Divergent as Socrates’ Ideal City

In Plato’s Republic, he discusses Socrates’ description of the “ideal city” -a city that is completely rooted in justice. To Socrates, justice means that every person does what he or she is meant to do, whether that is to provide for the city (merchants, musicians, educators, etc.), to guard, or to rule. To facilitate this, each individual is tested to see what he or she is best fit to do. Of course, where justice exists, so does injustice: not doing what you’re meant to do. For example, if someone who is best fit to be a merchant were to rule, s/he would be committing injustice. In this case, that individual would be punished.

While on this topic in class, someone stated that the unjust person was “divergent,” which got me thinking. I realized that Socrates’ ideal city is very similar to the society in the book/movie, Divergent.

I had never seen nor read the book because I’m generally not interested angsty teenage dramas that inevitably end in romance, but I was able to sacrifice some time to watch the film. Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago, around the year 2100. A great war has left the city to be quite dystopic, and there are now five different factions that a person can belong to. These are: Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Erudite the intelligent, Abnegation the selfless, and Dauntless the brave. At the age of 16, each teenager is put through a series of tests to find out what faction they will join. Then comes along our main character, Tris Prior (played by Shailene Woodley). While she goes through these series of tests, she is found to be “divergent,” not belonging to any specific faction. The “divergents” are endangered, for they pose a threat to this dystopic society. Tris and her divergent teenage romancer then fight the system for the rest of the movie (soon to be two more movies). Sound familiar?

As was aforementioned, Socrates believed there should only be three types of people: the workers, the guardians, and the rulers. In the story’s futuristic Chicago, there are only five types of people (theoretically), Amity, Candor Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless. In Socrates’ ideal city, people are tested to see what they are best fit to do. In futuristic Chicago, teenagers are put through a series of tests to see what faction they best fit into. Those who do not perform the function they are best suited are deemed “unjust” by Socrates, and should technically be punished. Tris, who did not adhere to any of the five factions, was deemed “divergent,” and hunted down.

It is safe to say that there are clear parallels drawn between the two societies, though one was considered utopic, while the other was dystopic. Perhaps Socrates would support the latter, for it holds his same ideals. One must do what he or she is meant to do.

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