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All posts by Callie Valtierra

Current events have always been a source of conflict for me since I feel there are numerous ways people are suffering around the world. Reading constantly about executions, social prejudices and political corruption forces me to believe there is relatively nothing I can do to alleviate any pain people are put through. Although dystopian societies are thought to be exaggerations of our own societies, I argue that these societies offer more than simple comparisons to our reality. In some ways, they reflect events that are either occurring or have occurred in our society. By reading Ship Breaker, Hunger Games and Red Queen, I have noticed that these societies are divided into a “superior” upper class and “inferior” lower class. Despite not having a distinct upper class which controls the political system, our society undeniably contains wide social gaps between the poor and the rich.

After reading Hunger Games, Ship Breaker and Red Queen, I realized that these authors were describing the prominent inequalities found in our society through poverty and social gaps. While the rich became richer and thrived off of the expenses the poor made, it seemed that the poor became an overwhelming majority of citizens which lived in awful conditions. In all three of these novels, main characters recognized the social gaps in their society and found ways to rebel against these social inequalities. Although such subjects may seem foreign to our own society; similar to the characters in the book, people around the world live in poverty and only a small percentage live in the upper class.

In reality, approximately a third of the world’s population survives on less than two dollars a day. People in these societies often walk several miles in order to obtain basic needs such as water and wood. Education in these developing countries is barely available, leaving children without a means to obtain primary and secondary educations. Since these people have almost no way to pay for food, they do not have the means to afford medical attention and will oftentimes die from a preventable cause, specifically curable diseases or hunger. Although many people believe that these conditions exist solely in developing countries, poverty continues to affect us all in a global scale, even the richest countries (Ambrose).

Despite being closed off to reading current events, I have come to realize that impoverished situations do not just occur in dystopian novels. In fact, people living in poverty around the world suffer more than any characters in books. People struggle to survive due to preventable diseases, starvation and exposure to harsh environmental conditions. Although dystopias recognize poverty in their societies, authors do not go anywhere near the awful conditions that people live in in reality. Reading dystopias such as The Hunger Games, Ship Breaker and Red Queen, I have come to recognize that social gaps, especially between the lower class and upper class, continue to widen and to worsen in reality.

 

Here are some websites concerning poverty in the world:

The Reality of Global Poverty- https://realtruth.org/articles/080325-001-economy.html

The Growing Poverty Problem in America’s Schools- http://money.cnn.com/2015/01/29/news/economy/poverty-schools/

Facts about Global Poverty- https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty

 

In Scholes and Ostenson’s article, the two identify the components which make up dystopian literature, and why the dystopian genre has become so typical in the young adult generation. In the article, Scholes and Ostenson make their work easy to follow along by recognizing which elements frequently appear in dystopian fiction and analyzing why these methods are significant to dystopian literature. The authors also include a chart of sixteen popular dystopian novels, and the characteristics which are key to the creation of the books. For example, in the row containing Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the authors point out that the book contains elements of “Excessive Measures to Police Safety,” “Media Manipulation and Propaganda,” “Measures to Cover Up Flaws and Lies in Society,” and “Limited or Complete Lack of Individual Freedom.” The authors then proceed to describe which elements are used in order to catch young adult readers’ attentions.

This source was incredibly useful in looking for other features which seem to be essential to the development of the young adult dystopian novel. The authors convey solid points as to why dystopian novels have become so integrated into young adults’ reading habits and how a variety of components create enthusiasm and interest in the youthful crowd. I find it intriguing that the authors are able to explore what is going on the young reader’s mind as the children become introduced to the adult world and slowly leave their childhood behind. The authors point out the settings, themes and characters which also seem to be undergoing serious changes as the dystopian plot progresses which overall draws correlations to the young reader’s situation of growing older. Scholes and Ostenson argue that dystopian stories allow the young audience to become engaged with the author’s world of romance, fighting for freedom and manipulation which occurs in the dystopian novels. By presenting the young reader with a world wrought with unethical and immoral standards, the reader is able to address these types of problems, forming their own values.

 

Scholes, Justin and Ostenson, Jon. “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.” The ALAN Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2013, https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html.

 

Dystopias are by far my favorite genre when it comes to reading books for class or for leisure. I tend to gravitate more towards such dystopian themes since I feel that the author creates a world which blends both fantasy and reality. It is amazing how the worlds the dystopian authors imagine are similar yet different from our own complex world. I also enjoy the different themes inside each dystopian book. For instance, some may focus on romance while others focus on technology or overcoming adversity. Even though most dystopias have a common plot where a seemingly normal character rises up from humble beginning and faces the controlling government, I enjoy how each author puts a twist on their own story.

