All posts by Catherine Bailey

Throughout our class, we have been discussing many aspects of dystopia and its context in society, but one topic we keep returning to is the definition of dystopia. In the article “Christianity in Dystopia,” Peter Halabu dedicates a significant section to defining dystopia, and his conclusions are well-thought out and pertinent. He reflects many ideas we have discussed in class when defining a dystopia while also introducing some new interpretations. Similarly to my presentation, he identifies a five-point system towards defining a dystopia: “1) It is intended by the author to be a critique of his era’s sociopolitical climate; 2) It is set in a world recognizably our own, though in the future; 3) It follows a single individual protagonist or small group of individual protagonists, each of whom is a realistic, normal human being; 4) It is set in an ostensibly utopian (but actually dehumanizing) society, which has serious deficiencies caused by human drives and characteristics; 5) And it contains direct sociopolitical commentary inserted into the plotline,” all five of which he expands upon in greater detail in his paper (Halabu 9). Anyone aiming to supplement their definition of dystopia or find inspiration for other avenues to explore when defining it should absolutely check out this section in the paper.

While his section on defining a dystopia would be most useful for everyone in the course, Halabu’s main topic centers around the role of religion, Christianity specifically, in dystopian society. Halabu concludes that while most dystopias do not portray Christianity specifically, most “present dystopian societies in a deeply and consciously religious paradigm,” even if there is no outright god to worship (Halabu 2). Many contain a godlike figure around which the society revolves, priest-like figures that expound on the “morals” and divinity of this god and enforce its teachings, and the proliferation of sins and punishments. Therefore, some dystopias have Christian influence even if Christianity is not present outright. Although I am the only one that I know of specifically focusing on how religion is portrayed and used in dystopia, anyone who is researching what goes into creating a dystopian society would be remiss without including the role of religion since it is so important in our society now, and as Halabu asserts, “the message of a dystopian novel, however, is not so much to warn “that we must brace ourselves for a certain disaster” (18), but that if preventive measures are not taken in the present, today’s society is likely to turn into the novel’s future dystopia” (Halabu 3).

In order to support his thesis, Halabu explores the role of religion in seven dystopian books, 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, Player Piano, Farenheit 451, We, and The Handmaid’s Tale. This further validates his thesis that dystopian societies are, for the most part, inherently religious, by showing how each novel portrays a religiously oppressive society. His definition of dystopia is therefore relevant because by outlining the skeleton of a dystopian society, he can demonstrate how religion can go towards maintaining that control and oppression. One of the most pertinent points he displays this way is his assertion that “the god of any given dystopian society is (by my analysis) an embodiment of that society’s first principle, the goal or value which animates the society” because in his definition of dystopia, he posits that a dystopian society is a representation of a wrong the author sees in society now (Halabu 36).


POST 4: Describe your upcoming conference paper by giving the audience a small preview, or abstract, of your argument. Make sure to include the title of the paper and your main arguments; additionally, make an effort to hype up your paper by talking about its most interesting elements (perhaps a fascinating source, or the really strong argument you came up with.) Aim to persuade your classmates that your paper is one to look forward to hearing during our conference.


My paper is on the role of religion in dystopia. If I were watching me present this, I would be supremely unexcited about this- while religion is important, it is often boring in an academic context. However, I am really going to outline how dystopian and real governments exploit religion to gain control over its citizens. History is full of examples of how religion can be exploited to justify horrible atrocities.

I’ll be talking about North Korea, which is always fascinating. I mean, a nation where their leader is said to have written six operas in two years and 1500 books, hit eleven holes in one on his first time golfing, controlled the weather with his mind and caused a new star and a double rainbow when he was born is undoubtedly engrossing. (By the way, it’s probably only feasible to hit a hole-in-one on a few golf holes out of eighteen- it’s possible on par 3 holes, on which there are 5 AT MOST and only a couple of par 4 holes, but now I’m just getting picky). And the man who did this looks like this????

I mean, his neck rolls, his glasses, his liver spots, HIS TEETH (ew)…

And his son, whose picture you will probably see next to the definition of “pudgy” in the dictionary:

By the way, THIS is his picture on Wikipedia: that’s propaganda if I’ve ever seen one:

Anyhoo, I compare it to my independent reading novel, Perfect Ruin, which has a deeply religious regime ruling it. North Korea, while technically areligious, operates under the worship of their leader, with the people striving to emulate him. I highlight five points religious regimes use to control their citizens as such: deification of leaders, treating religious doctrine as fact, fear of outsiders, debt to the government, and silence of dissenters. By manipulating these factors, government gets an iron grip on its citizens and gives the citizens a justification of how their government is treating them. And when something so good and meaningful gets twisted into a way to suppress and abuse its citizens, it begs a further investigation.


By the way, I’m sorry I forgot to post this yesterday. I have two really stressful tests this week as well as that project yesterday, so I’ve been really busy and overwhelmed. Sorry!

