This is the dystopia I imagined based on current events!
When reading books such as The Hunger Games and Little Brother in class, I noticed a common theme of teenage defiance, which got me thinking. What if middle schoolers read Little Brother and saw Marcus as a role model? What if they started poking around the dark web? These kids could get into some non-fictional trouble fast.
From there, I started thinking about authors’ intended messages in young adult dystopian novels and whether or not middle schoolers are really picking up on these deeper meanings. To figure that out it is important to figure out who is reading this book and how it is being read. For example, a college graduate politician is going to read and understand The Hunger Games much differently than a middle schooler at the beach.
I wanted to know how the readers who understood the author’s intended commentary responded. Were they so disgusted by the corrupt government in Little Brother that they started working for NSA to fight the system from within? Or did they get disillusioned with the world and decide to hide away in the woods?
Based on the research, I formed a thesis: Young adult dystopian novels, if presented correctly to their audience, have the potential to inspire teenagers to have a passion for social justice; however, if left to their own devices many will only read the novel at face value.
I will then launch into examples from novels with poignant commentary on society, and the way that it is often misunderstood. My first example is The Hunger Games. While Suzanne Collins intended for the novel to be a criticism of capitalism and consumerism in developed countries, it was published so soon after the Twilight phenomenon that the teenagers were still wrapped up in love triangles, and thus “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” were born. It seemed that the movie producers and the internet users had grossly over simplified this novel and glossed over the sheer horror of the games. Ironically following the example of the capitol. In my presentation, I will highlight two other examples: Divergent and The Red Queen in which novel’s commentary on society was also derailed.
I go on to argue that most young adult dystopia novels could also be classified as coming of age novels. This means that as protagonist loses their childhood innocence and struggles to come to terms with the unfairness of the world, teenage readers are as well. Because the protagonist often refuses to accept the flaws of the world, they are serving as a role model to the readers. Therefore, even if teenagers are missing the author’s intended message, they are in fact learning to question the world around them and notice the injustice.
To back up this argument, I then cite references I have found throughout my research and explain their arguments. I will also reveal the results of the twitter poll I took last week. Get excited!
Based on young adult dystopia readings such as The Hunger Games and Little Brother I’ve found dystopias to be extremely interesting because, while they are clearly written in response to current events, or as a critique of society, it is not obvious what the author intends the work to do. Is the author just complaining about the state of the world? Or maybe the author hopes to inspire the young readers to take a proactive stance on recreating a better society. Sometimes, I wonder if these books even have an effect on young adults. Do the middle schoolers pick up on the critique of capitalism in The Hunger Games, or do they simply fangirl about team Peeta and team Gale? When watching The 100 are they really comparing the different types of government or are they engrossed in the drama of the show?
Sure, one could argue that teen girls aren’t thoughtful enough to appreciate the dystopian novels to their full extent or learn all the potential lessons offered. However, I would counter by saying that as these young adults are exposed to corrupt societies and governments through reading dystopian novels, seeds of doubt are being planted and young adults are actually being taught to question everything. Which is good and bad. Marcus, the protagonist in Little Brother, Tris in Divergent, and Katniss in The Hunger Games are just a few examples of teens in dystopian novels questioning and over throwing authority figures. What I wonder is whether we are raising the next generation to be inquisitive and informed, or if we are instilling within them problems with authority.
My chosen independent reading novel, The Glass Sword, follows Mare Barrow after she causes a disturbance in the social class structure of reds versus silvers in the first novel The Red Queen. She is similar to Katniss in that she does not intend to cause a revolution. However, she becomes a symbol to a movement much larger than herself. While it is difficult to relate the fantasy novel to the world that we live in today, when reading the novel you automatically feel the injustice of dividing the world by the blood running in people’s veins.
Some questions I have for this novel are what point, if any, is the author (Victoria Aveyard) trying to make? Is she trying to talk about the intrinsic racism in society by making a parallel between the treatment of the reds and people of color? Or is she is warning us of genetic engineering by presenting the reader with a genetically superior race (silvers) possessing powers we can’t imagine? Also, I wonder if fantasy dystopias are as effective as other genres just because they are so hard to see the parallels to today’s society.
