Throughout this semester, we’ve been reading and discussing countless elements of Young Adult Dystopian literature, from timelines, to love stories, scientific advancement, and so on; but, have we ever stopped to ask why specifically young adult literature? Is there something special about these characters that defines an entirely different genre? In my conference presentation and research paper, I’ll be discussing why young adults have acted as powerful enough characters to make this genre as popular and profitable as it is.
As visible in this graphic, following the publication of The Hunger Games in 2008, the percentage of literature with a dystopian theme skyrocketed, many of the most popular of these publications containing young adult characters, such as M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent. These stories showcase young adults, which I’ll refer to as 15-24-year-olds, facing similar problems and pressures to what we face in our everyday lives. They fight for what they believe in in a world that is different, yet not completely unrecognizable from ours OR impossible for ours to become. What draws such a connection between these characters and audiences of all ages are the relatable aspects of life that readers can relate to through their youth, and how relevant many of the issues the characters face are to the youth population today.
One interesting aspect of young adult literature that I want to elaborate on in my argument is how intensely the following of such a relatable character can influence trends in the genre. For example, the Divergent series was profitable enough to be turned into a movie, even though critics speculate that the book’s plot was so poor that it must’ve been written merely for money-making purposes (Dean, 48-49). This book wouldn’t have been able to connect to so many people had they not become attached to the main character and the challenges she faces, and even though it was not necessarily critically acclaimed, it did its job of connecting to people of all ages through a young character. My presentation is not a case study on Divergent, however, but rather it is a study of how characters similar to those in the aforementioned texts are shaped around their environments to become characters that everybody seems to want to read about.
Brown, Patrick. “The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games [INFOGRAPHIC].”Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Dean, Michelle. “Our Young-Adult Dystopia.” New York Times Magazine, Feb 02 2014, pp. 48-49. New York Times; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Newsstand; Research Library, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/1495412558?accountid=11107.
M.T. Anderson’s Feed takes place sometime in the (hopefully) not so near future, with a main emphasis on social media and corporations taking over everything in America, from School^TM to private instant messaging. Subtly, underneath all of the advertising we see clogging Titus’s (the main character) mental feed, we also catch glimpses of a future in which the Earth is nearly too toxic to safely inhabit, and in which America goes to war and cuts off ties with other world powers without much explanation. In this grand scheme of events, the novel focuses on a group of (mostly) uninformed teens who have little to no life experience without a chip in their brains telling them almost everything they could ever need to know. In this dystopia specifically, I’m most interested in the development of technology, how separated the young adults are from the world around them, and how the young adults develop with such a connection between the internet and their brains.
Following these interests, one possible main research question of mine is: What traits do young adults pose that make them so well-suited for the dystopian genre? In Feed, the sheer amount of time spent on social media is strongly emphasized, which is incredibly reminiscent of complaints by parents about their kids in America today. This makes young adults an incredible audience for a story like this because of how well they can relate, perhaps even more so today than when the book was originally published back in 2002. Alternately, another question of mine is: How does the development of technology impact in YA dystopian literature? The impact of technology in Feed is rather intense, as the function of one’s feed chip directly correlates with their brain and therefore their physical and mental health. Are teenagers just rebellious enough naturally to fight back against the system that makes their world a dystopia in the first place? Are young adults better suited to understand world problems when articulated through ways in which they can relate? This is just a taste of some of the questions I’m hoping to answer and understand throughout the ongoing and upcoming research process.
One of the most impactful and ever-present pieces of propaganda used during The Hunger Games is the Treaty of Treason video that is shown during the reaping (in this post, I’ll be referring to the version from the movie and the visuals that are portrayed along with it):
Not only is this video issued by the Capitol in an attempt to justify the Hunger Games, but it is also a way of making the citizens of Panem feel as though the Hunger Games’ existence is their fault. In my opinion, the message and its delivery are masterfully crafted; it idolizes the Capitol (“Thirteen districts rebelled against the country that fed them, loved them, protected them…”), showing what the country suffered without explaining what terrible things the Capitol responded to the rebellion with, one example being the complete obliteration of District 13. The video makes it seem as though the districts destroyed each other, stating, “Brother turned on brother until nothing remained.” The Capitol then goes on to blame the districts for their current situation without defining the Capitol as the villain by using collective words such as “we” in, “We swore as a nation we would never know this treason again…” and uses the passive to avoid fault, such as in, “… and so it was decreed…” when discussing the founding of the Hunger Games.
