Chicago (and Outside Chicago), Sometime in the Future
After two books spent trapped inside a fenced-in Chicago (and not even knowing for sure that it's Chicago at all), we finally get to see the outside world in Allegiant. "The world beyond ours is full of roads and dark buildings and collapsing power lines" (13.1). So… um, it's basically the same as inside the fence, we guess. Oh, but Tobias gets to see a deer crossing the road, so at least we haven't managed to kill off all wildlife.
In addition to ruins and cute animals, there are billboards with "colors and shapes and words and pictures [that] are so garish, so abundant, that they are mesmerizing" (13.11). Great. The outside world is exactly the same as the inside world, just with more product placement. The advertising emphasizes just how cut-off from the outside world Chicago is, and it also proves that the world of Divergent does take place in our world.
Tris and Tobias find out just how large our world is. Chicago was their world, but they find out that it's barely a fraction of the size of the whole planet. This makes some people, like Peter, feel insignificant, in a very end-of-Casablanca kind of way. If the world is that huge, how can any one person matter? But Tobias tries to encourage him, saying, "All that land is filled with people, every one of them different, and the things they do to each other matter" (33.12).
So, the U.S. is pretty much in ruins as a result of the Purity War (see our section on "Genetics" for more about this catastrophe). People near Chicago either live in the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (which is in O'Hare Airport) or in run-down suburbs known as "the fringe."
The fringe is basically a ghetto made up of "dark houses with boarded-up windows" (23.150). Everyone seems to be armed out there, even the kids. Most of the residents are people who have been exiled. It's like District 9 without the aliens.
Why would anyone want to live out there? Nita's friend Rafi says, "In the cities, if you get killed, definitely no one will give a damn" (23.131). But he says this as someone is practically killed right in front of him, and no one does anything. If that's giving a damn, what does not giving a damn look like?