Just as the United States’ Constitution is referred to as a “living document”, I believe the English Dictionary can be placed in the same regard, since awareness of the meaning of a word can adapt and develop due to a plethora of factors, such as expansion of knowledge, historical events, technological advancement, etc. This is especially true when pertaining to the word “Utopia”. Originally, Thomas More constructed this neologism to represent a place that is no place, a desired end that is unattainable, a dream that cannot exist; however, this paradoxical, vague definition sparked contention and controversy over what constituted a utopia. Was it all up to the interpretation of the reader? Or are there certain elements required? Over time, literary philosophers, as they do, continued to throw in their perspective on the definition, developing more and more criteria and signs that indicated a utopia. These philosophers were aiming to construct boundaries for this term, but in my opinion, the opposite actually occurred. They facilitated the use of the word in a generic, household setting, as the criteria and signs applied to a multitude of works and societies. Today, as shown below, dictionary.com defines the word Utopia simply as “an ideal place or state”. Then, could simple daydreams and wandering imaginations be referred to as utopian thought?
In my opinion, Utopia is a term that cannot be strictly defined, rather it applies to any work of literature or thought provoking introspection in the reader or thinker. By that, I mean it initiates reflection of current societal practices and organizations as well as what could be improved or scrapped altogether in the future. Essentially, it is a process with an end goal of constructing a better world. However, it is important to note that this “better world” is highly subjective, depending on each individual’s mindset in regard to the world around them. For example, as portrayed by the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, there are a plethora of works classified as utopias, regardless to the subject matter or particular aspect of society each are addressing. There may be “primitivist and nostalgic utopias, sentimental individualist utopias, voyage utopias, satires, anti-utopias”, and more, depending on the society that the author is a part of (Claeys 51). Due to this, Utopia is an extremely malleable, adaptable term, not limited by one definition or set of expectations, but able to be molded into the time and audience for which it is written. Then,Utopian literature will always present itself as relevant, as it is at it’s core a medium through which beliefs, hopes, dreams, and guidelines can be expressed and developed upon, independent of the factors influencing their creation.
In response to this versatility of the concept of Utopia, Utopian literature and thought is commonly mixed with other genres of literature, including sci-fi, romance, etc, as the author so desires. To me, this acts as a tactic to tailor their critiques and comments to particular audiences, ensuring that the point they are trying to instill resonates with their readers. Recently, Utopian literature has taken a turn towards the Young Adult genre, modifying itself to apply to this age group. Therefore, Utopia is still its own separate genre, but it does blend with other genres in order to solidify its commentary.
Claeys, Gregory. “The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” The Cambridge
Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
“Utopia”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 21 Jan. 2017.