At first, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy appears to follow very closely in the footsteps of the Hunger Games trilogy. Both are young-adult dystopian trilogies with strong female teenage protagonists. In both sets of novels, order is maintained through a rigid social structure, by which the majority of people are denied freedom of choice in how they wish to live their lives, and the protagonist has to fight against this structure. Although I have not read the Divergent series, I feel that I can pretty much guess how the story will play out, based on having read the Hunger Games series.
However, as I started to read more about Divergent, I became more curious about the world created by Roth, at least from a cartographical perspective. What is most interesting to me is that the story is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago, many years in the future. This is in contrast to the world of Panem, of The Hunger Games, which is ambiguously located in former United States, without any explicit points of reference to current-day states or cities. Other novels, such as The Maze Runner or The Giver, provide even fewer clues about their locations. Divergent is refreshing, at least, in providing a familiar setting for its characters.
Its version of Chicago, however, has changed considerably from the city we know today. The highways are crumbling, bridges have collapsed, and many of the once-mighty skyscrapers have been reduced to skeletons. Most shockingly of all, Lake Michigan has dried up and been replaced by a marsh. Below is a shot from the film version of Divergent, which came out last year, showing the Chicago skyline from the view of the marshy Lake Michigan.
In Divergent, Chicago has been cut off from the rest of the world by a giant fence, purportedly for the safety of its residents. Each person is assigned to one of five factions (abnegation, amity, candor, dauntless, and erudite), which control parts of the city, and one’s faction is chosen based on the results of an aptitude test. It is basically like a personality test, classifying people as selfless, peaceful, honest, brave, or intellectual. Want to opt out of this process altogether? Then you will become factionless, and will be living homeless on the streets of Chicago. The main character of the series, Tris, undergoes this exam at the beginning of the series, and finds that she is one of the rare “divergent” people who do not fit neatly into one of the five groups. I do not know much more about the story, but from the looks of the movie trailers, action, adventure, and perhaps some romance, ensue.
One ambitious fan of the series, @Jillian, discovered that there were no adequate maps of the Chicago of Divergent, so she went ahead and created her own on Google Maps. It is really quite impressive to see, as she has used her knowledge of the books to mark areas of Chicago which are the likely zones for the five factions. In addition, she marks points on the map where major events in the novels occur, such as Gateway Park, the site of the city’s giant ferris wheel. If you are wondering about her methodology for choosing her locations, she even provides citations and quotes from the books backing up her choices. Talk about thorough!
Be warned, if you have not completed the whole series, that there are spoilers in the map below:
Jillian offers a further explanation on this map here.
Finally, the movie adaptation of Insurgent, the second novel in the series, opens in theaters this Friday, March 20. I’m sure that the legions of Divergent fans will make it another box office hit. But those who are curious about urban geography may want to check it out as well, if for no other reason than to see post-apocalyptic Chicago brought to life on the big screen.