All posts by Tessa Porter

I stumbled across an article written by Joshua Garrison for the American Educational History Journal that I think could be incredibly useful for many people’s papers. This article surrounds the topic of how education is portrayed and utilized in dystopias, and compares this with how people view eduction in the “real” world.

The article opens with a real Presidential speech about school, and discusses the negative backlash to the speech. This opens up the article into a further discussion about the role of education in politics, and different political views on, or fears of, public education. The article talks briefly about the definition of dystopia, and how it essentially represents the writer’s “worst fears”.  Garrison mentions how both political parties employ “dystopian imagery” to push their own agendas, and bring down the other side. Next, Garrison names several dystopian novels, more or less in chronological order starting in the 1800s and moving to present day, and describes the role of education in each one. He compares and contrasts the novels, and explains how the educational set-up in each one was inspired by real life events, such as the rise of the  Ford-style Model-T industrial line, where everyone works as a part of a larger system in a pre-determined group. Though each novel is different, Garrison ultimately argues that every author saw children’s schooling in their dystopia as a way to impose control. Garrison concludes with some examples from various novels, where the kid is the “corrupt” one, brainwashed by society, and the parent is the one who recognizes he or she is in a dystopia. I thought this was an interesting contrast to our class, where most protagonists are still school-aged.

The author argues that the role of education, both in real life and in dystopian novels, is a political tool. In dystopias, education is used to brainwash children into believing false statements, or into believing a specific way the world “works”. In real life, Garrison argues, the role and implementation of public education is a controversial topic because both sides of the political spectrum fear the other side will promote their ideas. Thus, modern day dystopias can be created, because the “worst fears” of a certain political group will come true with the success of another group. Ultimately, Garrison’s point is that the role of public education in “real life” is very complicated, as some argue it is the key to equality and democracy, while others argue it strips the rights and freedoms of citizens. This constant debate and fear of role of education being in the wrong hands is mirrored in several best-selling dystopias.

Garrison makes a clear and fair argument since he never takes a political stance on public education, or sides with a political party. The article gives evidence in form of direct quotes from people of varying political identity, but never deems one as right or wrong.

I saw this research paper as the perfect opportunity to communicate an issue that I think has been plaguing society. Since the rise of modern technology there has been a lack of importance placed on literature. The presence of a generation that remains more updated than ever, through social media, puts pressure on authors (and artists, etc.) to produce content more quickly. I hypothesize that this pressure results in authors falling back on “cheap” ways to get readers, instead of focusing on the “moral” aspect of the story.

Even though teens today have plenty of other things to influence and educate them, such as twitter, video games, and various new channels, YA literature remains one of the most useful tools for challenging the mind of the youth. Quickly produced and ill-thought out books might still achieve the goal of entertaining the reader, however these novels should be fully utilized by leaving the reader with questions or conclusions about life and society. This is especially true for dystopian novels, as they are the most effective in jump-starting a reader into action, often through fear.

However, this is not the fault of the ever-blamed millennials. Studies show that millennials are the most motivated generation, they have a higher “sense of purpose” than other generations, and are the largest advocates for social change. So why is there a gap between the desires of this young generation and the content produced for them? This is one of many questions my paper aims to answer.

My inspiration for this paper came out of researching some of my favorite novels, such as Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games, which are so morbid and abstract that I wondered how where the authors got their inspiration. I did some digging, and uncovered that almost every dystopian novel author came up with their idea because of a social injustice they wished to change.

My independent reading book, Uglies fits between the modern YA dystopia mold, and the “meaningful” dystopias. Uglies features a 16 year old girl as the main character with several love interests. The novel (arguably) is a part of a trilogy, is written in simple language, and was considered for a movie. These are components of a basic, money-making dystopia. However, it certainly left me wondering about the importance I place on my appearance. The author, Scott Westerfeld, explained “that his point in writing the book was not to make a big commentary on the issues with beauty, but to make people aware of the culture of retouching that is developing in the world and to be aware of our own ideas about beauty and our need to think for ourselves”.

Uglies should be a model to YA authors around the world. Dystopian novels can play into cliches, and get readers, while still having meaning.

Authors and Society: stop measuring the success of a novel by how much money the movie adaption made, and instead by the number of lives it impacted.

As someone who spent most of her life planning to become an author, finishing a good dystopia (or really, any good novel) always left me with a burning question: What inspired this? The brainstorm stage behind starting a story or essay has always been my favorite part of the writing process. Specifically, after reading Lord of the Flies for the first time, I was curious as to how William Golding (pictured below) could come up with something so morbid. After doing some research, I learned that Golding served in World War II and was heavily inspired by the terrors of war for his book, and also developed a lot of life philosophies after his experience. I think it would be really interesting to develop a timeline of sorts, and “plot” the dystopian novels that were published across the years. I personally believe that “clusters” would form around important world events.

