Christine Wesley: Literary Alchemy in Allegiant – Rubedo

For part one of this series of Divergent literary alchemy posts by Christine Wesley, Divergent as Nigredo, click here. For part two of this series, Insurgent as Albedo, click here.

Allegiant: “One Choice Will Define You”

Welcome to the final installment of a three-part “Unlocking” series on the allegorical, alchemical artistry behind Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. In this post, we will attempt to predict the plot of the series finale, Allegiant, as the rubedo to Divergent’s nigredo and Insurgent’s albedo.

When we last left the pages of Insurgent, Tris and Tobias were crouched on the bottom floor of Erudite headquarters, watching a video file of Amanda Ritter/Edith Prior’s revelation that the Factions are in fact a grand experiment in human behavior, set apart to develop minds capable of rebuilding a world destroyed by moral decay. A growing concern for Tris over the course of Insurgent was whether or not to pursue the truth of what lay beyond the fence; at the cliff-hanger conclusion, we discover that the Factions, enclosed within the ruined city of Chicago, were protected from three things in the outside world:

1. The water supply

2. Technology

3. Societal structure

One hallmark of literary alchemy is the presence of soul triptychs, a trio of objects or persons that each embodies an essential aspect of human existence that, when working in harmony, produce righteous living and thinking. Intriguingly, in these three non-human elements, there exists such a tripartite division: body (water), mind (technology), and heart (society structure). The Five Factions were, in essence, separated bodily from the outside world via an enclosed water system (remember the Amity’s water filtration system and hydroponic agriculture, and Lake Michigan’s reduction to the Marsh), a yet-unknown form of technology, and a yet-unknown pattern for human relationships. These reasons for the Factions’ separation will serve as major plot points for Book 3, and I will incorporate my theories as to their explanation over the course of a larger exegesis of how Allegiant might satisfy the requirements as the Tris Prior rubedo.

As John examined in this post about the alchemy of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, we can expect Roth’s rubedo novel to follow the “allegory of the soul’s transformation” in the “story of the soul’s life in the world” post-baptism, a world she finds “unrecognizable.” Alchemy is chiefly concerned with the resolution of contraries: throughout the first two books, Tris unraveled the divisions inherent in her status as one of the Divergent. In Book 1 she sorted out her conflicted understanding of Dauntless and Abnegation, and in Book 2 between Candor and Amity.  Duality and mirroring have already proved a significant theme in Divergent and Insurgent, so look for this idea to find its greatest manifestation in Allegiant, when Tris and Tobias to wrestle with their faculties for Erudite (more on that below).

Based on interviews and blog posts from Roth, Allegiant teasers released by HarperCollins, and  surface-level clues from the close of Insurgent, a few ideas can be inferred about the contraries to be resolved in Book 3. Perhaps the most interesting fact that has been revealed about Allegiant is that the book will have not one, but two narrators: Tris AND Tobias. First, Roth’s thoughts on this deviation:

I tried repeatedly to write Allegiant in just Tris’s voice, but it didn’t work; her perspective, her way of seeing things, was a little too limited for the story I needed to tell. I wanted to do two things with it: A. let two characters experience different things, and B. let them react differently to the same things, so that I (and eventually, the reader) would get a better sense of the whole story, the whole picture.

Forgive me, but I believe Roth’s use of two points of view originates from a deeper motivation than narrative convenience or character development. Books 1 and 2 established an inside/outside paradigm in the Divergents’ ability to distinguish reality from the serum’s artifice, and in the Factions’ enclosure from the outside world—Roth’s decision to bifurcate the narrative voice hints that this dichotomy will play a pivotal thematic role in Book 3.

And while the watery spiral on Allegiant’s cover might signal the return of Lake Michigan, I have a theory it means something else: just as the Dauntless fire emblazoned the cover of Divergent and the Amity tree provided our entrance into Insurgent, the wave-like swirl marking Allegiant is actually an Eye—Erudite. In the first two books, Tris begins at a place of incomplete, stereotyped conception of the depicted faction, and by the story’s end has come to a complex, mature belief in that faction’s values. In Allegiant, I posit that Roth will push Tris to explore the opposing poles of the subject of knowledge: anti-intellectualism represented by the Factionless and Evelyn, and a ruthless disregard for the welfare of others in the pursuit of hidden knowledge represented by Jeanine’s Matthews’s Erudite.

