A dystopia is defined as “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” The term originated from the word “utopia” which first appeared in a work by Sir Thomas More in 1516. This general genre of writing has been implemented in a variety of different ways, though it often is presented in a sci-fi or post-apocalyptic setting. By the definition, you would view such a world in a negative light, however that’s not necessarily the case. While this may be true in a show like The Walking Dead, where no one remains unaffected by the zombie outbreak, there are cases where a dystopia can be also considered as a utopia. The Giver by Lois Lowry is such a novel where this ‘selective dystopia’ is present. The society itself is presented as utopian, where the citizens live without even the memory of hunger, war, sickness, etc by submitting to very strict regulations by the government and having a single individual bear the burden of negative memories. This begs the question – is a utopian if those living in it is unaware of the dystopian aspects?
Young adult literature is made to be consumed by an individual going through a possibly troubled or confusing time in their life as they make the transition out of childhood. YA dystopias often feature individuals similar to ourselves, allowing us to connect to them as they undergo a turning point in their life. The Giver is once again the first novel that comes to mind, as we read about Jonas make the same transition from his utopian childhood to understanding the underlying dystopia in which he lives. A secondary aspect of YA dystopias is that the main character often goes about trying to change or escape the dystopia that they enter into. This could be viewed as an appeal to the minds of the intended audience to not simply accept the world around them, as so many less important characters in the novels appear to do. It encourages them to take control of their lives, and strive to make a change rather than being just another sheep in the flock. Such novels also maintain a sense of ‘light in the darkness’ – no matter how bad the situation is, there is a ray of hope to cling to, perhaps another indication to us readers that no situation is ever truly hopeless. All in all, YA dystopian novels appear to nurture young minds and prepare us for one of the hardest and most drastic transitional periods of our lives.
“Dystopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia
“The Giver” Sparknotes, Sparknotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/giver/context.html