The critique, “Fresh Hell,” written by Laura Miller for The New Yorker, is an in-depth look into the world of young adult dystopian literature. Miller analyzes the boom in YA dystopian literature and believes that the autonomy of teens, the imaginative environments and cliff hangers are major contributors to the popularity of recent novels such as The Hunger Games. Comparing adult and young adult dystopias Miller says that adult dystopias are “grimmer.” In the article, Miller analyses an academic journal, “2003 collection “Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults,” the British academic Kay Sambell […] implies that dystopian stories for adults and children have essentially the same purpose—to warn us about the dangers of some current trend.” Specific examples Miller strategically uses is “1984” and “Brave New World” as “they detail the consequences of political authoritarianism and feckless hedonism.”
Similar to Melissa Ames’s academic journal, “Engaging ‘Apolitical’ Adolescents: Analyzing the Popularity and Educational Potential of Dystopian Literature Post-9/11” Miller explores the increasing demand for this specific YA genre through these themes and motifs. The most interesting argument stems from the idea that young adults are living in their own dystopia and that idea is the cause of the boom in popularity of the genre. “The success of ‘Uglies,’ [author] Westerfeld once wrote in his blog, “is partly thanks to high school being a dystopia.” Miller says, “adults dump teen-agers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it’s supposed to be.” This cruel sentiment is relatable to the government of The Hunger Games and how they “dump” teenagers into the games.
The overall article is well-developed and ties into many of the themes of the course. The arguments are well-rounded and have no bias. Miller herself had done many critiques of literature and is very credible in her field. Her insight into the teenage condition is the most impressive feature in the article. This source really benefited my argument that young adult dystopia’s are social criticisms, however almost all other projects involving YA dystopian literature will benefit from the insightful and well-developed argument by Miller. This is because as Miller showcases the social commentary YA dystopias have for society, it also demonstrates and proves how meaningful and impactful this genre is. This notion benefits all research into young adult fiction as it heightens its purpose and gives the writer a new perspective into the mind of the targeted audience.
Miller, Laura. “Fresh Hell.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 14 July 2015,
www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/06/14/fresh-hell-2. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.
My topic is YA Dystopian governments and how their actions are social criticisms of political issues today. The governments I studied and researched were those in my independent reading book, The People of Sparks. Along with the Hunger Games and Little Brother. My hypothesis states that the themes most common in YA dystopian literature as it applies specifically to the governments in each novel, reflect a real world event and showcase the debate and conflict in that issue. Each of these social issues: Immigration, Censorship and Surveillance are explored through the themes and conflicts of dystopian governments. The social and political issue of immigration is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of the manipulation of resources; censorship is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of the power and control and surveillance is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of theme of law order. I’m relating The People of Sparks to the social criticism as the conflict is reminiscent of the debate on immigrants today. One side says that immigrants are subjected to high danger and low skill work, where they are subjected to terrible working conditions. However, the other side believes that immigrants “distract and take resources” and therefore should work for their fair share. I see this debate in the Sparks government where one faction believes that they should care for the refugees from the city of Ember as it is the right thing to do. While the other faction counters saying that doubling the population of Sparks is unsustainable and the people of Ember must relocate. The heated debated in this dystopian government shows the DuPrau utilizes the dystopian theme of resource manipulation to bring up the social and political issue of immigration. I’m relating the book The Hunger Games to social criticism because of the theme of control and power in the media. In society today, there is a conflict between the Executive branch of government and the free press. One side claims that the media is creating fake news and is therefore sensationalizing inaccurate stories and targeting subjects with an inherent bias, while the other side believes that the Executive branch is attacking the freedom of the press by banning them from press conferences and describing work that the branch doesn’t like as “fake news” therefore trying to delegitimize the media and create a government controlled press. The conflict of censorship in The Hunger Games shows that Collins writes with a purpose and utilizes themes of the Capitol’s dystopian government to warn of the effects of censorship. While not written in the same time period as the recent administration, Collins social commentary relates to many governments throughout history and her commentary is used a tool of foreshadowing and warning. Finally, I’m relating the social issue of surveillance to the book Little Brother due to its theme of law and order. Today, the social issue of surveillance is an important and volatile topic. One side believes that surveillance is a necessary evil to protect and defend the freedoms of the American people, while the other side says that all personal freedoms are compromised and disregarded. The hyped-up surveillance in the novel was stemmed from the panic and fear in the DHS over the imminent threat of terrorism. In the same likeness, the debate of surveillance came to a climax after the events of 9/11. Author Cory Doctorow utilizes the theme of freedom and control to conduct a social criticism on the hyper vigilant government surveillance of today.
The City of Ember is based in an underground world created hundreds of years ago to preserve humanity after famine, war and disease overtook the Earth. At the end of the first book, the main characters, Lina and Doon, discover the outside world. The city of Ember was dying, so our protagonists needed to find another home for their people. This leads to the second book in the Ember series, The People of Sparks. The second book showcases that while the new world brings salvation it also brings issues. The problem of adapting to the outside world is what I find most interesting about this dystopian novel.
A fascinating aspect of The People of Sparks is how the residents of the city of Sparks utilize and manipulate the Emberites. When the people of Ember escaped the dying city, it was Torren, a resident of Sparks, who first encountered the refugees. When he sees the numbers of the Emberites Torren is appalled, “Four hundred! In [his] village, there were only 322. He swept his gaze out over this vast horde. They filled half the cabbage field and were still coming over the hill, like a swarm of ants” (DuPrau 10). The hateful comparison foreshadows the tensions between the people of Sparks and the people of Ember.
