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The definition of dystopia is quite complex and it is often confused with those of utopia, science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and several others. One online definition is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” This is a very negative view of a place. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society and the citizens do not know what the world is like outside of their society. There is constant surveillance, and the citizens are to conform to uniform expectations where individuality is frowned upon.

While dystopias and utopias are complete opposite, the perspective taken on a society can change whether something is categorized as a dystopia or a utopia. A utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” For the ruler or government in charge of the place, the society can seem like a perfect and ideal place, a utopia. The citizens, on the other hand can be poor, miserable, and living a harsh life and view their society as a dystopia.

Dystopias are often confused with other genres. One big misunderstanding is that dystopias and science fiction are often confused with one another. In many dystopian societies there is advanced scientific technology and they are usually set in the future so it is easily confused as being a work of science fiction. Even in my experience with the dystopias that I have read, including The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series, they all included some kind of science fiction aspect.

Dystopias are often combined with the YA genre, which creates a more relatable storyline, since it does not limit the audience to a certain age group. YA novels usually include a protagonist in their age range who experiences similar things that a young adult would, including first love, family relations, and competitions. Older people can also relate to these stories, since they were young at one point in their lives. YA dystopia makes the problems relatable to a large audience in an easy to read format for everyone to enjoy.

“Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia.
“Dystopia.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dystopia.
“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006, http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf.

From my perspective, a utopia is a setting where everyone is equal. A place where everything is “perfect.” When I was younger, I used to be excited thinking that this was achievable. However, as I started growing up, each story I read about a utopia had one thing in common; they never worked out. For example, in the book The Giver, Everything started off well, but at the end the perfect society failed. Additionally, in a utopia, someone has to be in control. There has to be a leader or an oligarchy that is behind the scenes to make sure everyone is in their right place. Also, they have to control what the people know to make sure that one person is not smarter than the next. The moment that happens, whoever is in control automatically, makes him/herself better off than the population which makes the utopia “not perfect.” For example, in the movie The Divergent, everyone was equal, but there was a government that made sure there were rules and that the people abided by it. Consequently, just like The Giver, The society failed.

Generally, I like when the idea of a Utopia is combined with action, because it often physically depicts how the people will rebel against the government. Action has always been one of my favorite genres, so adding the utopian idea makes the whole concept that more interesting for me. As far as the Young Adult genre, it changes the way utopian societies are portrayed. As a young adult, I look for more a thrill when reading. So if I was an author, if I wanted to write a book about utopias for young adults, I would make it more fun and interesting to attract my audience. A book like The Hunger Games is a great example of a piece of literature that best fits a young adult.

How do you define dystopia (or other dystopia term: utopia, anti-utopia)? How does combining dystopia with another genre (sci-fi, romance, apocalypse) affect your definition? How does combining dystopia with Young Adult literature (YA) change the genre? You may use examples from class books or your own research book and to take our class discussion in an original or more in-depth direction.

 

There are two basic words I would use to characterize a dystopia: futuristic and bad. This is just a surface-level definition, but to me, dystopias take place in a future worse than our present times, and almost all feature an oppressive/tyrannical government. It is linguistically the opposite of a utopia, which the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines as an, “imaginary paradisiacal places, it has also been used to refer to a particular kind of narrative, which became known as utopian literature” (Claeys 4). But, while the setting of the books mostly follow the guidelines I have illustrated above, dystopias often have the theme of revolution and hope in overcoming seemingly impossible odds. In the Hunger Games movie, we hear President Snow remark that, “Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear.” Similarly, this is very strongly the main theme in my other favorite dystopian series, as a character remarks, “I will put my trust in hope once more, and perhaps this time, it will be enough” (Kagawa 335).

However, The Immortal Rules might be categorized in the post-apocalyptic genre along with dystopian. While these don’t have to be mutually exclusive (see: The Hunger Games), not all books that take place after an apocalypse are necessarily dystopian. The Immortal Rules takes place after a devastating plague eradicates much of humanity and, after mutating, turns the rest of its victims into mad, rabid vampires. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity mostly lives in cities ruled by non-rabid vampires who require tithes of blood in exchange for the scarce food left in the world, and they will take your blood even if you are on death’s door. They rule with an iron fist. The Lunar Chronicles is a sci-fi series that takes place in a less ravaged future, but it is on the brink of dystopia as a plague has arisen in the population. When these books deviate more from the dystopia genre (i.e. The Lunar Chronicles) it may lose some of those themes of oppression and hope to overcome.