It is fascinating to see how a character lives in a world with cruel governments which take over cities and manipulate their citizens through technological, physical or economic constraints. The government always seems to have some way to control the citizens in a way which pressures them into compliance and constraint. Finally, a lower-class citizen recognizes the never-ending struggle and makes choices in order to liberate the dystopian society. In Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, the main character is from a poor town in the Stilts (very similar to the Seam in District 12 of the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) where all the citizens are born with red blood except for the elite upper class who have silver blood. The Silvers control the Reds by stating that they are genetically superior since they have powers which can cause destruction. When the main character discovers she has powers like the Silvers, the Reds are able to take control of their lives and begin a rebellion to end the manipulation of the Silvers.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is another book series which has a similar plot to Red Queen. All the children in the book eagerly await the day they turn sixteen and are able to undergo a surgical operation which alters their appearance and makes them “pretty”. The children fear the punishment of staying “ugly” forever; however, the kids do not know that the pretty operation does more than just change their appearance. The operation changes their brains and keeps them in a peaceful, unaggressive and unquestioning state which makes them easy to control. The main character (Tally Youngblood), like any other girl, dreams of the day to become pretty until her friend runs away. Suddenly, Tally is confronted by the Specials, an elite and harshly enhanced police force, and forced to bring back her friend. Once Tally discovers what the surgery is doing to the people, she undergoes the pretty surgery and discovers ways to stay “bubbly” or stay in control of her mind. Throughout the Uglies series, Tally fights for her and her friends freedom against the Specials and the conformist society.

Many dystopias are ruled by a manipulative government which encourages a strict set of rules for its citizens to follow. Through the use of media and propaganda, the government associates the rules with punishment or a life of pain and suffering. Using media, the government spews falsehoods on how society couldn’t be any better than it is at present. The government usually demands gratitude and support, stating that they provide peace, protection and happiness. In dystopias, these propaganda pieces frequently take one of two approaches. Fear, meant to scare the citizens into submitting or a flawed hope which appeals to citizens wishing to believe in their society’s lie are used in order to control the society in which the government rules.

One of the most common examples of propaganda usage creating fear in society is the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In Collins’ book, media is widely used in order to keep the citizens of Panem from standing up against the Capitol. The government taunts the districts by taking two children from each of the twelve districts and forces them to savagely murder one another. Every year the citizens are required to watch the Games as their children fight to the death. As a means to profit and steer hatred away from the Capitol, the Games are televised as if they are a TV show. Tributes are materialized and branded as products that can be bought. In this sense, the Capitol does an excellent job at using media in order to desensitize and commercialize the Games. The Capitol profits from the exploitation of the tributes and the redirection of hatred and blame onto other districts. By broadcasting the Games and making the districts watch the spectacle, districts begin to believe that other districts are at fault for the death of their children, not the Capitol, losing sight of the true enemy. Through the Hunger Games, the Capitol is able to assert its dominance and power over the twelve districts, striking fear into every citizen’s heart, isolating the districts and capitalizing on the deaths of the district’s’ children.

On the other hand, in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, propaganda is used to manipulate the citizens into wanting to become pretty. Using electronic technology and the promise of a better life, children can’t help but wait for their transformation. By the time they reach sixteen, they are finally able to undergo a procedure making them pretty and are welcomed into an exciting new life. Children are convinced everything is better in New Pretty Town where all the pretties live with amazing technology, extravagant parties and the freedom to do almost anything they want.

In both cases, propaganda and media are used to control and manipulate citizens. Suzanne Collins takes a violent approach, utilizing media and  propaganda as a way to strike fear into her characters’ hearts while Scott Westerfeld employs propaganda in order to trick characters into believing being pretty is the only way to be happy. The purpose of propaganda in these dystopias, and others, is to fool characters in some way. Characters believe that there is no other  way to find joy in life unless they conform and comply with the rest of society.

In general, dystopias can be considered a place or time in which a character or multiple characters discover that they live in a cruel or controlling society. These dystopian societies often have an elite or governing class which controls the citizens within. Harsh punishments are usually created to keep the citizens from ever thinking about leaving the society or breaking the laws until a character starts to ask questions. A character will oftentimes wonder why the society is built the way it is and will then diverge from the common path the other citizens follow. Many times this leads the character down a pathway of struggle as the character battles out of the conforming society.

Dystopias have a range of reasons why people or a person decides that their society is not suitable to live in. For example, the dystopian society may be killing babies based upon their fitness level and hiding various events of the past from their citizens (The Giver by Lois Lowry), children are being sent off to kill one another for sport (The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins) or teens are required to undergo surgery which both alters their appearance and personality (Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld). In each, the main characters discover that they are being manipulated or kept in the dark by their government or ruling class.

The reason why I say dystopias can be tailored to people’s perspectives is because not all people immediately come up with the same nightmare societies. For me, a dystopia would be having to live in a society where there is an extreme gap between the poor and rich. All choices would be lost because the government would decide what the population would do, who they would marry and who would survive. On the other hand, other people could say that their worst fear is that they have to live in a society where they have to survive on their own without light or caged into a place where they couldn’t leave for fear of the outside. Others may say they would fear living in space or a different time period. Fortunately, by thinking of a variety of dystopias, we are able to grow up knowing what we don’t want society to become. Dystopias give people a chance to identify what we do not want to happen in the future and a choice to keep the dystopia from actually occurring.