In life, there seems to be an overall fear of the unknown, but also a fascination with it, where the emotion that dominates is the one supported by the most knowledge. This means that humans, as a race, are more comfortable with familiarity, and desire that all things which are unfamiliar to be defined by what is familiar, so they are able to understand. This fits well with the idea that perfection does not exist, but we are constantly striving for it. Most commonly, the attempts are manifested into utopian literature, fantasizing about what could be, defined by what has been.
This overarching idea that history constructs boundaries for social dreaming and utopian thought is the primary point of discussion of Constance Furey’s article “Utopian History”, that our dreams have limits. These limits constitute the past, as it is extremely difficult to imagine completely novel, new ideas; have you ever tried to invent something new, eventually realizing you are trying to create something that already exists or cannot think of anything at all? In a poem included in the article, this longing for remarkable, unheard-of change through imagination is portrayed well, as included below.
Generally, Furey discusses the implications of utopia as a means of historicism, characterized as the analysis of society or culture in the context of history; in addition, when combined with a hope for progress/advancement, utopian societies are able to assume a dynamic role, developing according to the time period and burdening issues. This is quite similar to how even non-utopian thoughts are heavily reliant on the world around them, and the issues plaguing the population. For example, at the time when the human race believed the end of the Earth to be the year 2000, Prince used his outlet of thought, music, to craft the song “1999”, commenting on living to the fullest while you still can.
If you look closely, any piece of utopian literature starts to mirror certain historical events and occurrences, as if these provide the backdrop to set the scene of an idea for manipulation and improvement of the current community. Essentially, these works are placing “existing pieces together into a non-existent form”, allowing for the utopian process to be one of learning and creativity (Furey 387). The recognition of this concept, then, is inherently significant for all research concerning utopian literature, since historical events/setting are the main influential aspects of these novels, putting pressure on characters, gender roles, government organization, propaganda, rule of law, etc. Any further analysis on the prominence of certain works, the growth in popularity of the genre as a whole, why certain aspects function as they do as well as their success in accomplishing intentions, or particular elements of specific “perfect societies” then depends on understanding the undeniable connection of historical events and utopian literature.
The author, due to her expertise and knowledge in the field, establishes credibility in this argument, explaining the dual mandate of utopian literature, its interdependence on realism and fantasy. Without realism, the claims are tied to no society and therefore have no impact; however, without fantasy, the claims are not really dreaming or striving towards anything. The organization of this article solidifies its perfective, as it progresses from broad ideas to a specific argument that utopia is history, just broadcasted into a different form to attempt critique and change from fresh angles. If you are to know anything about utopian thought and literature, it should be that, that social dreaming cannot exponentially grow, but is eventually bounded by what is accurate and probable according to the past, as shown by leveling out of the exponential function I have included below.
Furey, Constance. “Utopian History.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 20 Issue 4, 2008, pp. 385-398. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com.
Undeniably, failure is unwanted, prompting emotions that include disappointment, defeat, and destruction; however, despite the magnitude of failures plaguing utopian implementations both inside and outside of literature, the genre continues to live on. Utopian creation not only exists in spite of these failures, but thrives off of them. naturally, this is an odd concept, where failure, particularly historical failures, encourages utopian thought, and actually makes it seem more plausible. In response to this, I aim to answer the overarching question of: Without history proving human failure in properly organizing society, would utopian literature be as realistic/probable?
Alongside analysis of many sources, the answer to this question becomes clear, resulting in my thesis: In the absence of history providing these human failures, utopian literature would not only be less rational, but it would not even exist; utopian literature utilizes history to project the past onto fictional societies, root commentary in the social conditions of the time, and supply the desire for enhanced life through failure. It can be seen, then, that failure is, in this case, beneficial. Some of the positive aspects of failure are explained by the article hyperlinked below.
For example, in response to any kind of revolution, movement, or protest, development of radical ideas embeds itself within utopian literature, constantly reinterpreting what constitutes the “perfect society”. Through this, historical failures essentially cage in utopian thought, adding a border to constraint them within the realm of probability, via the three reasons outlined in my thesis statement. Utopian literature relies heavily on prior events, allowing the dreamer to mold the building blocks of the past together in an unfamiliar way, uncovering a new concept by way of the old. These new concepts are then inherently established by the time period, and the issues and failures that accompany it; this process can be explained as adding fuel to the fire, letting the presence of failure cause desire for change and improvement. In response to the Soviet regime, utopian dreams and thought flourished, taking all the parts of society that had gone awry and redirecting them to plan for novel ideas, including that of air flight to escape ones current situation. Air flight became of particular interest at this time since it developed into an objective that seemed reasonable, even prompting a blueprint for attachable wings, named the “Flying Tatlin”, as pictured below.