Young adult is a genre full of tropes. Examples include the best friend group against the world, insta-love, The Chosen One, the speshul snowflake, the Mary Sue, and, of course, the much reviled and yet omnipresent love triangle. Of course, not every book has all of these (and a rare few have none!), but a YA book will have at least one. If an author chooses to write a YA dystopia, he or she faces an uphill battle in the fight to be recognized as a genuine, profound author, because many view YA literature as a trope-filled, unnecessarily light genre only able to be consumed by airheaded teens (maybe a bit dramatic, but as a YA lover, I’m frustrated). Making the protagonist a teenager also oftentimes requires the author to put their characters on a journey of self-discovery as they come of age.

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(After finding so many funny YA dystopia memes, I do believe I will post one with all of my blogs)

 

Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson, Lionsgate, 2012.

Kagawa, Julie. The Eternity Cure. Ontario: Harlequin Teen, 2013. Print.

 

Utopia, the ultimate society, and the impossible dream.

Dystopia, the harsh reality, and the inevitable outcome.

The origins for these terms go all the way back to the 1500s when Sir Thomas More wrote a book entitled Utopia, and as time went on, the concepts of utopian societies and its opposite, dystopian societies,  were found more commonly in the written world. Specifically in the past few decades, a relatively new genre has surfaced: Young Adult Dystopian Novels. A typical book in this genre will involve an attempt at creating a utopian society only to have it fall apart with the underlying reason being humanity’s own failings. This genre is centered around the idea that utopian societies are not in fact utopian but instead dystopian.

A great example of this genre is shown in the book series The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. In these books, the people of the Capitol are shown to be living the perfect life, the utopian life, whereas everyone else in the nation of Panem, specifically those living in the 12 districts, see life as a dystopia. The concept of attempting to create a utopia is clearly present in the novel; however, the society’s own faults end up leading to its downfall. Because of the oppression of the districts, the unfair treatment the districts receive, and the harsh punishment for an outdated crime, the districts unite against the Capitol to overthrow the society which they see as a means to end the dystopia that they are living in under the Capitol’s rule.

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In reading many dystopian novels including The Hunger Games, I have come to the conclusion that most if not all dystopian novels have roots in both history and society today. Many dystopian novels address inequalities based on who you are and where you were born, or serve as a warning to those who have obtained power through unjust means and use it for unlawful purposes.

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The genre of YA Dystopian novels in particular seems to be a means of educating the youth of today on the proper ethics of society without directly stating what is right or what is wrong, but instead relating experiences from their own lives (from what they’ve seen or heard) to what they have read and to apply it to their lives as they grow older and become a functioning part of society.

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This concept might not be the main reason people enjoy reading dystopian literature, but it could have contributed to the recent explosion of YA Dystopian Literature as a genre, and hopefully to a society that is closer to a true utopia in the future.

Images:

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The word “Utopia” to me means celestial, ideal and or means an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect . So, dystopia to me means an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad. Dystopia can be used in different ways and in different genres. In romance dystopias, the definition could mean once true love turning into sudden tragedies, or even into heartbreakers. Batman Forever and The Maze Runner are the first books that come to mind because both of the books talk on how one of the main characters are searching for “the truth” and “lost loved ones” that were taking from them and how they try to get back to their “celestial” lifestyle they had before being brought into a new lifestyle of displacement. As for apocalypse dystopias, that could mean life threatening and or world-ending incidents in a terrible place. The easiest apocalyptic dystopia that comes to mind is the movie 2012. This movie was the perfect example of apocalyptic dystopian literature because it starts out as a regular sunny day, then the world comes to an end with natural disaster, killing millions of people unexpectedly and at the end thousands of people find security on traveling boats and they look for new settling areas. The combination of dystopia and young adult literature can alter the genre by having action, horror, or suspense. The most common altered dystopian action, the violence and pinnacles of the reading manipulates the reader’s perception of the dystopian by giving subplots with the protagonist that catches the reader’s eye, for instance, chases, fights, battles, and races. Horror dystopian readings alter the genre, but not as much as action dystopias because dystopias are unpleasant and horror is scary and mainly gruesome which makes the dystopian more unpleasant and terrifying.

