To me, dystopia is simply the failure of utopia. I believe that, in literature, a dystopia doesn’t just “exist”, it slowly forms out of the degradation of what was once considered a utopia. Examples of this are Panem in The Hunger Games, the Community in The Giver, and even the island in Lord of the Flies. They all become dystopias in different ways, but all were, at one point, considered utopias.
Panem is described as the futuristic government region that grew out of the ashes of North America. In Panem, citizens are split up into different Districts, each responsible for providing a specific product to the government, the Capitol. There is also new technology, such as cool hovercrafts and super fast trains. While this seems organized and ideal, the districts end up feeling belittled by the Capitol and get sick of constantly feeling as if they’re working only for the rich residents there. This causes the uprising that prefaces the Games themselves.
In The Giver, an “idealistic” community is created where there is little to no human emotion or creativity. The citizens there don’t feel love or sadness, and there is no color. Every citizen is assigned a family and a job. The absence of what I like to call “human variation” makes citizens easy to control and allows for equal distribution of resources, which seems like the solution to most problems I see in the world today. However, the main character Jonas gets a taste of emotion, color, and “true life” (as we know it today) and can never go back to accepting his uniform and bland community. So he leaves to search for a freer world, and it is implied he comes back to “rescue” his family and friends. Here, a utopia doesn’t necessarily “fall” within the pages of the book; but nevertheless a utopia turns into a dystopia, this time through the eyes of a citizen.
In Lord of the Flies, school-age boys are plane-wrecked on an abandoned island. While this may seem like a horror story to some, to the boys this a dream come true. No schoolwork, no nagging parents: just absolute freedom to goof and run around. However, the perils of Mother Nature quickly comes into play and some of the boys realize they would rather be home. The novel soon turns into an ongoing argument between two groups of boys: is this island a utopia or a dystopia? Do they want to rule their new land or be recused?
In each of these novels, a seemingly ideal place (at least to the characters within the story) becomes dangerous or unwelcoming. I believe that the overall message of the dystopian genre is to be careful in the search for perfection: it can come at a cost.