so why is he letting a stranger change his view of himself? Anyway.
Two: Roth goes out of her way to point out the scientists in this compound are “extremist” and that experiments are on the verge of being shut down if they can’t bring them under control. Why not just go to this government and be like “Yo. Your guys are crazy. Please to be doing something now?”
For that matter, why should we believe the rebels and what they tell Tris? We’re supposed to believe them and their story and the slide show they provide is supposed to be proof because we can recognize ourselves in it. But why should we believe them? Better still, why are Tris and Four believing them? They JUST got out of a society where everything was carefully manipulated to keep them in their place. Shouldn’t they be a wee bit more suspicious of what anyone is telling them? I know they’re in Dauntless and not Erudite, but c’mon! Neither Tris nor Four are stupid but this is making it seem that way.
And this is the heart of the problem: there is no buy in here. If I don’t believe in the story being fed to me, then I’m not going to believe that her sacrifice was necessary and instead I’m going to go from raging for the first 60% of this book to being drained and kind of depressed the last 40% when I see where it is going.
Maybe Roth did have this planned out from the beginning, or maybe it’s as I felt and that she only knew that she wanted Tris to die. Whatever happened, I feel like this series should have been a duology. An ambiguous ending over the fate of Chicago would have been ultimately more satisfying than what we were given and judging from the reviews that are lukewarm at best, I don’t think I’m alone in this belief.