So far, I have struggled to find previous research on the effectiveness of fantasy dystopia novels, therefore, I decided to shift my central question to be: what are the effects of young adult dystopia novels. I plan on researching specific dystopia novels that have been important throughout history as well as trying to find information and interviews from the authors explaining their work. Through these means, I hope to uncover the intention and effect of young adult dystopia novels.
The constant theme of propaganda within dystopian novels highlights the importance for democracies to have freedom of speech and access to reliable media. The lack thereof within dystopian novels such as The Hunger Games prove just how horrific the alternative is. Since the citizens have no reliable source of information within the districts, the capitol can manipulate the citizens to believe whatever benefits their agenda. In the first novel, there is nobody there to disprove the Capitol’s propaganda, and thus they seem impregnable, unfaltering in their absolute control. This can be seen through their ridiculous reaping video, where they assert themselves as magnanimous leaders who have saved the citizens from the horrible war from before.
However, this can also be observed through their advertisements, which are hauntingly similar to the advertisements we might see in the mall today.
These advertisements help establish the citizens of the capitol to be other worldly. In comparison to the dirt and threadbare clothes of the districts, Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane seem to literally come from another world. This helps instill the idea that any attempt at a revolution is futile, because the capitol and its citizens are so far removed from the districts such as 11 and 12 that they are practically untouchable.
In later books, such as Mockingjay, the indestructible wall that is the capitols propaganda begins to show cracks. Namely, the rebels of district 13 begin propaganda reels of their own.
Because the capitol had previously declared 13 to be decimated as a warning to others who might be inclined to revolt, the sudden appearance of district 13 shows that the capitols control has its limits. However, it is important not to be fooled by 13, while their television advertisements are not lies, they are propaganda as well. Propaganda is any sort of information or media used to sway audiences to one point of view or opinion. District 13 is no better than the capitol in trying to manipulate their audience’s understanding of the war. Whether it be through assertion of power seen in this video:
Or a passionate message as seen in this video:
Everything District 13, as well as the capitol, publishes is meticulously planned with the intention of swaying people to their side of the war.
The basic idea of a dystopia is a utopia gone awry. Usually, the people of influence within the dystopia manipulate the citizens into believing it is utopia through means of propaganda or media censorship. While the totalitarian government which most dystopias inhabit can appear perfect at first glance, upon further review it is easy to see the flaws in the society.
When another genre is added to a dystopian novel, the underlying warnings or agendas of that novel are not necessarily changed, but instead another facet is added to the ever-complex idea. For example, a sci-fi dystopian gives the reader a terrible glimpse into a future where scientific discoveries aren’t regulated. Often, this advanced technology is used to instill fear, control, and further the power of the government.
Apocalyptic dystopias are slightly different than Sci-Fi dystopias because, while sci-fi dystopias use futuristic technology to ensure compliance, apocalyptic dystopias tend to offer protection more than anything. For example, in Divergent the worst thing that could happen would be to become factionless, and without the aid of the government
Romantic dystopias are interesting though. Because dystopias diminish the individual’s control, instead the government oversees almost all aspects of a citizen’s life. Therefore, love threatens the government’s control because it is unregulated and threatens the absolute power of the government. In dystopian books, such as Matched, the government has gone so far as to determine who their citizens are to love. Therefore, minimizing the threat of individuality by lack free choice. Delirium by Lauren Oliver, goes one step further in that the government tries to prevent love all together. One of my favorite books, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, has a similar approach, but instead of just withholding the feeling of love from their citizens, everyone is completely drugged, devoid of any emotions or individual thoughts. While this works well in preventing conflict and keeping the government intact, it is certainly no way to live.
A dystopian young adult novel has a younger demographic, so the content of the book can’t be quite as graphic as that of a book like the Handmaid’s Tale. However, because the author cannot be explicit, darker plots are often mentioned in passing at and left to the reader’s discretion. For example, in Mockingjay, Finnick Odair admits that he was sold for prostitution by President Snow to the horror of many readers. However, instead of explaining or exploring that story any further, Suzanne Collins is restricted by the young adult demographic and only mentions it once.