While my story map might be a bit sprawling (it’s hard to set up meaningful mapping with a text that is very unlike anything we’ve read for class), this should be pretty concise. Divergent is a YA novel written by a Chicago suburbanite in her schooling at Northwestern—it isn’t particularly surprising that it only engages with the Loop and the northern suburbs. It is, however, a failing of the text—any future imagining of Chicago that happens to ignore everywhere but its white neighborhoods is at the very least an unintentional whitewashing . Divergent is already mildly disinterested in the roots of its city. To pull from the author again—
“I wrote the rough draft and I felt like it needed a more grounded sense of place, and I looked at the city I had described, which is all these trains constantly moving, and this lake marsh, and these rivers. And I realized it was Chicago already, and that was just because it’s the city I’ve known and loved the longest.”
Admittedly, this is a great quote. But what I’m interested in pointing out this time around is that Divergent was not intentionally written with Chicago in mind. Granted, a lot of pivotal elements in a lot of pivotal novels didn’t come out till the fourth or fifth draft, but when there are only five or six real Chicagoan elements tying Divergent’s Chicago to the real one—and when those range from the Bean, Merchandise Mart, and Sears Tower, the lowest of low-hanging fruit—well, some of that last minute energy bleeds through.
So! This is an attempt at a remapping of Divergent. Amity, the farmer faction , is positioned in the suburbs north of Chicago. Unsurprisingly. Actually surprising, though, is the fact that existing place rarely matters in this depiction. About the only element that connects to the modern suburbs is that Amity is close to O’Hare. (See my map for a more in-depth explanation of this).
We have two options when it comes to improving this. One, rework the current depiction of Amity to make it feel more related to the land on which it is on. Two, move the faction. I’ve chosen the second one. My odds of producing a piece of worldbuilding that outdoes her work—considering that the author grew up in these suburbs—seem pretty grim. Perhaps the average American suburb just happens to be a bland, homogenous mush.
Besides, the second option—moving the faction—has the opportunity to correct some of the implicit whitewashing. See my map for, again, the in-depth explanation of this, but it boils down to this. The southernmost faction, Dauntless—the “brave” faction, defined by violence and their proficiency with guns—manages to both be a murderous stereotyping of South Side residents and barely interact with the South Side at all.
They are the only thing “south of the city”, according to an interview with the author. Considering the faction is barely thirty minutes from Sears Tower by train (and considering that the train system, being in a dystopia, is super dilapidated), and considering that the most likely place for the faction headquarters is eighteenth street (see the map), calling this “south of the city” is a little ridiculous. That is the city! And that’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about, here—every landmark, every scene in a noticeably Chicagoan place, happens in the Loop or northwards. The South Side, despite supposedly being the place for one of the factions (and the one manipulated into committing genocide at that—poor choice), is barely touched at all.
So I’m proposing, basically, that Amity come take over George Washington Park, the Midway, and other such strips of greenery. This provides an excellent way to get the cast southward, if nothing else—my map project already spells out the possible landmarks that could be relevant to Divergent—and seeing as Amity is supposed to be the faction of kindness and renewal, placing them in one of the most demonized and industrially scarred areas of Chicago is far more meaningful than adapting some no-name suburb. Let them tear up the streets! Grow produce in the skeletons of old tenements! Reclaim it all!
Besides, Divergent’s physical settings come in two flavors—high urban (steel and glass) and high rural (corn and good vibes). It’s a little reductive, honestly. Mixing urban themes with themes of vegetational renewal is nice; going somewhere with a non-skyscraper architectural theme (like Chinatown, on the way between here and the Loop) seems like a good way to spruce up a rather boring cityscape. Plus, whiteness is a perennial problem—engaging with a non-white neighborhood (which all three novels manage never to do) is just a good idea.
I’m going to go ahead and bring in the literature review, because it’s pretty pivotal to how I brought in one of the new landmarks. Well, first, I googled “south side landmarks”. (If I went on my personal experience, they’d all be in Hyde Park. Putting Amity in George Washington park is already so close! Including the South Side by only including the whitest section of Hyde Park would be a bad move). But one of the first results from that google search was Crown Hall! Allow me to restate what I put in my story map—if Divergent is interested in systemic oppression, disenfranchisement, and eventually genocide (all of which are things that happen to the Abnegation faction in the first book), setting a scene in Crown Hall is perfect. The “must-see” list I was perusing did not mention the history of the building at all—well, besides the modernist architect part.
Admittedly, it’s unlikely that Tris (the main character) would know this, or happen to meet someone who does. I would not have known this without Brooks’ text, and I did not grow up in a hundreds-of-years down the line dystopia. But it’s possible that she could (in hiding from the Dauntless cops) find an old tunnel, previously bricked down, and discover the erased history of the building. Asking for a YA novel to tie Brooks in is a little too much of an ask—but slowly, steadily, letting her process the genocide that happened to her family in a destroyed and repurposed home (and repurposed by the intellectual elite, at that!) is very fitting. She’s being targeted by the remnants of her own faction, for Christ’s sake . Allow this tension to boil up to the surface!
The second text I’m pulling from is a bit further of a stretch. (Brooks was handed to me on a platter. Thanks, TripAdvisor.) But another failing of Divergent in its adoption of a real, breathing city is one that can be elucidated by Invisible Cities. Divergent portrays factional differences in perspective—Dauntless cannot understand the routine other factions sit through; Erudite carries a level of respect and condescension in their interactions with others; Abnegation is thought of as stilted and manipulative, thanks to propaganda. But they all interact with the city in the same way. Sure, the Dauntless have a zipline that no one else knows about, but for every character the city is the same thing—a sprawling, ruined, characterless void. No one has a favorite route; no one has a favorite spot; everyone is traversing from Point A to Point B and paying little attention to the things in their way. That’s what I mean when I say characterless—if Invisible Cities is a thousand ways to perceive the city around you, from social to stilted to lascivious to lonely, then Divergent is a single outlook. Every character feels like a mouse. When the main character wants to get away, she doesn’t go somewhere new, or private, or special—she hops on a train and visits another faction. And even that she isn’t supposed to do! The combination of “the factions are insular and do not interact with the city as a whole” with “the factions are relatively simplistic, and like Amity, do not interact with their local surroundings in the slightest”, and you start to realize that the personality Divergent’s city has isn’t present in the text at all. I, the reader, the resident of Chicago, am doing that work for them. I am imagining something more interesting than what’s on the page.
— Elijah Smith
Brooks, Gwendolyn. In the Mecca. Harper & Row, 1968.
Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Mariner Books, 1978.
Jillian. “Divergent Chicago Faction Map.” Personal Maps Entry, Google, 2014, www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1n6lCEHx6c3J4fP3YlPOo39tDbDw&ll=41.8834567%2C-87.62483600000002&z=15.
Kirsch, Becky. “Divergent Author Veronica Roth Says ‘All the Pressing Questions That You Have Will Be Answered’ in Allegiant.” POPSUGAR Entertainment, 16 Oct. 2013, www.popsugar.com/entertainment/Divergent-Author-Interview-30386194.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Katherine Tegen Books, 2012.
Sanders, Steve. “WGNTV.com: Chicago’s WB WGN-TV CoverStories: Deep Tunnel.” Wayback Machine, web.archive.org/web/20051105090819/http://wgntv.trb.com/wgntv-news-101005tunnel,1,1202440.story.