Propaganda is defined as, “The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” In this instance, the Capitol is picking and choosing words out of Panem’s history in order to make the districts look like the problem and instill a trust in the Capitol’s actions. However, this does not stop the children from District 12 from appearing stressed and upset at their potential death sentence. The Hunger Games have been accepted as a part of life after so many years since its founding, and though the people in the higher-numbered districts have realized its severity, those in the Career districts are able to take pride in the video and accept that the reward of “our generosity and our forgiveness [in the form of fame and riches]” is worth the risk of death. Does this mean that this warped explanation of history has taken its toll in changing the outlook of those districts on the Capitol, or are the people in those districts indifferent to the games because those that don’t want to participate will never have to due to the high amount of volunteers? Does this allow them to take advantage of the tesserae system by placing names in the jar that will never get picked? This specific propaganda film within The Hunger Games is one of the great ways in which disparities between districts and their attitudes towards the Games may have been formed, and has acted as a manipulative way for the Capitol to save face on the events that occurred in Panem’s history.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.
“Propaganda.” Merriam-Webster.com, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/propaganda.
The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, Lionsgate Films, 2012.
I believe that similar to how science fiction is defined in the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, there is no entirely true or correct definition of a utopia or dystopia¹. Although there are common ways to define utopia, such as “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions”², each individual defines “perfection” of such aspects of life differently. Alternately, a dystopia is commonly defined as, “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives”³. Is it possible for these two definitions to be referring to the same society? Since the words “ideal”, “perfection” and even “people” are up to the reader’s (or writer’s) own interpretation, I believe that this is absolutely possible. For example, one person’s utopia could be a society in which he/she is a dictator and all around him/her are servants that make the author’s life better. When viewed from the dictator’s perspective, this is utopia; an ideal situation in which all aspects of life are in his/her favor. However, for everyone else, this could be considered dystopia, as they suffer under servitude and fear of their dictator.
Personally, I don’t have all too much experience with young adult dystopian literature, or at least I haven’t since about my freshman year of high school. When I imagine a dystopia from my own perspective, the image that pops into my head is one with bleak weather, torn down infrastructure and an oppressed society typically ruled by a grueling dictator, as portrayed in this photo here:
Figure 1 – A screenshot from the movie Children of Men, in which mankind in the near future is infertile and the UK is a police state.⁴
I believe that science fiction has actually played a big role in my experience with dystopias. I almost always associate a dystopian society with the future, in which technology has either taken over on its own or been used to ruin the world. The only dystopia I know that has a somewhat conflicting relationship with technology and my own idea of a dystopia is actually The Hunger Games. This is because this novel takes place in a society with far more advanced technology ranging from larger airships to holographic technologies, yet they resort to classical (or what could be considered even ancient) warfare during the games. What makes a dystopia “young adult,” however, seems more straightforward to me, as the ones I’ve read seem to point more towards a thrilling and imaginary tale rather than the analysis and exaggeration of an innate problem with our current society. Although these problems could still be drawn from the storyline, they are not quite as obviously related to our lives as readers. Examples of this include The Hunger Games series and the I Am Number Four series, the latter of which revolves around the inhabitation of Earth by ten foreign beings who wish to destroy the species that destroyed their own planet.
1. Claeys, Gregory, editor. “Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian
Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2010, pp. 135–150.
2. “Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia.
3. “Dystopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.
4. “Bleak Future – 12 of the Best Dystopian Sci-Fi Movies.” Imgur, 28 Oct. 2014,