POST 3: What interests you the most about dystopias (specifically the dystopia you have read independently)? Use this post as an opportunity to explore possible questions or avenues of inquiry for your own research project. At this stage, your ideas may only be as developed as “I think it is really cool/interesting that dystopias do XYZ” or “What I don’t understand about this book is…” Aim to articulate an open question related to your independent reading that you hope to be able to answer after weeks of research (and one that you don’t feel you can answer now). Consider this an informal research paper proposal.


While all dystopias take place in a near or distant future, what I find most interesting about some dystopias is the regression of society into a more primitive community. And I’m not talking about the 100 in the way that they have to survive a desolate environment using whatever resources they can find- that is a post-apocalyptic setting. For example, in my independent reading novel, Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano, everyone on the floating city of Internment has betrothed from the moment they are born. Arranged marriage is alive and well in their society, a practice that has been all but eliminated in countries like the United States, which is where we assume Internment came from when it was wrenched out of the ground and sent to the sky. Similarly, while women are never directly addressed as lesser than men, most of the women we do meet (besides our heroine and her best friend), are weaker, more fragile, and in charge of homemaking. While society gets more and more progressive with the passage of time for the most part (*cough*cough*), in some dystopias, the opposite becomes true. Since a fundamental component of the dystopian novel is a corrupt government, perhaps the author is trying to show that the regression of societal morals can come with a regression in societal structure.

Another aspect of dystopia I find rather interesting is the small measures of common brutality that take place and are considered normal. Instead of the Hunger Games- that is a large, pageant style event that celebrates mass fatalities-  I’m more concerned with things like the choosing ceremony in Divergent. They could just announce their faction and be done with it, but instead the teens have to cut their palms and pour their blood over the symbol of the faction. In Perfect Ruin, teens who are betrothed wear a wedding ring around their neck until their wedding ring. But this isn’t just any ordinary ring- it’s filled with the blood of their fiancée. Authors probably choose to do this to fully drive home the brutality of every aspect of the dystopian society. Every part of dystopian life is painful, and these small acts of violence are the way the government keeps its citizens in line.


And here’s a lovely dystopian meme for your troubles:

: How does media and/or propaganda function in dystopias? Choose one of the following:

  • Analyze a specific example of media or propaganda within one of the texts we have read (or your own). You might choose to create an accompanying visual or embed existing materials, fan art, or adaptations of the text that you found via Twitter or other Internet sources.

“Everything is brand new, I will be the first and only tribute to use this Launch Room. The arenas are historic sites, preserved after the Games. Popular destinations for Capitol residents to visit, to vacation. Go for a month, rewatch the Games, tour the catacombs, visit the sites where the deaths took place. You can even take part in reenactments.

They say the food is excellent” (Collins 144-145).


This quote is just astounding. There is so much wrong with the society of Panem, but outside of the actual Hunger Games, this to me is the most egregious aspect of the Capitol. Not only do they mark children for death and treat is as a reality show, but they continue to exploit these children’s deaths after they have been brutally murdered. Capitol citizens visit and revel in the exact spots where someone’s child died before their very eyes. And although the mention of the catacombs is never fleshed out or explained, I imagine that you can view the bodies of the dead tributes. Dead children. It’s just really so terrible.

This is another propaganda tool by the Capitol to desensitize their citizens to the Hunger Games and to turn it into more of an anticipated pageant event than sanctioned child murder. The obvious connection to the real world would be Disney World. Disney World brings the magic of the Disney movies we see on screen to our real life, as Disney makes the parks so true to the stories the tales they tell. The Hunger Games arenas are the real thing, so the Capitol visitors are able to bring the “fun” of the Hunger Games into their lives and enjoy it even more.

While it may seem like an innocuous and comic statement, Katniss’s comment about the food being excellent is just as relevant as her comments about the arena theme parks. These theme parks are so popular and unassuming to the Capitol citizens that they are able to comment on the food enough that even the starving residents of District 12 know about it. But most poignant is the fact that anyone is able to eat at all after seeing the place where children were butchered and then presumably seeing their mutilated bodies. Tell me you would be able to eat after seeing the bloody corpse of a twelve-year-old. I couldn’t.

Ultimately, propaganda serves the purpose of promoting the policies of the government and endearing them to the citizens. The Capitol are masters of propaganda, as it has only taken them three generations to completely ingratiate the citizens of the Capitol city (and some of the Districts) to the Hunger Games. This Disney-esque arena theme parks bring the Hunger Games from your television to your life. The Hunger Games are not just a pageant, they are real life, and they are something the Capitol citizens can therefore relate to.



My totally accurate imaginings of Capitol citizens visiting the parks:

“Hey, look! That’s where that grandmother sacrificed her life to save the life of her adoptive grandson after she won this already. So cool, can you take a picture?”

“Oh my god, remember how many tributes died at the Cornucopia that year? It was so awesome? And remember when that District 7 girl got totally cut down? So brutal! Awesome! Remember her?”


This girl, remember? Her death was so cool, look at her!”

“Oh, yeah I remember her. She was so sweet in the interviews, I really liked her. Just too bad she died. Now let’s go see where that little girl died. What was her name? Oh yeah, Rue!”

Work Cited:

Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.




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.

(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.