Insurgent Themes

Veronica Roth


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Insurgent Themes

Control versus Freedom

The most significant theme in this novel is the conflict between freedom and control, expressed as the conflict between Erudite’s attempt to exert control over the minds and behavior of the population versus the Divergent mentality that seeks freedom and choice outside the boundaries of the factions.

The Erudite, as represented by Jeanine Matthews, are the antagonists of this novel. Jeanine’s evil plan includes controlling the Divergent in order to consolidate Erudite power within the faction system. The loyal Dauntless seek the destruction of the Erudite at all costs; they are determined to maintain their freedom and to get revenge for being used as Erudite’s soldier-pawns in the eradication of the Abnegation.

However, Tris sees that the Erudite hold technology and knowledge that their society requires to function. All the Erudite’s knowledge cannot be destroyed; in fact, some of it must be preserved for everyone to survive. For example, the Erudite now hold the stolen information that Tris’s parents died trying to preserve: what lies beyond the walls of the factions, outside the perimeter fence guarded by the Dauntless?

Implicitly, the message is that a government needs to control both the information available to its citizens and their behavior in order to remain in power. The manipulation of the masses by their leaders enables the system to function, but at what cost to systemic and personal autonomy?

This theme works on a personal level as well. For example, Tris, as a Divergent, discovers that Jeanine cannot develop a simulation that her mind cannot defeat. She fights the serums to maintain control over her own choices. Tobias too must reconcile his desire for freedom and autonomy, as expressed by his decision to become a Dauntless leader, while also aligning himself with the factionless in their efforts to destroy the faction system.


Tris’s guilt forms a central theme of this novel. She feels guilty for killing Will and for allowing her parents to sacrifice themselves to save her. Her guilt arises in part from her sense that she is unworthy of such a sacrifice. Memories of both her parents resurface constantly, particularly through Tris’s dreams. At first these memories haunt her, but as the novel progresses and Tris deals with her grief, she finds strength and power in the memories of her parents, particularly in their selflessness, respect, and love for one another.

Though Tris’s grief drives many of her reckless decisions, repeatedly putting her life in danger and testing her relationship with Tobias, it is through her recklessness that Tris learns the most important lesson: the value of her life and living her life as a tribute to her parents.


Tris struggles to form a cohesive identity throughout the novel, as she attempts to deal with the trauma of her parents’ violent deaths. As she observes and lives among the factions—Amity, Candor, and Erudite—Tris learns to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each of them. She tries to understand each faction from within, to make sense of the chaos in her society and herself.

Additionally, the alliance with the factionless and her contact with factionless individuals, such as Evelyn and Edward, forces Tris to understand that a faction is a form of mind-control. It offers structure and certainty, but it also limits and controls a person’s mind and behavior.

Tris’s identity at the beginning of the novel remains shaped by her childhood in Abnegation and her initiation into Dauntless. She learns that she is more than her factions and feels free to choose her own behavior as she experiences living out her Divergence, which is essentially a form of flexible psychological and emotional adaptability.

By the end of the novel, Tris is more at ease with herself and her difference, finding power in her ability to resist Jeanine’s mind control and in the memories of her parents’ selfless strength.


Family and faction identity is put to the test throughout the novel, and family or factions also symbolically represent the theme of loyalty. What is your “real” family, your birth family or your faction family? The factions attempt to replace the birth family and the rules enforce this switch. However, Tris finds it impossible to forget her parents and the qualities, such as selflessness, that her birth family and faction taught her. Tris discovers that loyalty is a complex issue for her and that it is impossible for her to forget her original family.

In fact, her loyalty to Caleb blinds her to his treachery for a time, because he is the only family member she has left. Similarly, Tobias, and other characters, such as Christina, though loyal to their chosen factions, feel a sense of loyalty to their families and to the good qualities that their original factions represent.

Additionally, many people, regardless of faction, question the loyalty of the Divergent. Because Divergence has, up until this point, been an unspoken secret among all the factions, many prejudices and rumors exist about them, including the fact that the Divergent have scary mind-powers. Thus, their differences make them suspect in this strongly divided and circumscribed society.


Throughout the novel, Tris endeavors to trust others. She keeps many secrets and tells many lies, particularly to Tobias. Most of her secrets are initially to do with the trauma of her parents’ deaths and killing Will—a close friend and Christina’s boyfriend. However, the more Tris hides her fear and panic, the less she trusts people. As she trusts less, she finds more reason to not share the truth with others, particularly Tobias.

By the end of the novel, after her torture in Jeanine’s labs and betrayal by Caleb, Tris only truly trusts one person: Christina. Her arguments with Tobias culminate in her alliance with the hateful Marcus, because Tris believes that truth is more important than revenge. She does not agree that all of Erudite’s knowledge must be destroyed to set them free; she wants to preserve what is necessary while removing Erudite mind-control.

Meanwhile, Tobias grapples with his own trust issues, particularly in relation to his mother, Evelyn. Though he knows that Tris is hiding things from him, he does not press her, because he understands the trauma that she has experienced. Through his alliance with the factionless, he comes to terms with his mother, Evelyn, their leader. However, Tris’s prediction comes to fruition when the Dauntless priorities are trumped by Evelyn’s desire to destroy the factions immediately after the defeat of the Erudite. Tobias, at home with everyone, does not mind this outcome, despite his role as a Dauntless leader. Tobias understands and trusts himself and others.

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