The term dystopia is a derivation neologism, meaning that it evolved as a variation of another word used to name a newly synthesized concept or idea (Claeys 23). Dystopias were originally created to contrast the pre-existing concept of utopia, a term coined by Thomas More that alluded to an imaginary paradise-like place that focused on non-existent social organization that is better than reality (Claeys 20). The concept of dystopia rejects that utopias can exist, discarding any possibility of mankind achieving perfect equality, stability, and peace. However, analyses of different dystopias result in various interpretations of what a dystopia can be. Many literary dystopias have very obvious negative connotations, but others may have only underlying implications of dystopian elements. Personally, I define dystopia as any place or state that reflects an unpleasant social, political, or economic tension in the way the society is structured. Dystopias may also critique contemporary societies by hiding underlying messages about current issues and events, possibly implying fault in how modern society is structured. Dystopias do not have to be a society that is completely overtaken by misery, oppression, totalitarianism, and dehumanization; they are often simply a society that highlights a few aspects of the common dystopian definition.
In addition, combining dystopia with other literary genres often opens up a new level of depth to interpretation and analysis. Dystopian scientific fiction, for example, exploits possible faults in technological advancement and scientific discovery. As a rapidly evolving civilization, innovative research is always encouraged, yet commonly feared. Dystopian sci-fi literature often embodies this fear, illustrating scientific discovery that goes wrong, with technology dehumanizing civilization. Therefore, dystopias don’t only critique current society, but they also predict future conflict between ethical morality and scientific discovery, altering the definition of dystopia itself.
The dystopian genre can also be changed when comparing adult dystopias and young adult dystopias. Young adult literature uses simpler diction and relatable examples, often alluding to parental restrictions, fleeting romances, teenage hardships, and developing a unique identity. Incorporating the concept of dystopia into a genre for teens alters the way the message is told. For example, in Brave New World, an adult dystopian novel, science molds a perfect society through a totalitarian societal structure and a caste system that eliminates class mobility. This is illustrated through the normalization of sex, the use of in vitro fertilization to control genetics, and psychological conditioning (Huxley, 1-18). On the other hand, in The Hunger Games, a young adult dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins, governmental and societal issues are portrayed through heartbreaking romance, clique-like friend groups, and young characters that are relatable to the audience, such as the teenage heroine, the heart-throb love interest, and the nostalgic friend back at home. Both of these novels exemplify dystopias and a critique of modern society, but in two completely different ways, leading to various interpretations and analyses of the intended message.
Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Chatto & Windus, 1932.