The relationship of utopian literature to history, specifically in regard to its failures, is inevitable; the past knowledge and experiences allow the human race to progress, stimulating thought and ideas for how society should, and should not, change. Due to this, utopian literature is able to deliver a broader, more believable purpose, inciting both a call for action and a call for reflection through historical comparisons.
Furry, Constance. “Utopian History.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 20 Issue 4, 2008, pp. 385-398. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com.
Vujosevic, Tijana. “The Flying Proletarian: Soviet Citizens at the Thresholds of Utopia.” Grey Room, Issue 59, 2015, pp. 78-101. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com.
“Discovering the Positive Benefits of Failure.” Ladylux, 23 Mar. 2016, www. ladylux.com/articles/the-positive-benefits-of-failure.
There seems to be a common theme across utopian literature centering around the concept of interpretation, particularly pertaining to the fact that a work may be considered a utopia to one person but a dystopia to another. I find this idea fascinating, specifically with how it relates to history, both within and outside of the work. Therefore, the question I am hoping to be able to research is: Without history proving human failures in properly organizing society, would utopian literature be as realistic/probable?
It is widely understood that people relate to other people, movies, novels, etc by comparing them to their lives, through past experiences, historical events, and general knowledge about the world, developing an opinion based on this process. Due to this, many utopian novels choose to omit, or revamp, history in the minds of the characters, as if one has nothing to compare their life to, or only horrible events to compare their life to, they are likely to feel content. The Hunger Games, for example, utilizes this, as the history of the districts is characterized as a time of tragedy, war, and poorer than current conditions, quelling the ideas of rebellion and revolution in most characters, by convincing them that it could be worse, and has been.
On the other side, history can also play a part outside of the novel, as once again, people compare things to what they know to be true. Historical implementation of utopian ideals has shown the world that these societies are not merely daydreams, but are to be taken seriously; the world can, and will be pushed to, improve, whether its inhabitants like it or not. In response to this, and the horror associated with the planned societies of communism, utopian works not only took a more dystopian turn, but also took a more serious turn. In my opinion, these works are now less philosophizing and more of a call to action. The authors do not want us to simply ponder their articulations of society, but to change to reflect the issues they address. With each novel, the idea of a non-existent society with a “happy-ever after that always eludes us” develops into realistic societies with issues eerily parallel to those of the real world, as if the authors seem to have grown irritated with trying to creatively and cleverly hide their commentary (Claeys 154).
Therefore, I think the most important aspect of a utopian novel is the history, both inside of the novel and in regards to the outside world at the time it was written. Through analyzing the history, the author’s message can be clearly discovered, with no room for misinterpretation or disregard of its importance. For example, for the novel Candor by Pam Bachorz, the history within the book is cleared from the town inhabitants’ minds, leading them to accept their society how it is and not strive for change, proving that history is important for future advancement, as the best predictor of the future is the past. In addition, the time period this book was written in is the twenty-first century, lending to its focus on the control that technology and routine can have on life, along with how even perfectly-planned and organized societies do not go as planned. The commentary of this book directly relates to the importance of history, since without it, the human race would all be robots in a sense, fitting a perfect mold for how we are supposed to be, void of art, beauty, etc, and merely accepting this fate.
In lieu of this, I desire to uncover the impact history can have on the message of a novel, and the interpretation of a novel. I want to look at trends among certain time periods, and the relationship between the main commentary of the utopian novels and the main issues of real-world societies. I think it is very easy to read a utopian novel for pleasure, becoming captivated by the characters and the story, rather than to take the work at face-value for what it really was written to do, change a defective part of society.
Bachorz, Pam. Candor. Egmont USA, 2009.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.
“The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games”. Goodreads. 21 Mar 2012.
The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, Lionsgate Films, 2012.
“Utopia and Dystopia”. SlideShare. 21 Feb 2011.
Before analyzing the role that propaganda can acquire in a dystopian novel, it is first important to define the term. Simply put, propaganda is the transmission of ideas and information, intended to incite a specific response or emotion within the receiver. Therefore, as you could assume, properly placed propaganda can profoundly help or hinder the respective “good” and “bad” characters of a dystopian novel based on its intention.
Candor, a dystopian novel by Pam Bachorz, is centered upon a small town characterized by white picket fences, ivy league students, respect for elders, and most importantly, absence of any disruptive behavior, illegal activity, or issues of any sort. Essentially, it is an ideal town, a “utopia” if you will; this “perfection” is the product of constant music infused with subliminal messages, feeding the townspeople cliches such as “Respectful space in every place” (Bachorz, 60) and “The great are never late” (Bachorz, 20). Infallibly, though, even in a seemingly perfectly crafted town, humans still have the ability for error, leading to a decent amount of propaganda reinforcing the “correct”, as seen by the town’s founder, way to live. For example, when graffiti suddenly appears in the perfect town, a campaign rapidly begins known as TAG, Teens Against Graffiti. TAG, as a unit, then constructs a propaganda-based initiative by painting the sidewalks with phrases reestablishing the importance of a clean, pretty environment in order to immediately halt any opinions the townspeople may have on graffiti, and instead supply the socially appropriate opinion to have.