Now, to the alchemy. Pulling from John’s Mockingjay essay once more, for Allegiant to fulfill the role as rubedo, the following signposts must present in the narrative:

1. The work must have three key stages signified by a black/white/red sequence reflecting the dissolution or “putrefaction” of the main characters’ psyches (nigredo), the washing or purifying of those characters (albedo), and a revelatory transformative stage undertaken in the story’s final climax (rubedo).

2. The story’s conflicts and contraries must be resolved by the main characters’ transformation.

3. There must be a “Quarreling Couple” of alchemical mercury and sulphur, or the masculine solar versus the feminine lunar, and whose disagreements draw the main characters in opposing directions.

4. Between the albedo and rubedo of the story, there is an Alchemical Wedding of Red and White that signals the characters’ pending transformation.

5. There must present an image or multiple images of resurrection, dawn/awakening, or the presence of an alchemical symbol such as a Phoenix, Rose, Red Lion, or some kind of Christ-parallel.

The nigredo for Tris and Tobias will unfold under a mire of doubt—their understanding of the world shattered, the two will be forced to reckon with what they choose to accept as Truth and what they reject as Falsehood. Our prime quarreling couple will be embodied in the characters of Evelyn—the cold, calculating White Queen and doppelganger for Jeanine—and the warm, earthy, sacrificial Red King of Johanna, whose last name, Reyes, literally means “King” (more on Johanna as a Christ parallel further down).

Evelyn, as the leader of the factionless, will choose not to explore what lies beyond the fence, instructing her followers to disable, imprison, or kill those who wish to leave. Those who decide to jettison from Evelyn’s domain will rally around Johanna, Amity’s de facto leader and gatekeeper to the world beyond; however, knowing how Johanna feels about titled leadership, I suspect she will resist others’ attempts to claim her as advocate.

While Tris comes to tentatively trust Marcus at the end of Insurgent, Tobias’s animosity toward his abusive father has thus far remained steadfast. Furthermore, In Insurgent it was hinted that Johanna and Marcus have a quasi-romantic relationship, which would incline Tobias to distrust Johanna in suspicion of that affiliation. Tris and Tobias will initially be united in their misgivings about Evelyn and Johanna, but as Allegiant enters its albedo, Tris will choose to place her faith in Johanna long before Tobias does, and his conflict will settle in choosing whether or not to trust his mother.

And though Tobias promised Tris at the end of Book 2 that he will never again doubt her judgment, his hesitation to follow her in aligning with Marcus and Johanna will prove to be a source of tension in their relationship. Before Tobias can reconcile with his father, however, Marcus will die sacrificially in order to enable Tris’s escape from the clutches of the Factionless to the world beyond the fence—much like Rufus Scrimgeour, a Red character and authority figure Harry mistrusted, died to protect the trio’s secrets in Deathly Hallows. The fact that Veronica Roth remarked in this interview that she tried “so hard” to kill Marcus in Insurgent indicates that his role did not originally extend very far beyond the arc of that story.

In rubedo books such as Hallows and Mockingjay, the bulk of the narrative follows the main characters’ wanderings at the edges of society. Having escaped from the fenced-in world of the Districts, Katniss and Peeta seek shelter in the District 13 bunker. In Hallows, Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend a (some consider) frustrating amount of time camping in the wilds of Britain as they search for Horcruxes. Hallows and Mockingjay also spun off the motif of hidden knowledge and how its discovery facilitates the main characters’ inner transformations.

In the nigredo stage of those books, doubt hampers the protagonists’ decisions at every turn, fostering discord in their ranks and insecurity in their hearts. The albedo stages of those books focuses on how  the acquisition of crucial knowledge—and more importantly, their choice to believe often despite that knowledge—cleanses them of doubt and enables the characters to make soul-transformative decisions. Similarly, Allegiant’s albedo will center on Tris’s wanderings in terra incognita, the land of the unknown; her discoveries there will transfigure her understanding of herself and of her predecessors’ legacy.

I suspect that Tobias will not be joining Tris for her journey into the outside world. Because Roth has chosen to tell the story from Tris and Tobais’s perspectives, it would be a waste of pages were Tobias to escape with Tris—the reader would have no window into what unfolds inside the city during her absence. Tobias must therefore be separated from Tris so that he can learn to trust his father/Johanna apart from Tris’s influence, and so that Roth can play up the dramatic tension between the Factionless’ plans and Tris’s discoveries.