Additionally, I think it would be super interesting to ask authors (or do extensive research) about why they chose a specific sub-genre to represent their ideas. Why would one choose a fantastical dystopia over a post-apocalyptic one? This also makes me wonder if authors generally pick their characters and storyline before their sub-genre, or vice versa. Is there a different method to writing novels for dystopian writers?

Another thing I wish to understand about dystopian novels is why the YA target group is so popular. I understand this is the age group that tends to have more time to read, tweet, go to the movies etc.; but it seems unrealistic that teenagers are always leading the rebellion. I would be interested to do some quick historical research to see examples of this in real life. Maybe authors intended to motivate younger crowds to be active in their societies?


Overall, I hope to be able to research the true motivations behind the authors of these works. I personally believe (though, I am biased because all my favorite books are dystopias) that dystopian novels are more important to society than other fictions, and thus, more thought goes into writing them. I am particularly interested in researching historical context of the world before the publication of certain books, and perhaps components of the authors’ lives that could’ve influenced the novel.

Propaganda is arguably the most important element in dystopian literature. Propaganda, or biased media usually published with a specific agenda, is essential to the type of authoritarian government so often seen in dystopian novels. Since the beginning of time, people have gotten their information about the world from other people. As technology and social media have spread, this access to information has gotten quicker, but still many people remain informed by the words of others. Even in the world of “alternative facts” today, the idea that anyone can share news with anyone else has remained a central theme to democracy and freedom. The multitude of news sources today’s generation sees (FOX, CNN, twitter, etc.) ensures that many different opinions on a single topic can be shared. This in incredibly important because if only one source was reporting, many Americans (or other citizens of the free world) would only hear one side of the story. Imagine how different elections would be if debates weren’t live for the people to watch? If every sentence spoken by a candidate was carefully structured and only released by a single news source, people would have much different opinions. Thus, it is easy to see how he (or she) who controls the media can easily control a large group of people.

Propaganda is utilized in dystopias because it is easier to control a group of people that doesn’t know they’re being controlled. “Any” utilitarian government with the right resources can force people to work or force them to live in designated areas; but a government that controls the people’s media (and thus, their opinions) can make the people willingly take themselves to laborious work.

The chilling effects of propaganda are best seen in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Even home is equipped with a telescreen (basically just a TV) which sounds cool at first, until you realize you can’t turn it off. Even in the “privacy” of one’s own home, the government and their messages cannot be escaped. A citizen of this dystopian setting is constantly bombarded with biased messages about amazing feats their government has achieved. While a citizen might be suspicious, since constant success seems unlikely, they have no other news source to check their facts against so they must have faith in their government. Every newspaper and handout is also only from the government as well. This, combined with the military music that often accompanies the boastful news, inspires patriotism in the citizens. Thus, they begin to trust and rely on their government and desire for rebellion is essentially extinguished.

To me, dystopia is simply the failure of utopia. I believe that, in literature, a dystopia doesn’t just “exist”, it slowly forms out of the degradation of what was once considered a utopia. Examples of this are Panem in The Hunger Games, the Community in The Giver, and even the island in Lord of the Flies. They all become dystopias in different ways, but all were, at one point, considered utopias.

Panem is described as the futuristic government region that grew out of the ashes of North America. In Panem, citizens are split up into different Districts, each responsible for providing a specific product to the government, the Capitol. There is also new technology, such as cool hovercrafts and super fast trains. While this seems organized and ideal, the districts end up feeling belittled by the Capitol and get sick of constantly feeling as if they’re working only for the rich residents there. This causes the uprising that prefaces the Games themselves.

In The Giver, an “idealistic” community is created where there is little to no human emotion or creativity. The citizens there don’t feel love or sadness, and there is no color. Every citizen is assigned a family and a job. The absence of what I like to call “human variation” makes citizens easy to control and allows for equal distribution of resources, which seems like the solution to most problems I see in the world today. However, the main character Jonas gets a taste of emotion, color, and “true life” (as we know it today) and can never go back to accepting his uniform and bland community. So he leaves to search for a freer world, and it is implied he comes back to “rescue” his family and friends. Here, a utopia doesn’t necessarily “fall” within the pages of the book; but nevertheless a utopia turns into a dystopia, this time through the eyes of a citizen.

In Lord of the Flies, school-age boys are plane-wrecked on an abandoned island. While this may seem like a horror story to some, to the boys this a dream come true. No schoolwork, no nagging parents: just absolute freedom to goof and run around. However, the perils of Mother Nature quickly comes into play and some of the boys realize they would rather be home. The novel soon turns into an ongoing argument between two groups of boys: is this island a utopia or a dystopia? Do they want to rule their new land or be recused?

In each of these novels, a seemingly ideal place (at least to the characters within the story) becomes dangerous or unwelcoming. I believe that the overall message of the dystopian genre is to be careful in the search for perfection: it can come at a cost.