Conversations, VOLUME 7

Divergent and The Hunger Games: Dystopias in Print and On Screen

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0062024035″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51iwEL3A4VL.jpg” width=”222″ alt=”Divergent” ]Divergent and The Hunger Games: Dystopias in Print and On Screen

By Elizabeth Eckhart

Young adult novels like Divergent and The Hunger Games have stirred dystopian fiction fans into a frenzy. While the two series share many similarities, they also possess many differences. With the March 21, 2014 release of the first Divergent movie, the interest in both Veronica Roth’s book series and the ensuing movies will garner much attention not only for her stories, but a renewed interest in The Hunger Games as well.

Each book and movie based on these series’ have faced both acclaim and criticism. They have also spawned interest in other books with similar themes. Here’s a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of both series and a suggestion for the next series to read.

 

Two Ordinary Girls Face Trials

 

The Strong Points

Both The Hunger Games and Divergent feature two female characters that seem ordinary and who are born into ordinary circumstances, but who are anything but. During a test that all teens must take when they turn 16, Tris, the heroine of Divergent played by Shailene Woodley, finds out that she is a divergent. Being divergent means that she can’t fit into a single category in society, and in her society, people fit neatly into categories such Abnegation (for the selfless) or Dauntless (for those who are brave).

In fact, Tris leaves the Abnegation group, one where she learns to deny herself, for Dauntless, where she must be brave, and a little selfish, to survive. In The Hunger Games Katniss (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence) also leaves her family to go fight in the Hunger Games, an annual event that forces selected teens to fight to the death in an arena setting like the gladiators. Both girls prove themselves in this regard. They each survive their ordeal.

The Weak Points

While both trials force the girls to come face-to-face with their identity, it’s easier to identify with Katniss, who maintains her allegiance to her tribe, so to speak. She might appear selfish, but what she does, she does for very unselfish reasons, to save her family and ultimately the ones she cares about. Katniss calls herself selfish in the book, but she herself volunteered for the hunger games so her little sister wouldn’t have to fight in them.

Tris’s selfishness on the other hand makes her hard to identify with, because she does what she does just for her. While teen rebellion is a common theme in books, movie and life, readers who feel a strong bond to their families may have a hard time walking in Tris’s fictional shoes when she leaves her family to explore who she is. She doesn’t risk her life to save her family, making it difficult for some to like her. However, for those who face challenges in their own families, the idea of leaving an unsuitable family situation is highly appealing, making Tris seem the more ideal of the two girls.

 

Splintered Societies

 

The Strong Points

Both girls live in splintered societies. After the dystopian events, which set these societies into being, all people lived in the section of society that was determined for them by birth. The idea behind each different group — factions based on personality characteristics in the case of Divergent and districts in the case of The Hunger Games— was that society would remain peaceful as long as people didn’t deviate too much from who they were in their respective societies, or from the norm that has been established. The tests forced upon the teens in each book reinforced their identities in their societies.

The Weak Points

It’s easier to focus on the splintered society and to identify with it in The Hunger Games because most of the focus is on two settings; District 12 or the Capital. With Divergent the reader must keep track of five different factions and more importantly, divert the natural human tendency to create an “us versus them” mentality. Although the kids from the 12 districts in The Hunger Games fight against each other in the arena, really, the conflict is between the people of Panem, the dystopian society in which the books and movies take place, and the Capital, where the rich and powerful live lives of excess.

However, the “us versus them” in Divergent is a bit more dissipated because the reader has to pay attention to so many varied sources of conflict in the book and movie. It’s more of an “us versus them, and them, and them.” Who does the reader hate? It’s harder to tell in Roth’s series, and because it is, it’s also more challenging for the reader to identify who to root for. That said, because there are so many people to be wary of in Divergent the reader/movie-goer is kept on her toes trying to guess who Tris can trust.

 

A Dystopian Series Similar to Divergent and The Hunger Games

While each book and movie has its weak points, they both have collected millions of fans who love the dystopian genre and who love the strengths that each book/ movie series brings to the dialogue about dystopian fiction. For these people, there is a series that holds appeal as the next “can’t miss series” that shares enough commonalities with Roth’s and Collins’s stories that fans of these books should love them. It is different enough to engage the audience in a whole new way. For those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games it’s available to watch through most video on demand services.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The kids in this novel series face a series of trials as the teens in both Divergent and The Hunger Games do. Additionally, like both Divergent and The Hunger Games the teens in the book are in the situation they are in due to some sort of societal experiment, and the outcome of their societies depends upon the main characters’ triumph over the test in which they find themselves.

 

However, unlike Roth’s and Collins’s books and movies, the main character of this series is a boy. (Thomas is his name.) Like the girls, he also faces a series of tests and must find his identity, but unlike Tris in Divergent and Katniss in The Hunger Games, he doesn’t know why he’s where he is. In fact, he doesn’t even know who he is, making his quest to find his identity and solve his quest all the more interesting.
 




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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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