by Veronica Roth
Beatrice "Tris" Prior
Much like the heroine of a Jane Austen novel, Beatrice Prior ends up learning a lot about herself and her world over the course of the novel. Plus she learns how to fire a gun and beat people up. Jane Austen would be proud.
And that's one big reason why we like Beatrice as a protagonist and narrator: she may be wrong at times (or lots of times), but she always learns. She changes and grows. Our other big reason for liking Beatrice? She's a lot like us, with all her conflicting feelings. Aren't we all a little Divergent? Group hug time, Shmoopers.
Beatrice Is Just Like Us…
… which is to say that she has poor self-esteem and misses things.
On one hand, Tris describes herself as being not-so-pretty, as she subtly hints when she tells us: "I am not pretty—my eyes are too big and my nose is too long" (8.89). While we don't applaud the self-deprecation, we can't help but like how direct she is. Notice that she doesn't have any hesitation in that statement. It's not "I think my eyes are too big" or "Maybe my nose is too long." No, for Tris, it's all "this is how things are, deal with it."
But on the other hand, do you really trust Tris when she tells us that she's not pretty? Because Tris Prior is a lot of things: she's smart, strong-willed, direct, sarcastic and funny. But she doesn't have the best self-esteem; and she can also be a straight up wrong a lot of the time. Tris is the kind of girl who notices when there's a conspiracy to use her current faction to kill off her former faction, but she doesn't notice (or trust) when a guy likes her. In other words, she's just like us. And let's face it: sometimes we can be pretty wrong about things. Especially romance.
All of the Feels
Even minor moments between Tris and Four have her confused, like when he picks her for his paintball team:
I don't know whether to be angry at the people laughing at me or flattered by the fact that he chose me first.
Angry. I should definitely be angry. I scowl at my hands. Whatever Four's strategy is, it's based on the idea that I am weaker than the other initiates. (12.30-33)
Thanks to the first-person point of view here, we have total and complete access to Tris's feelings as they are shaped. So we can see her slip from confusion over what she should feel to feeling super angry. Then, just a few lines later we'll see her moving from anger back to confusion (when she realizes Four's not picking weak people). And then she goes from confusion to gloating (when she realizes that Four is picking smaller, faster people who are probably better at Capture the Flag). Whew.
That's a pretty quick emotional trip for a few paragraphs. So Tris may seem like a pretty closed-off person (she doesn't make friends easily), but she's not exactly an ice queen either. If anything, she's got this storm of emotions inside her.
All those feels, though, are what make Tris such a great main character: we identify with her because she's got lots of complicated emotions. That means she isn't easy to put in a box or a faction. The book may call this quality "Divergent"—because Tris supposedly diverges from the norm—but we call that quality "being human" because it's really hard to put most people in boxes labeled with one particular quality or feeling.
We don't want to get all afterschool special here, but we will if we have to. Heck, even dead poet Walt Whitman would read this and identify with Tris, since old Walt knew what it was like to have many different, contradictory feelings at once. Or as he put it, "I contain multitudes."
So, yes, from one perspective, Tris is super special because she's Divergent. But from another perspective, being Divergent is another way of saying "she's got complicated and conflicting feelings"—and we all have that. Which is handy, because it makes us immune to mind control.
All of the Feels: Guilt and Sensitivity
Here's a fun party game (that's not really fun and not really a game): Choose an emotion, flip through Divergent, and find two places where Tris seems to have wildly different feelings about the same topic.
Here, we'll start with Tris's sensitivity:
When Tris rejects Al, she feels bad for him: "I wish I could tell him not to take it personally" (16.24). See, Tris feels bad and wishes she could make things better for Al. She continues to try to be friends and make things better between them—because she's a sensitive girl who feels bad when other people are in pain.
Or is she? When Tris beats the snot out of Molly, she doesn't feel an ounce of bad about hurting the girl: "I wish I could say I felt guilty for what I did. I don't." (14.57-8). In fact, she might've killed Molly if Four didn't pull her away. That tells us that Tris isn't a sensitive girl who feels bad when other people hurt.
So which is it? Is she a sensitive girl who feels bad when other people are in pain or is she guilt-free and lovin' it?
The answer is, she's both, depending on the circumstances, the people involved, and probably whether or not she had a good breakfast before hand. (Hungry people are mean. That's scientific.) And the fact that she has such widely different reactions to these two events is emphasized by how similar the language is between them: She wishes X—and in one case, she acts to help Al and in the other she acts to hurt Molly.
You can play this sort of game with almost any feeling or quality Tris might have. Do you think Tris is observant and smart? Yes—remember how she realized she could win the paintball game by climbing the Ferris wheel (12.87)? No—remember how long it took her to realize that her brother was going to switch to Erudite (5.51)?
The Girl With Lots of Tattoos, Or, How to Make Lots of "I" Statements and Still be Likable
It would have been a piece of cake for Veronica Roth to make us hate Tris. It's easy to imagine the reader thinking that Tris is real self-centered because she keeps making all sorts of "I" statements like, "I am selfish. I am brave" (5.61) or "I am begging. I am pathetic" (38.20). But we can't help but like and root for the girl because (a) her feelings are pretty understandable, and (b) she learns from her mistakes. That mean we're willing to cut her some slack.
Take her tattoos for example. She starts off feeling weird about tattoos, but she gets three ravens to symbolize her family—a way for her, as she explains it, to "honor my old life as I embrace my new one" (8.116). Eventually she gets the Dauntless symbol to embrace her new life (19.29), and then the Abnegation symbol as a recognition that Abnegation "is a part of my identity" (25.2).
So we've gone from Tris just saluting to her past—and moving on from it—to recognizing that it is still very much a part of her. The original raven tattoos may have marked some fear about leaving her family (and birds do show up prominently in her fear landscape); but the final Abnegation tattoo shows a mature acceptance—she can't leave her family behind, and they'll always be a part of who she is.
And seriously, folks, how relatable is that? Her acceptance of her family's role in her identity helps us get past her nagging tendency to make "I" statements and see that she really isn't all about me. She's just trying to work out who she is, which is maybe the most basic human need (after food and shelter). We can all get behind that.
About That Name
Be honest: do you prefer "Beatrice" or "Tris"? We're firmly in the "Tris" column because it's shorter to write; and it looks a lot like "tries" which is one thing that is true about Tris—she tries a lot of stuff, even if she's afraid of it.
But maybe you like "Beatrice" because it reminds you of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy books: like that Beatrice, this Beatrice is a little special. But unlike that Beatrice, this Beatrice is active—she's the one doing the traveling (which was Dante's role).
Which fits, since one possible meaning for the name "Beatrice" is "voyager.". And Beatrice does a lot of voyaging, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically, too: from feeling guilty about not being good at Abnegation, to being a violent Dauntless, to seeing how all of the factions' virtues could be combined. Plus there's all that train riding she does. Voyager indeed.Beatrice "Tris" Prior's Timeline