If you’re read my review of Allegiant, you know that I was not happy with it. Not just because I didn’t like the ending, but because I didn’t feel it made sense. Veronica Roth wrote a post on her blog today (shared below) discussing how she reached the conclusion and why she felt it was the only way (you can see her full post here).
Beware of SPOILERS
Veronica Roth wrote:
In my college creative writing program, we had a rule: during workshop, when your story is being critiqued, you aren’t allowed to say anything. This is to give your peers the freedom to interpret your work and point out the flaws in it without you shouting them down; it’s also because your defense doesn’t actually mean anything, though you might think it does. If your explanations and intentions are not clear to the reader, buried inside the text, that isn’t the reader’s fault, it’s the author’s.
Responding to readers’ comments about the Divergent books has always felt the same way to me, like it would just be me shouting other people down when I should be letting them speak freely, and as badly as some criticism hurts (and it does, because I’m only human, after all), I never, ever want that.
So that’s not what I’m trying to do here. A lot of people have been asking me why Tris died at the end of Allegiant, and what I do want to do here is answer that question as well as I can. But if you’re concerned about my voice imposing itself over your own, please stop reading this post– that’s the last thing I want. I don’t want to tell you how to read these books or even to tell you there’s one right way to read them. I just want to offer you some insight into how I personally found my way to this ending, if you’re interested in hearing it.
Before I get into it, I’m going to say a few things, though:
1. You are allowed—encouraged!— to continue to feel however you want to feel, or think however you want to think, about the ending, no matter what this blog post says. I’m the author, yes, but this book is yours as well as mine now, and our voices are equal in this conversation.
2. Just because I try to do something with my writing doesn’t necessarily mean that I do it well, so there is also room to say “Okay, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think that what you were trying to do worked.”
I’ve said before that this ending was always a part of the plan, but one thing I want to make clear is that I didn’t choose it to shock anyone, or to upset anyone, or because I’m ruthless with my characters—no, no, no. I may have been ruthless with other characters, in the past, but not with her, never with her. And I wasn’t thinking about any readers when I wrote this book; I was thinking about the story, because trying to meet the expectations of so many readers would be paralyzing. There’s no way to please everyone, because that mythical book with the ending that every single person wants can’t exist—you want different things, each one of you. The only thing I can do, in light of that fact, is write an honest story as best I can.
What happened to Tris’s parents at the end of Divergent was in some ways the catalyst for the rest of the series. Before that point, Tris had rejected her parents’ values and beliefs in a very tangible way by choosing Dauntless. She struggled throughout Divergent to reconcile two identities: her Abnegation identity, which Four points out to her, and her Dauntless identity. It’s just before her mother gives up her life that Tris figures out how those identities fit together, combining selflessness and bravery and love for her family and love for her faction all together under one umbrella: Divergent. It’s a moment of triumph followed by a moment of total devastation, when Natalie dies so that Tris can escape. And then Andrew follows soon after.
Tris’s parents’ deaths were revelatory moments, both for Tris and for me. For Tris, they seemed to awaken her to the power of self-sacrifice out of love; she later handed over the gun to Four rather than kill him, essentially giving her life rather than taking his. She said something in that moment about the power of self-sacrifice, but her actions don’t quite apply that power in the best way—letting herself get killed, at that time, was maybe noble from a romantic perspective, but wouldn’t have saved the Dauntless from being simulation-controlled zombies, and wouldn’t have saved Tobias from his own simulation.
For me, Tris’s parents’ deaths made me realize that though Tris had tangibly abandoned her parents’ faction, she was never quite able to separate herself from them, never quite wanted to; that the true struggle of her character, the one she had never been able to let go of, was to figure out how to honor her parents while still maintaining her distinct identity. That was her struggle in Divergent in a more subtle way, but it was also her struggle in a far more obvious way in Insurgent.
Tris spent Insurgent warring with grief and guilt in light of her parents’ deaths and of her hasty actions in shooting Will to save her own life (which is the opposite of what she does for Tobias, further showing that Tris hadn’t quite figured out how to be selfless at that point). The “selfless” acts she thought she was performing in Insurgent—charging upstairs during the Erudite-Dauntless attack unarmed, spying on Max’s conversation with Jack Kang without a weapon, and then handing herself over at Erudite headquarters even when she’s asked not to—were more self-destructive than anything. She rationalized those self-destructive acts by calling them selfless, but when she was about to be executed, she realized that her parents didn’t give their lives for her just so that she could die when it wasn’t necessary. She realized that she wanted to live.
She emerged from that near-execution with new maturity: she valued her own life, she wanted to solve problems without resorting to violence, she sought truth over destruction. That Tris had not quite figured out what selflessness was to her, but she had discovered what it wasn’t: self-annihilation.
That was how Tris was at the beginning of Allegiant. She was no longer risking her life for no reason. She was still struggling with her beliefs about selflessness—but this time, she was wondering whether Caleb, when he volunteered to go on the one-way mission to the Weapons Lab, was motivated by love or guilt. She struggled with whether it was ethical to let Caleb’s sacrifice happen throughout the rest of the book. And while she was struggling with his decision, she was also struggling with her own identity; her constant questioning about what selflessness is was inextricably linked to her sense of self, as it had been for the past two books. This struggle finally came to a head when she and Caleb were running toward the Weapons Lab, and she said this: “He is a part of me, always will be, and I am a part of him, too. 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.” (455)
After that, Tris entered the same role her parents played when they died for her. She loved and gave her life for Caleb even after he betrayed her, the same way her parents loved and gave their lives for her after she left them for Dauntless.
But this time, unlike in Insurgent, the act wasn’t self-destructive. Tris’s peculiar relationship to the serums was that she was able to overcome them (like the Dauntless fear simulations and the Candor truth serum) unless on some level she wanted them to work (like with the Amity peace serum). So when she passed through the death serum outside the Weapons Lab and it didn’t kill her, that suggested she wasn’t seeking her own destruction. She was truly acting out of love for Caleb.
At the end, she had a conversation with David where she told him her beliefs about sacrifice, that it should come from love, strength, and necessity. That was a Tris who knew what she believed about selflessness. Who knew who she was. Who knew what she wanted to do. In each book she tried to emulate her parents’ sacrifice, and in each book she didn’t seem to understand what that sacrifice really was, until Allegiant. And it’s only in Allegiant, when she had a strong sense of identity, when she had a keen understanding of what she (and her parents) believed about selflessness, that her journey was over.
I thought about reaching out with my authorial hand and snatching her from that awful situation. I thought about it and I agonized over it. But to me, that felt dishonest and emotionally manipulative. This was the end she had chosen, and I felt she had earned an ending that was as powerful as she was.
In Insurgent, before she’s “executed,” she screams into nothingness, “I’m not done yet!”
In Allegiant, she asks her mother, “Am I done yet?”
And her mother says, “Yes. My dear child, you’ve done so well.”
I understand being upset about the loss of a character you care about, and I’m so glad you care about her, because I do, too. I am proud of the way this ending mirrors those of the other books, of the way it reflects the realistic (given the dystopian, dangerous setting) losses of those books, the way it shows what Tris is truly made of, and the way it concludes her hard-earned transformation. I think her love for her brother is beautiful, powerful.
I have heard a wide range of reactions to the book, and I accept and respect all of those reactions as valid. But my personal feelings about the ending haven’t changed. I will miss her, that Tris voice in my head. But I’m so, so proud of her strength.
While I’m glad Roth took the opportunity to respond and applaud her attitude about the whole thing (because you know she’s taken a whole lot of crap for this book), I have to go with the #2 response she listed above: “Okay, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think that what you were trying to do worked.”