Independence in America is closely related to an image of the United States and its history of becoming a country. Independence can be used to refer to a nation’s freedom from another power, but it can also be more individual in its use. The OED gives several definitions to define the different usages: freedom from subjection, or from the influence of others and exemption from external control or support. The OED also says independence is used “rarely in [a] bad sense.”[1]


The word independence comes from the prefix “in” and the root “depend.” The prefix “in” is derived from Latin and means not, without, or lacking.[2]“Depend” originated in late Middle English. The meaning comes from the Latin word “dependere.” “De” meaning down and “pendere” meaning to hang.[3]Thus the very literal origins of independence indicate something that does not hang upon something else.

Changes in Usage

In our American society the ability to provide for oneself is a hallmark of independence. At the age of 18 many American young adults are expected to take on new responsibilities. They may move away to college or enter the full-time work force. This marks the beginning of their financial independence. As they age, graduate, and find a career true financial independence begins. Young adults assume a new independence when they are no longer dependent on their parents.

Culturally social independence seems to be largely based on the ability to choose for yourself. A young adult is considered socially independent when they can make their own decisions. Social independence also refers to the young adult making decisions on their stance on the social issues, for example, same gender attraction, voting, abortion, and religion.

“Shaffer (2009) notes that one of the most important developmental tasks for adolescence is the development of autonomy, in which perceived control plays a vital role. Autonomy may be defined as the capacity to make decisions and manage life tasks without being overly dependent on other people.” Giving children more opportunities to be independent was determined give children the ability to mature quicker and have more confidence. [4]

Independence in literature, especially that of Young Adult, allows young adults to see the ways to deal with independence and see they are not alone in the worries that come from beginning to enter into the “real world.”

Examples in Dystopian Young Adult Literature

Independence in Young Adult Literature is mostly evident in the dystopian genre where the main character seeks to gain independence from society as well as finding their own place in a new world. The main character takes their own experiences and others rally around the main character to achieve or seek independence from a government or society. The main character has the role of leading the rebellion which is usually forced upon them by those that rally around them. Independence in dystopian Young Adult Literature shows the strength of an individual versus the rest of society.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Thomas wakes up in a strange place where the only thing he remembers is his name. He is welcomed to the Glade where other teenage boys live. No one remembers anything but their names or why they were sent to the Glade. The Glade is surrounded by a maze and the boys have been trying to solve it for two years before Thomas gets there. The day after Thomas gets there the first girl arrives and things begin to change with her arrival. Independence is the goal of the novel. The boys of the Glade want to escape the Glade and find out they have been put there by scientists. The boys want to gain their independence from the Maze and get their memories back. Thomas and the boys of the Glade discover that independence comes at a cost, but the desire to have their memories and know more about their identity is worth more than the cost.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: Tris is a fiercely independent protagonist. In a world where forced to choose where to belong Tris declares her independence and leaves her family. She chooses to be on her own. In her new surroundings Tris continues to become more independent as she grows in both physical and mental strength.

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder: Trella lives in a society where social status is determined not only by your family but also by which level of the compound you live on. The Uppers are those who live on the upper levels and would be considered the rich in that they get more space to live in. The scrubs live on the lower levels and are the ones who do the more dirty jobs, like cleaning the pipes, keeping the sewage clean, etc. Trella is a scrub who cleans the pipes and keeps to herself. Independence is established through the eventual rebellion against the Pop Caps (the police force of the compound) to get better living conditions for everyone. Trella also discovers who she really is besides just being a scrub and becomes independent of her social status and the biases that are formed from being segregated from the other people living on the compound. By gaining knowledge and experience Trella is able to become an independent individual rather than depending on the way she was raised.

Works Cited

  1. Jump up “Independence.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: 2015
  2. Jump up “In.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: 2015
  3. Jump up “Depend.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: 2015.
  4. Jump up Weinkauff, Chris M. and Kim Wampler. “Adolescence and Autonomy: Hanging Out Has Its Benefits.”American Psychological Association 2010 Convention Presentation.