Whenever I used to hear the word “dystopia”, my first thought was of The Hunger Games. Of course The Hunger Games is not the definition of a dystopia, but the novel combines many of the elements of what I would consider a dystopia. The majority of the people in Panem are living in what we today would consider an absolute nightmare. The living conditions are miserable, they lack basic needs, and lack the will to be independent and free-thinking individuals, and instead are forced to conform to the society, often in fear for their lives. The government that controls them would be the definition of corruption, as they feed off this never-ending fear from the citizens.  This exemplifies much of what a dystopia is: a society filled with unfavorable living conditions, governmental corruption, and an overwhelming sense of fear. Though the country of Panem may seem to be a dystopia to its citizens, others, particularly those in power, could think of it as their utopia, indicating one’s idea of a dystopia may differ from person to person.

 

Combining a dystopia with another genre such as sci-fi does not really change the fundamentals of dystopias in my definition, but rather expands the definition into new territory. For me, a dystopia does not necessarily have to involve science fiction, but often does, and when it does the circumstances of the society simply become more fascinating. People often misidentify one genre as the other, but there is a clear distinction between the two. Sci-fi does not necessarily include the chaos and corruption found in dystopias, but rather includes the scientific advancements that seem impossible and unimaginable in today’s society. Dystopian societies and governments that incorporate these scientific and technological advancements often seem to misuse them in order to maintain their control of the population, as in The Hunger Games.

 

Young adult literature generally has a target audience of 12-18, and I believe this younger audience generally needs something else to get them interested in reading a novel more than just a corrupt futuristic society. For this reason, the majority of the YA dystopian novels I am familiar with have young protagonists themselves, in order to appeal to this audience. For example, when I first read the Hunger Games, I, only a few years younger at the time, could relate to Katniss and her experience as a young adult. I was intrigued to see how someone my own age would navigate through the corruption and disorder of a dystopia while still facing struggles common in all teenagers.

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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.

 

Works Cited-

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.

 

 

I always felt like I knew what utopia and dystopia meant and didn’t put much thought into either of them. However, after CCUL readings and class discussions I have come to realize the depths behind the words. While utopia describes an ideally perfect society, dystopia presents us with a broken social atmosphere where the government paints this seemingly perfect view of society through oppressive control; however both of them make a criticism of a current social system, political tendencies or trends. We live in a world where the analysis of societal norms is not a foreign concept, and our trending YA literature is apparently shifting towards dystopian novels.

While dystopian novels may range from science-fiction, horror, fantasy, post-apocalypse…; there are many elements that are common in the majority of examples of this genre that should not be overlooked:

  • Propaganda is a very iconic feature of dystopian literature. Advertisements, pamphlets, television, posters, flyers… they are specifically design to control society while depicting this utopian society.
  • It is not surprising to read about citizens who have been stripped of their freedom, independent thinking and access to information. We usually encounter with descriptions of characters who are under constant surveillance and cannot exercise their free will, having to conform to a government-set uniformity.

  • Natural environment seems to have reached a point of near destruction and is scarce. Many dystopian novels set their plots in futuristic scenery with barely any greens.
  • It is also worth mentioning the fact that control is not only exercised by the government (The Hunger Games), but sometimes corporations (The Maze Runner) and even technology (The Matrix).
  • The main character prototype of this genre tends to be an individual who questions authority and the existing regimes that are oppressing society. The protagonist is someone who tend to realize the negative aspects of their dystopian society. It is not uncommon to find novels where the population is drugged or brainwashed to the point they do not understand the reality of their situation and it is often the main character the one who wakes up from this state due to diverse reasons.

