The terms ‘utopia’, and especially in the past few years, ‘dystopia’, have been come almost buzzwords of American literary culture due to the genre’s sudden popularity in young adult (YA) fiction and the global success of The Hunger Games series. However, by no means are utopias and dystopias a modern age phenomenon. Man has always been fascinated by reaching an ideal state or community. Utopias date back to ancient Greece and Plato’s “Republic” and his philosophical discourse on how he envisioned the ideal society would run, but by no means did Plato refer to it as an “utopia” because the word was not coined until 1516 when Thomas Moore wrote Utopia. The word utopia is Greek, stands for “non-place” and hints at the reality that the perfect society or state of government cannot be achieved. Throughout history, authors saw this as a basis for utilizing Utopian Literature as satires for criticizing contemporary society and bureaucratic struggles. Just as a man’s heart reflects his life, so is utopian literature used to reflect the essence of society.
A utopian story was considered to be a ‘dystopia’ if readers were meant to perceive the described society as inherently much worse than the one that they were living in. Author’s utilized Dystopian Literature as forewarnings of the dangerous direction society is headed in, and the times to come. Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are as Gregory Claeys put it, warnings of “the quasi-omnipotence of a monolithic, totalitarian state demanding and normally exacting complete obedience from its citizens… relying upon scientific and technological advances to ensure social control (Claeys 109).
The heavy influence and almost saturation of the modern day YA Fiction genre by dystopian works is vital to understanding the authorial critiques of today’s culture. The best way to teach someone something new is when they are young. The adolescent stage is an important stage of one’s life because that is when they become aware of the dangers, joys, successes, and short comings of contemporary society. They are able to formulate their own opinions about right and wrong, and what should be done about the challenges our society faces each day.
If authors want to see change, or leave society in good hands when they pass, then gearing their satirical works toward the post millennial generation is the prefect strategy. As their readers grow up to become the next politicians, public figures, and business leaders of the world, the themes they read about, and characters they looked up to, will still be playing in the backs of their minds and will influence the decisions they make, which will have lasting ramifications for years to come. And honestly, in an egocentric, consumeristic, and secular culture, may the odds be ever in our favor.
Claeys, Gregory, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge, 2010.