Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Veronica  Roth

Kathleen  Doogan 

The Flaws in Margaret Mead’s Samoan Fieldwork

The Impact of Human Connection on Personal Development in Veronica Roth’s Novels

In Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the central characters, Tris and Tobias, participate in a cultural revolution triggered by the people’s dissatisfaction with the governing system, while also undergoing their own personal evolution. The story takes place in futuristic Chicago, where a dystopian system of “factions” determines not only where individuals live, but also what character traits they aspire to. The factions are called Candor, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless, and anyone who does not pass initiation into a faction is then a social pariah for life -- a member of the “factionless.” Rather than adhering to the rules of the faction system, Tris and Tobias break free from it, facing struggle after struggle until they have made the transformation from nervous bystanders to courageous and self-sacrificing leaders. Tris and Tobias ultimately fall in love, and their relationship encourages each of them to explore who they are on their own, rather than as members of a particular faction.

Just as the characters in the Divergent trilogy fought valiantly for the freedom that remained just out of their grasp, Margaret Mead’s own abhorrence of the pressures from American male-dominated society and its lack of female influence was evident in her research and writings. Mead, a famous cultural anthropologist in the twentieth century who journeyed to many islands in the South Pacific, attempted to deepen Americans’ understanding by introducing them to primitive cultures. Through her research on peoples like the Arapesh and the Tchambuli, Mead portrayed life in the South Pacific using her own biased vision of primitive culture and traditions. Many anthropologists criticized Mead’s work, charging that it was clouded by her personal distaste for the repressive lifestyle of Americans. Mead’s upbringing was unconventional; she reflected in her autobiography that she had somehow missed out on living the average girl’s American life. Mead moved around the country as her father pursued various teaching jobs and was homeschooled by her mother and grandmother. These factors may have influenced Mead’s research and especially her exaggeration of sexual license and her romanticizing of family relationships in South Pacific cultures.

Major Works Consulted:

Freeman, Derek. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. P., 1983.
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa. William Morrow & Co.,1928
Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.
---. Divergent. New York: Harper Collins, 2011.
Photo Credit: Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.