In my opinion, the combination of dystopia with another genre definitively means a shift in the topics covered and how the plot unfolds, adjusting literature towards these other subgenres. I however do not believe they immensely change the definition because its basic traits continue to be present, mildly affected, but still there and creating the atmosphere previously discussed. Combining dystopia with YA literature probably means adjusting the context to a younger audience and making sure the reading is appealing to the younger generations that are picking up the book. One can notice the trends in slightly younger protagonists and the frequent apparition of young romance that tend to attract the public they are targeted at.

So, why is it that such a perfect word describes such an imperfect reality?

The “formal” definition of a dystopia according to Merriam-Webster, is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Although this is correct, perhaps a better way to look at a dystopia is the opposite of what one would include in a utopia, which is why the definition of dystopia is open to interpretation.

“Utopia,” written by Thomas More dating back to 1516, created the ideal society of perfection–for the year 1516. Over time, our values and policies have changed, and with it, what we view as an “ideal” society. In fact, with this change in ideologies came the existence of the “dystopia,” and as such, authors utilize the concept of dystopian society to express their personal views on the worst version of society and humanity.

Although classic dystopian novels do exist (e.g.  Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, etc.), most modern day novels are written in the young adult genre. A simple Google search of “young adult dystopian novels” will yield 33 different titles, all written within the past decade.  In modern times, dystopian novels seem to reflect the fears that the current generation may anticipate for the future–hunger, depression, end of the world, etc.–so most current dystopian novels are written in the young adult genre to reflect growing concern and appeal to the audience that would relate to it the most. Furthermore, combining dystopian literature with young adult content allows for a larger fanbase of young adults that can take their appreciation with them as their generation grows older.

Most dystopian novels have another genre combined with them–horror, sci-fi, romance, apocalypse–that allow for an appeal to a certain audience. Some readers enjoy romance, so having a dystopian world where everything goes to hell except for the love of a couple is appealing and appreciated. For example, the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins holds many themes, but the overarching characteristic of it is the love between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, and we follow their ups and downs as lovers which seems to be the only aspect of the dystopian society that remains consistent. Other genres combined with dystopias allow for the double-appeal to young adult readers: 1) the appeal to a generation with fears of a dystopian world, and 2) the appeal to fans of other, more specific book varieties. In general, the success of a dystopian novel rides on its ability to appeal to the audience it was intended for.

 

 

Definition of a Dystopia: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

From reading The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature and participating in in-class discussions, I have determined that a dystopia can be simply defined as the downfall of a utopia. More complexly defined, they typically embody the idea of a controlling government gone wrong-often times emphasizing the usage of propaganda to brainwash people. Going along with the idea of a utopia, a dystopia is a seemingly unattainable place on the opposite end of the spectrum. Often times, the people of dystopias are convinced that their lives are indeed perfect.

When combined with another genre, the background of the dystopia is often explained. In other words, the addition of concepts from the genre usually help to unveil the origin of the society. For example, Huxley’s Brave New World uses science-fiction concepts to highlight what will ultimately result from man becoming overly invested in technology. Simply put, it presents technology as a buffer that disables man from feeling emotion. Overall, it serves as a warning sign to future generations to come as well, letting them know how government-regulated technology is capable of degrading a society.

Combining dystopia with Young Adult literature enhances the genre by making it more applicable to the audience that will most benefit from it. People tend to learn the best at a young age. Therefore, making dystopian literature relatable to this age group gives them a glimpse at what their futures may hold if they allow unregulated technological advancements to take hold. Moreover, making young people aware of this possibility has proven to be more effective than trying to sway the older population. Elders in any society typically have already developed their own opinions over time, especially in terms of government and politics. Consequently, they are much less likely to change these long-standing opinions.

Ultimately, making millennials want to care about a pressing issue is the key to preventing its occurrence. After all, the youth of today eventually will be the bosses, politicians, and leaders that society will be looking up to for guidance. In addition to being a form of entertainment, Young Adult Dystopian Fiction serves a vital role in preparing young people for the future.

Citations
http://www.animatedimages.org/cat-warning-703.htm
http://snailonthewall.com/tag/brave-new-world/