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Allegiant: A Critique

  • Posted on September 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Veronica Roth wrote Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. I watched the movie and then got the books and I blew through the first two, becoming far more immersed in the stories than I should have been considering that I had a business to run and course work to do, not to mention a family to nurture.

Then, very early in Allegiant, what I read felt like a punch in the gut. If you want to read the book and haven’t yet and don’t want any spoilers, then stop reading; if, however, you also have adverse reactions to “triggers,” then you might want to consider reading anyway. I promise I won’t give away the ending.

There comes a point when the main characters learn what “this” has all been about:

A few centuries ago, the government of this country became interested in enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens. There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes—a gene called “the murder gene” was the first of these, but there were quite a few more, genetic predispositions toward cowardice, dishonesty, low intelligence—all the qualities, in other words, that ultimately contribute to a broken society.

…despite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth, pg. 121- 122, emphasis added

I literally became sick to my stomach when I read that. The feeling persisted until the end of the book. And I was disappointed, because nobody in the book realized that the problems they were facing were an inevitable product of the original decision to mess around with humanity’s genes.

See, my problem with all of this, with the whole big mess, is that NONE of the characters react to what has been done in a way that it deserves. They react to what these scientists are doing in their own present in a variety of ways, which I sympathize with because these behaviors also deserve a strong reaction. The story’s present is the primary concern, after all. I understand all that and think Roth does a fairly good job presenting the variety of reactions.

But at no point does anyone even stop to wonder if they had the right to do what they did or whether the proposed goal is worthy or good or justified. We’re talking about eugenics! And, despite the disastrous consequences, nobody steps up to say, “You know, maybe you shouldn’t have been messing with humanity’s genetics in the first place and should stop messing with them now for that reason, if for no other.”

I have to wonder if it occurred to Roth. Did she realize that she was writing about eugenics, the same pseudo-science that the Nazis used to “excuse” the Holocaust? Did she realize that there would be a revolt before the country engaged in any mass eugenics project? Did she know what she was talking about at all?