Webster defines a utopia as either a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions or an impractical scheme for social improvement. A dystopia, oversimplified to the extreme is a failed Utopia.
The mix of dystopian characteristics with other genres, such as, science fiction, romance, apocalypse, young adult, or any other do not work to diminish it as a genre. Each of these subgenres instead acts to expand dystopian characteristics. In the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, we look at the evolution of Utopian literature. The definition throughout it’s beginning with Thomas’s “No Place” has expanded to our perfect, advanced, futuristic society with unknown faults.
That being said, it is very easy to confuse dystopian literature with science fiction. They share some key characteristics: overly powerful governments, awesome technology, and the tendency to take place in the future. The constant overlap does not merge them into one genre however. Most dystopian novels may be science fiction but not every science fiction book is utopian.
Typically, in a Young Adult dystopian novel, we are introduced to a hero or heroine who is chaffing against the constraints of their too-strict , but otherwise ideal society. After their coming of age and joining the ranks of the society they live in, the protagonist then discovers some dark secret that makes them realize that their Utopia is in fact a dystopia and somehow they bring about it’s destruction.
The success of the YA dystopian genre can be attributed to it’s target group of 12-24. This is the group that identifies most with the want of rebellion. We emphasize with the lack of control the characters feel in their strict societies and when the protagonist takes the chance to rebel against their oppressors, we are empowered through. The message is sent to us that we, as young adults, can make the change we want in the world. This is especially important because we will be the architects of the future. This holds with the trend of Utopian writing being a warning.
The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.