So, what is the knowledge that Amanda Ritter/Edith Prior entrusted to the Abnegation leaders, what Jeanine Matthews died to protect?

Remember that the Factions were separated from three sources of the outside world’s contamination: the water supply, technology, and societal structure. The Factions use a sophisticated water filtration system, and grow their food hydroponically (which Tris glimpses in the Amity compound at the opening of Insurgent). We also know that the Factions were enclosed in order to foster the development of the Divergent, those with “more flexible” minds meant to usher in a Brave New World.

I propose that, prior to the devolution of society, the outside world’s technology and water supply became inextricably linked. At some point, society outside the fence reached a moment of crisis. Either as a result of a civil war, or to prevent one, the government put into the water something akin to the Amity’s peace serum, but on a more technologically advanced scale. A group of rebels attempted to thwart the government’s suppression of free will by introducing a counter-serum, one intended to amplify free will.

This counter-serum had the negative effect of blocking natural inhibition, and instead enabled people to tap into their most selfish desires. In the end, humankind’s reliance on technology created a world completely devoid of virtue. Recalling Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics in which virtue is the mean between two extremes, Roth’s apocalypse figures when society becomes so dependant on drugs to regulate human behavior and emotion that the result is either a population of apathetic automatons, or wrathful, indiscriminate murderers.

Tris’s journey beyond the fence will uncover this terrible truth. Expect Tris to encounter a supply of contaminated water; forced out of the safety of the Amity filtration system, it is quite possible she will be forced to drink the serum-tainted water to save her life. As the Chosen One strongest Divergent, Tris will overcome this trial and emerge, purified, with newfound understanding.

Another emotional hurdle Tris will have to leap is the decision to believe or reject Caleb’s excuse of why he returned to Erudite and allied with Jeanine. In her journey, Tris will likely uncover evidence supporting Caleb’s explanation to return to Erudite to help Jeanine study Tris’s brain: when their mother, Natalie, tasked Caleb with researching the serums, it’s possible he discovered in Jeanine’s files a reference to the advanced serum technology which the powers-that-be beyond the fence used to oppress the population.

Armed with this knowledge, it is likely that Caleb is now the only one who knows how to synthesize an inoculation against the serum’s effects—basically, an elixir that makes all Faction members Divergent. When Tris unearths this information, she will have to choose whether she can trust her brother with this secret, or not.

Back in Chicago, in light of his father’s sacrificial death, Tobias will be forced to unpack their complicated relationship. With his mother Evelyn ruling the roost, I expect we will learn more about his mother’s affair and subsequent banishment from Abnegation, and that Tobias will eventually come to recognize that Tris was correct to place her trust in Johanna.

Between the albedo and rubedo stage of Allegiant, an Alchemical Wedding must initiate the resolution of all contraries. It seems that “White Queen” Evelyn has been designated Book 3’s villain, so I doubt that she and “Red King” Johanna will come to an agreement. In Books 1 and 2, the Alchemical Wedding manifested as a reunion between Tobias and Tris, and in the third installment I expect this will also be the case. The union of Tris and Tobias will prefigure the eve of Allegiant’s red stage. Tris, having earned knowledge of the elixir that will allow the rest of the Factions to emerge from Chicago, will return to awaken the rest of the sleepers from their slumber.

This awakening will come at a cost, obviously. In Allegiant’s climactic showdown, Tris, Tobias, and Caleb (our heart-body-mind soul triptych) will be unable to effect the Factions’ salvation from social disarray without the help of Johanna Reyes, our Christ figure, who will appear to perform the sacrifice necessary to remove Evelyn from power and enable distribution of the antidote serum to the population.

In Insurgent, Johanna voluntarily chooses to leave the garden havens of the Amity to pursue a path of self-sacrifice. Johanna, much like Harry, has a prominent scar on her forehead; she sits at the roots of the great Amity meeting tree, recalling to me another famous tree, the one on which Christ died at Calvary. Johanna’s continual denial of her leadership and willingness to remove herself from her community echoes Christ’s self-banishment from Jewish society and his discomfort with the title “King of the Jews.” Tris finds many doppelgangers in the women she encounters—Jeanine, Edith Prior, and Johanna—and it is the latter’s sacrifice that will resurrect in Tris a desire to reflect that self-denial, born out of unconditional love, onto those around her.

