I believe that similar to how science fiction is defined in the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, there is no entirely true or correct definition of a utopia or dystopia¹. Although there are common ways to define utopia, such as “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions”², each individual defines “perfection” of such aspects of life differently. Alternately, a dystopia is commonly defined as, “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives”³. Is it possible for these two definitions to be referring to the same society? Since the words “ideal”, “perfection” and even “people” are up to the reader’s (or writer’s) own interpretation, I believe that this is absolutely possible. For example, one person’s utopia could be a society in which he/she is a dictator and all around him/her are servants that make the author’s life better. When viewed from the dictator’s perspective, this is utopia; an ideal situation in which all aspects of life are in his/her favor. However, for everyone else, this could be considered dystopia, as they suffer under servitude and fear of their dictator.
Personally, I don’t have all too much experience with young adult dystopian literature, or at least I haven’t since about my freshman year of high school. When I imagine a dystopia from my own perspective, the image that pops into my head is one with bleak weather, torn down infrastructure and an oppressed society typically ruled by a grueling dictator, as portrayed in this photo here:
Figure 1 – A screenshot from the movie Children of Men, in which mankind in the near future is infertile and the UK is a police state.⁴
I believe that science fiction has actually played a big role in my experience with dystopias. I almost always associate a dystopian society with the future, in which technology has either taken over on its own or been used to ruin the world. The only dystopia I know that has a somewhat conflicting relationship with technology and my own idea of a dystopia is actually The Hunger Games. This is because this novel takes place in a society with far more advanced technology ranging from larger airships to holographic technologies, yet they resort to classical (or what could be considered even ancient) warfare during the games. What makes a dystopia “young adult,” however, seems more straightforward to me, as the ones I’ve read seem to point more towards a thrilling and imaginary tale rather than the analysis and exaggeration of an innate problem with our current society. Although these problems could still be drawn from the storyline, they are not quite as obviously related to our lives as readers. Examples of this include The Hunger Games series and the I Am Number Four series, the latter of which revolves around the inhabitation of Earth by ten foreign beings who wish to destroy the species that destroyed their own planet.
1. Claeys, Gregory, editor. “Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian
Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2010, pp. 135–150.
2. “Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia.
3. “Dystopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.
4. “Bleak Future – 12 of the Best Dystopian Sci-Fi Movies.” Imgur, 28 Oct. 2014,