My definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is defined by the word’s history and roots. According to The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, the first use of the word, ‘dystopia’, dates back to the 1860s. It is in this era that ‘dystopia’ is distinguished as “the idea of utopia gone wrong” (Viera 16). The prefix “dys” derives from a Greek word dus, which “means bad, abnormal, diseased” and reverses the good nature in the meaning of the word, utopia (Viera 16). In literature, dystopias and utopias are both imagined places, which are too evil or pure to exist. I believe that the difference between dystopia and utopia in literature thus lies in the underlying mood. Fátima Viera says, a dystopian literature “predicts that things will turn out badly; it is thus essentially pessimistic in its presentation of projective images,” in contrast, utopian literature follows a more optimistic point-of-view (Viera 17). Furthermore, I believe the core of dystopian literature lies in the imperfection nature of the environment. Therefore, the “moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens” are imperfect elements (Viera 17). This idea is the reason why many scholars and I believe that a dystopia is an anti-utopia.
Through the introduction of sub-genres like science-fiction, romance or apocalypse, the definition of a dystopia doesn’t change drastically, rather the practice of dystopian literature changes from writer to writer. Each literary sub-genre when used in a dystopian novel strengthens a different core element of dystopian literature. For instance, Suzanne Collins utilizes romantic elements in her acclaimed dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. According to Fátima Viera, “…although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic…” (Viera 17). The romantic elements of Collin’s book humanize the main character Katniss Everdeen and through this allows her to become a moral character and symbol. For instance, when Katniss falls in love with Peeta during the Games, she begins to protect, trust, and care for him. It’s through moments like this that Katniss becomes the symbol for morality because it so vastly contradicts the actions and emotions of the other members of the Games and the Capitol people.
When geared toward young adults, dystopian literature can hold a much more powerful message. Gregory Claeys says, “‘Dystopia’ is often used […] to describe a fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies” (107). The youth of today hold the power to change the world tomorrow. Therefore, if literature geared toward them is social commentary on the world, it can be very impactful. As dystopias tend to point out the “fallacies” of the writer’s present, the literature is a call to action, a call for change (Claeys 107). By highlighting the wrongs of today in Young Adult literature, it can persuade a generation to change tomorrow.
Claeys, Gregory. ” The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 107. Print.
Vieira, Fátima. “The concept of utopia.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 16-17. Print.