However, as far as consequences go, what I think is even more important than the propaganda that is being created, is the propaganda that is not. I realize this is an odd way to look at it, but a dystopian society will not necessitate persuasion, through propaganda, unless there is a flaw in the system. In lieu of this, where propaganda is created highlights what is wrong and where it is not created portrays what is, comparatively, right. Through this, the author has an effective way to clearly show their personalized commentary on society. For Candor, there is minimal propaganda pertaining to the importance of education, as most of society tends to acknowledge this as a timeless fact; in contrast, there is a multitude of propaganda relating towards the pleasures of life, notably movies, art, games, etc, portraying it as bad and inferior to other aspects of life. This could then be interpreted as the author making commentary about the regard with which society places imagination and creation of the arts, looking down on them as a lesser way of life.
Essentially, then, the function of propaganda is to realign the dystopia with the blueprint it is designed to follow, as someone, or something, has disrupted its structure. It is important to note that in some circumstances, propaganda can adversely be used to align the dystopia instead with what is desired, shifting the society from the order it previously had, effectively overthrowing the entire system. Through this process then, by looking for the propaganda in a work of dystopian literature, the reader will be able to also find the societal critique the author has hidden in the novel, serving as an effective means of analysis and understanding. Analogous, it is similar to applying a magnifying glass to the work to focus on the relevance of the work, the dystopian elements and perspective.
Bachorz, Pam. Candor. Egmont USA, 2009.
Bachorz, Pam. Candor Book Trailer. Youtube, 9 Jul 2009. www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyXkLnLobho
“Homer Simpson Animated GIF”. Giphy. giphy.com/gifs/season-16-the-simpsons-16x33orieUe6ejxSFxYCXe.
“In this town, you are what you hear”. CrushingCinders: Odd Ramblings of an Obsessed Reader. 5 Mar 2015, www.crushingcinders.com/candorreview.
Just as the United States’ Constitution is referred to as a “living document”, I believe the English Dictionary can be placed in the same regard, since awareness of the meaning of a word can adapt and develop due to a plethora of factors, such as expansion of knowledge, historical events, technological advancement, etc. This is especially true when pertaining to the word “Utopia”. Originally, Thomas More constructed this neologism to represent a place that is no place, a desired end that is unattainable, a dream that cannot exist; however, this paradoxical, vague definition sparked contention and controversy over what constituted a utopia. Was it all up to the interpretation of the reader? Or are there certain elements required? Over time, literary philosophers, as they do, continued to throw in their perspective on the definition, developing more and more criteria and signs that indicated a utopia. These philosophers were aiming to construct boundaries for this term, but in my opinion, the opposite actually occurred. They facilitated the use of the word in a generic, household setting, as the criteria and signs applied to a multitude of works and societies. Today, as shown below, dictionary.com defines the word Utopia simply as “an ideal place or state”. Then, could simple daydreams and wandering imaginations be referred to as utopian thought?
In my opinion, Utopia is a term that cannot be strictly defined, rather it applies to any work of literature or thought provoking introspection in the reader or thinker. By that, I mean it initiates reflection of current societal practices and organizations as well as what could be improved or scrapped altogether in the future. Essentially, it is a process with an end goal of constructing a better world. However, it is important to note that this “better world” is highly subjective, depending on each individual’s mindset in regard to the world around them. For example, as portrayed by the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, there are a plethora of works classified as utopias, regardless to the subject matter or particular aspect of society each are addressing. There may be “primitivist and nostalgic utopias, sentimental individualist utopias, voyage utopias, satires, anti-utopias”, and more, depending on the society that the author is a part of (Claeys 51). Due to this, Utopia is an extremely malleable, adaptable term, not limited by one definition or set of expectations, but able to be molded into the time and audience for which it is written. Then,Utopian literature will always present itself as relevant, as it is at it’s core a medium through which beliefs, hopes, dreams, and guidelines can be expressed and developed upon, independent of the factors influencing their creation.
In response to this versatility of the concept of Utopia, Utopian literature and thought is commonly mixed with other genres of literature, including sci-fi, romance, etc, as the author so desires. To me, this acts as a tactic to tailor their critiques and comments to particular audiences, ensuring that the point they are trying to instill resonates with their readers. Recently, Utopian literature has taken a turn towards the Young Adult genre, modifying itself to apply to this age group. Therefore, Utopia is still its own separate genre, but it does blend with other genres in order to solidify its commentary.
Claeys, Gregory. “The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” The Cambridge
Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
“Utopia”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 21 Jan. 2017.