Dystopia. A perfect world with an imperfection. The societies living in most dystopias are aware that their world is imperfect, however it is beyond their control to fix it. A common dystopian storyline proceeds like this: world heading towards perfection gets disrupted by big event(war, Armageddon, the Earth running out of resources, etc.) only to overcome said event through a skewed ruling system. This fragile and rigid ruling system is then challenged by the protagonist, who often attempts to overthrow it by becoming a voice for the oppressed society. While a very broad and general outline of what dystopian literature is, this analysis sheds light on what sets it apart from other genres. The concept of an imperfect society is key to a dystopia, so a book featuring such a society must be dystopian, right?
Well not really. See this definition of dystopia starts to break down when the author creates a world beyond this imperfect society. Let me clarify. In a fictional world where the Earth is perfectly normal except for a post-apocalyptic United States, is someone living in Italy, living in a dystopia? Surely, this war doesn’t affect them, so is a book detailing their daily lives dystopian? What about a sci-fi novel set in space where a couple of the planets are run as dystopian society? Why would this be classified as dystopian? Well it shouldn’t be. A dystopian novel disregards what is happening outside of it’s society, because it isn’t important. In the Hunger Games, the reader isn’t told what is happening in the rest of the world. It is assumed that there is no life outside of the capitol-district system. In the end, this is what defines a dystopian novel to me. A dystopian world, and a story pertaining only to that world. However, this makes it easy for genre’s to overlap dystopian literature.
A similar overlap happened between adult dystopias and children’s literature. The fusion of those two created YA dystopias. The politics is usually subliminal in these worlds. For example, the the tension between the districts and the Capitol is a secondary theme, hidden behind the shocking premise of children murdering each other. This makes it easier for younger audiences to enjoy these works, while still capturing the attention of older readers. This has shifted the dystopian genre to where a larger message/political critique is hidden behind a simpler, bigger problem.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.