Furthermore, the people of Ember are out of their element, therefore, more susceptible to manipulation. Lina becomes homesick and realizes that “[i]n Ember, everything was familiar to her. Here everything was strange” (DuPrau 42). The Emberites are shown as very ignorant when it comes to many basic elements of the Earth. For instance, while touring the city of Sparks, Lina is blown away by the sight of pine trees, goats, and bread (DuPrau 26-30).
The three leaders of Sparks meet the night of the refugees’ arrival to work out a system that will allow the city to continue to function even after the inconvenience of doubling their population. They unanimously decide that “[t]hey work—they help in the fields, they help with building, they do whatever there is to do […] As far as I can see, they know nothing (DuPrau 45). This method is how the people of Sparks would leverage control.
The conflict comes to a climax when “[i]nstead of getting easier as the days went on, work for the people of Ember got harder. It wasn’t just the work—it was the heat they had to work in” (DuPrau 104). The Emberites lived off of “…nothing but scraps to eat” and become hostile towards the people hosting them (DuPrau 110).
This conflict demonstrates a similar theme in many dystopias: the battle for control and power. The people of Sparks hold all of the supplies, rations, and necessities that the people of Ember need to survive and therefore there is building tension between the two populations as they try to cohabitate. The people of Sparks utilize their control to make the people of Ember work long and hours to survive. This idea creates the basis for a dystopian society.
DuPrau, Jeanne. The People of Sparks. A Yearling Book, 2016. Print.
One of the most meaningful pieces of propaganda in both the book and movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, was the Treaty of Treason. It was orated in the book by the mayor of district 12, but shown in a video in the movie adaptation. However, in both instances the premise of the Treaty was identical, it “gave [the districts] new laws to guarantee peace and, [was their] yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated (Collins 18).
The effectiveness of the propaganda is due to the language and visuals provided by the Treaty. In the book the mayor “lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, [and] the brutal war for what little sustenance remained” (18). In accordance with the book, the video demonstrates visuals of violent war and helpless citizens. Using visual language, makes the Treaty a constant reminder of the terror of the Dark Days and is an effective scare tactic by the Capitol. Reminding the districts of such horrors of war and death creates an environment of fear and vulnerability, which allows the Capitol to control the people of Panem.
The most effective form of propaganda, as taught by my high school economics teacher, is one that provides a solution to the target audience’s problems. One of the examples he would bring up in class was the infamous Lyndon B. Johnson campaign ad featuring a little girl and an atomic bomb. The video is very similar to the Treaty of Treason video as each video utilizes children and the thought of war. Scare tactics are effective, but only when a solution or an “out” is provided to the viewer. In order to avoid nuclear war, the public was instructed to vote for President Johnson in the upcoming election cycle. In the same manner to avoid another Dark Days, “each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate [in the Hunger Games]” (18). As voting for President Johnson would provide a sense of hope for the people of Panem, there would be one victor of the Games. Using persuasive language and emotional stimulators, the Treaty of Treason is a very effective means of control for the Capitol.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2008.
My definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is defined by the word’s history and roots. According to The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, the first use of the word, ‘dystopia’, dates back to the 1860s. It is in this era that ‘dystopia’ is distinguished as “the idea of utopia gone wrong” (Viera 16). The prefix “dys” derives from a Greek word dus, which “means bad, abnormal, diseased” and reverses the good nature in the meaning of the word, utopia (Viera 16). In literature, dystopias and utopias are both imagined places, which are too evil or pure to exist. I believe that the difference between dystopia and utopia in literature thus lies in the underlying mood. Fátima Viera says, a dystopian literature “predicts that things will turn out badly; it is thus essentially pessimistic in its presentation of projective images,” in contrast, utopian literature follows a more optimistic point-of-view (Viera 17). Furthermore, I believe the core of dystopian literature lies in the imperfection nature of the environment. Therefore, the “moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens” are imperfect elements (Viera 17). This idea is the reason why many scholars and I believe that a dystopia is an anti-utopia.
Through the introduction of sub-genres like science-fiction, romance or apocalypse, the definition of a dystopia doesn’t change drastically, rather the practice of dystopian literature changes from writer to writer. Each literary sub-genre when used in a dystopian novel strengthens a different core element of dystopian literature. For instance, Suzanne Collins utilizes romantic elements in her acclaimed dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. According to Fátima Viera, “…although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic…” (Viera 17). The romantic elements of Collin’s book humanize the main character Katniss Everdeen and through this allows her to become a moral character and symbol. For instance, when Katniss falls in love with Peeta during the Games, she begins to protect, trust, and care for him. It’s through moments like this that Katniss becomes the symbol for morality because it so vastly contradicts the actions and emotions of the other members of the Games and the Capitol people.
When geared toward young adults, dystopian literature can hold a much more powerful message. Gregory Claeys says, “‘Dystopia’ is often used […] to describe a fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies” (107). The youth of today hold the power to change the world tomorrow. Therefore, if literature geared toward them is social commentary on the world, it can be very impactful. As dystopias tend to point out the “fallacies” of the writer’s present, the literature is a call to action, a call for change (Claeys 107). By highlighting the wrongs of today in Young Adult literature, it can persuade a generation to change tomorrow.
Claeys, Gregory. ” The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 107. Print.
Vieira, Fátima. “The concept of utopia.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 16-17. Print.