In my research paper, I will briefly follow the transformation of the role of women in literature—from Greek mythology to 20th century literature—and I will try to identify the reason for this transformation.
I will begin my presentation, titled “Dystopia: Women and Leadership” by stating my working thesis, which is as follows: “While the role of women in various types of genres are overshadowed by the role of male figures, women—young women specifically—play dominant and powerful roles in dystopian literature. These young women play roles that vary, but generally, they prove to be essential in rebellion, as they lead the oppressed against the oppressor.”
To provide specific contemporary examples of young women playing these leadership roles, I will mainly focus on The Hunger Games… I know, I’m tired of The Hunger Games too… Little Brother, and The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I chose as my independent reading book. Each of these three books are written by writers who most likely identify with the feminist movement. I will provide a brief background on the origin of feminism and talk about how it’s believed that it officially became a thing after the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
Then, I will offer some examples of literary works that include women whose roles are simply overshadowed by those of male protagonists. Evidently, that still happens today, but it is much less common, specifically in YA dystopia. Interestingly enough, during my research, I encountered numerous articles that discussed the increasingly significant roles of male protagonists in YA dystopia. This was the most interesting part of my research. In The Hunger Games, for example, Peeta, and even Gale to some extent, play crucial roles along with Katniss. However, in my independent reading book, Viola, the only girl in a community that consists solely of only men, asserts her dominance over Todd, the main protagonist.
Finally, I will close my presentation by establishing a connection between the feminist in literature and feminism in America. Feminism in dystopia seems to be a big thing, but it’s also one of the few admirable things in a dystopia novel. Is that the case in the US? According to several critics, America today resembles a dystopia. What do you think?
Before English 1102, I had never really been exposed to dystopian literature. The most I knew about it was that it was the opposite of utopian literature… I had only read The Hunger Games, and that was since 8th grade.
After having read The Hunger Games again, in addition to The Knife of Never Letting Go and Little Brother, I’ve realized that women tend to play significant roles in dystopian literature. More specifically, they use their leadership aptitude to lead oppressed members of a society. This is what’s most interesting to me about dystopian literature: the fact that women are represented as strong individuals who lead society in the search for freedom from oppression.
In The Hunger Games, for example, we know from the start that Katniss is a strong and driven character. She plays what would traditionally be known as “the man of the house” role by taking care of her younger sister and her weak mother. She then displays her courage by volunteering as tribute. It’s interesting that Suzanne Collins chose to make a female the one to volunteer; she’s definitely making a statement. Although some may argue that this was out of instinct, Katniss proves them wrong by further demonstrating her courage and bravery in the Games. One of the most significant parts of the book is when Katniss does the “three finger salute” because she inspires the citizens of District 11 to rebel against the guards at the screening of the Games. This is only one of the few instances in which we see Katniss’ leadership inspire rebellion.
As is the case with The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go and Little Brother also include strong female leaders. Although Marcus is the main protagonist in the book, Van is sort of the reason why he feels the way he does. A lot of his ideas stem from Van’s thinking, so Van still indirectly leads the oppressed through Marcus’ actions. Additionally, Van courageously stands up to Marcus when she disagrees with him. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, Viola is the book’s Katniss. Since she’s literally the only girl in a society consisting of only men, she plays a significant role. Todd, the main character finds himself in troubling situations many times, (to avoid spoilers, I will be very general) and who do you think saves him? Viola.
In all 3 of the books I have discussed, it’s evident that the authors strive to make a feminist statement; strong and independent women can successfully play the roles of leaders.
According the Dictionary.com, propaganda is defined as “
It’s important to note that propaganda can be both helpful and harmful. In The Hunger Games, for example, the Capitol benefits from the false information spread about the Games, while the citizens of Panem evidently suffer because of the propaganda. The Games as a whole can essentially be considered propaganda because the Capitol claims that they’re essential in order to maintain order and peace. While the Capitol believes that the Games are helping them maintain order, the Districts are being fueled by the Capitol’s lies and corruption. If the Games weren’t a thing in the first place, Katniss would never have inspired the Districts to rise against the Capitol. In The Hunger Games, the role of propaganda is supposed to be to maintain order, but as we find out later in the franchise, propaganda seems to be the root of the war.
Another book in which propaganda plays a significant role in is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. (Great book by the the way. I definitely recommend it) The book is basically about an isolated, mysterious society which consists of only men and animals who are able to listen to each other’s thoughts. The story revolves around Todd, a 13 year-old boy who’s unsure about why there are no women in his community. His whole life, he’s been taught that aliens known as Spackle invaded his community and killed off the women with a germ called Noise (the germ that men had in order to be able to listen to each other’s thoughts). In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t say what happens exactly, but Todd makes the realization that he’s been lied to his whole life. In this book, the government utilizes propaganda as a strategy to have full control over their community.
In both books, authoritative organizations use propaganda in an attempt to enforce complete dominion over a society. Unfortunately, the propaganda isn’t very successful in neither of these books, and that’s what these authors are trying to argue: despite the hefty use of propaganda in dystopian literature, complete dominion over a society already overrun by its flaws is impossible.
Before this course, I had minimal knowledge of dystopia and utopia. The only dystopia book I had read (at least from what I remember) was The Hunger Games. When I heard utopia, I thought of perfection; when I heard dystopia, I thought the opposite.
There is much more depth to the definition of dystopia, as there is for utopia though. In the CCUL, Fatima Vieira argues that “the study of the concept of utopia can certainly not be reduced to the history of the word coined by Thomas More […]” (1) Utopias are generally defined as paradise-like universes or societies with no flaws. Dystopias, on the other hand, are infested with flaws. For instance, in The Hunger Games, the Games are a result of the thirteen districts’ rebellion against the government. While the government believes that it is doing right, the districts and we, the audience, know that such a method is wicked, terrifying, and inhumane. The Games are only one of the many flaws in the book; some others are government corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, and a lack of individuality amongst the majority of the characters.
In addition to the flaws that distinguish dystopia from utopia, there are some recurring themes that we observe in the former that are absent in the latter. Hope and fear are the two major themes I’ve picked up on in The Hunger Games so far. Despite the oppression endured by the oppressed, they hope for something better in the future. Actually, it seems like fear directly induces hope. Whereas the flawlessness of utopias prevents such themes to arise, the imperfections in dystopia allow them to develop.
Finally, in order to etymologically define dystopia, we must take into consideration the where the word comes from. The prefix “dys” comes from the Greek origin, and it means “bad, ill, abnormal.” Dystopia itself is a neologism, as it derives from the original word, utopia. After scrutinizing the arguments presented in the CCUL, the major themes in The Hunger Games, and the etymology of utopia, I have come up with an improved definition of dystopia.
So, simply put, yes, dystopia is the opposite of utopia, but it is important to note why/how it’s the opposite.