And thus we have the completed circle, Tris’s movement from a place of disbelief in her capacity for selflessness—”I cannot because I am unworthy”—to a belief in her Abnegation core: “I can because I am unworthy.” Though Allegiant will be told from two perspectives, the journey truly is Tris’s. To quote John once more:

As triptychs of body-mind-and-spirit we experience stories that are told as rings, with alchemical drama of contraries seeking resolution, and with character triptychs with whom we identify as shadows… to transcend by this act [of selflessness] in His person the polarity without duality of time and space, a sacrifice that delivers us, as much as we join ourselves to this death, to our eternal life in Him.

So, will my predictions hit home, or completely miss the mark? Get your copy when Allegiant hits shelves on October 22 and find out!


  1. Louise M. Freeman says

    Love your essay, Christina and I’d be willing to bet at least some of your predictions are right on the money.

    I think you are right about Marcus buying the farm pretty soon; in fact, were I to purchase life insurance on any character, it would be a toss-up between him and Caleb. If there is redemption for either of them, it will probably come through some sort of heroic death.

    I am not so sure about your soul triptych, because typically all three parts are united at the end and I think Caleb will be pushing up daisies. That has been part of the challenge for the series for me because I don’t see the main characters fitting neatly into the mind-body-soul categories. Dauntless initiation is, after all, about developing yourself in all three realms: Phase 1: physical training (body) ; Phase 2: emotional training (heart) and Phase 3: combining the two for mental stability (mind). Tobias and Tris were both #1 in their class; therefore they both have to be pretty good at all three. If I had to categorize them, I would put Tobias as body (because of his superb knife-throwing skills), Tris as mind (because of her most Divergent brain) but I don’t really see Caleb as heart. If there is anyone who helped Tris emotionally grow after her affectionless Abnegation upbringing, it was Christina, her first true friend. Their emotional separation over most of Insurgent was a major tension, but by the end they were reconciled, so I think if anyone plays the heart role, it will be her.

    Like you, I think Lake Michigan will be refilled. I will go further and say this will come about as a result of the destruction of Dauntless headquarters, as the chasm river finally floods the Pit and washes the place away. Fortunately, Tris will be able to lead her Faction to a new Headquarters atop the John Hancock Building, though this is will require Tobias to once again overcome his fear of heights. Thus Dauntless is restored to the type of unselfish bravery extolled by Tobias. (See my earlier essay on the significance of this structure).

    Of course, I had a lousy record on Harry Potter and Hunger Games predictions, so don’t take what I have said too seriously. In fact, given what I said, it may be time to add Christina to that life insurance policy…

  2. Having read the early (horrendous) reviews of Allegiant, I hereby nominate Christine and Louise to rewrite the book. Your versions sound much more plausible and emotionally satisfying.

  3. I just finished Allegiant, and I like your version a lot better. Everything you proposed is in character for Johanna, Evelyn, Tris and Tobias. There’s fitting character growth for Tris and Tobias in terms of their personal relationships, and fitting redemption for the “evil” characters. I also think that had Tris been able to “wander” and discover the outside world, the story would’ve been stronger; I would’ve preferred her finding out more about why Caleb helped Jeanine rather than the (minor spoiler) rather contrived new conflict the characters find themselves. Your suggestions satisfy me; the actual plot of Allegiant seems like an immature way to explore the themes of self-worth and sacrifice that the series started with.

  4. Perhaps ironically, it was this post that made me okay with the way Allegiant ends. Specifically this part: “And thus we have the completed circle, Tris’s movement from a place of disbelief in her capacity for selflessness—”I cannot because I am unworthy”—to a belief in her Abnegation core: “I can because I am unworthy.”” I think that’s what VR was trying to get across with her ending, and I actually think it worked.

    I love the things you were spot on about here (although it was quite the union between Four and Tris that acted as their wedding), and I really wish there had been more about Caleb and Beatrice reconciling….

  5. Love the discussion this post has stirred up, thanks so much for your thoughts! I hope to update with a follow-up in the next few weeks.

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