Blog Post 1

Dystopia’s etymology reveals the one true commonality that all dystopia’s share. The Greek word “dys,” signifying bad or difficult, places all dystopia’s in the context of the human experience. In all of them, there exists human suffering. From this point, any more depth in the definition of dystopia comes from its combination with another genre. Each genre provides a different lens to view human pain, and as a result, reveals different societal problems we experience today. Sci-Fi often examines how the use of technology may be used to oppress large amounts of people. Apocalyptic dystopias take the Sci-Fi twist and go further, in which technology leads to a slippery-slope of human annihilation.

Dramas and Romance maintain criticisms of society, though it allows for human emotion to creep through, namely love and hope. This is visible in The Hunger Games, where signs of positive human emotions not just linger, but play important roles in its plot.

Young Adult Dystopian fiction introduces subtler changes to the standard dystopian novel. It focuses on issues that younger people would likely engage in, such as love, money, and family. YA Dystopian fiction does not solely criticize society, rather it uses that criticism to build an otherwise normal plot. The setting just “happens” to be diseased and dark. The Hunger Games is not a story about a totalitarian government using its power to oppress the masses, or how technology could be used to cause great human suffering. It’s one about love, and how pure human qualities (Katniss) can prevail against greed and fear (Cato).

This thematic change brings entire new meaning to dystopian novels, one unique to YA fiction. The combination of genres appears simply as an addition, though it’s clear through its effects on plot and overall theme that different forms of dystopian literature introduce and expand on very different ideas, and their shared foundation of human suffering has little impact on the development of the novel.

Dystopias seem to be defined in a plethora of ways. On a general basis, there are certain characteristics that seem to be common to most dystopian tales. A lot of the time, it starts off with a utopian goal, but something doesn’t go as planning and leaves the community in shambles. These dystopias usual occur in the future where some sort of disaster or uprising occurs that causes the community/society to be pervaded with characteristics like poverty, an evil government or power, hunger, and just basically unfavorable circumstances. They usually are hopeless throughout the literature they are in and the stories usual focus on someone or some people who challenge the way the society works or who refuses to put up with their current conditions.

When integrating dystopia with another genre, the basic characteristics remain, but some other characteristics specific to this addition genre come to light. For example, when combining dystopia with sci-fi, usually we see how humans have used technology to advance in society but such advances have caused unanticipated circumstances. These types of literature form as a cautionary tale to those who mess with things like artificial intelligence, interstellar travel, etc. When combining dystopia with a genre of something apocalyptic though, some traits you may find are hunger, lack of resources and safety, and a broken-down society. While the core elements of dystopias remain constant, the addition of other genres alter the features of the literature.

YA literature targets a younger audience. Due to this, by integrating dystopic literature with YA literature the author tries to appeal to what they believe intrigues those from 12-18. To appeal to them, usually these dystopic novels have main characters in the same age range to add a sense of relatability and connection. It also uses language and concepts that appeal to young adults and that they understand well. For example, in The Hunger Games the novel has young main characters who while dealing with the dystopic problems, also deal with things like young love, difficult parents and siblings, and a yearn for adventure and fun. It also contains a lot of action to appeal to the youth’s need for something exciting to keep their attention. Together, these are the defining feature of a YA dystopia.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

While Merriam-Webster’s definition of a dystopian society is pretty broad, I think there are some key additional components of a society that make it truly dystopian. Merriam-Webster mentions that people tend to live fearful lives in a dystopian society, but they don’t really define the source of this fear. One of the biggest things that defines dystopia for me is the common theme of an oppressive government that causes the people to live in fear. In books like Animal Farm or even Hunger Games, there is a central, oppressive government that keeps a tight grip over their people. The first way they accomplish this is with a strong military to keep the people in check. In the Hunger Games, the Capitol uses an army called “Peacekeepers”, and Napoleon uses a pack of fierce dogs in Animal Farm.

As Snow describes in the Hunger Games movie, hope and fear are extremely powerful emotions which must be controlled precisely. By having an all powerful military, the people have no hope in successfully causing an uprising.

Another major component of dystopian societies that isn’t covered by the definition is their use of propaganda to influence the people. Luckily, many of us are told not to trust everything we read, but in dystopian societies everything said by the government becomes fact. The Treaty of Treason in the Hunger Games is a great example of this. The government tells this epic tale of the struggles that existed before the government existed, then explains how the current situation is all the fault of a previous failed uprising. This is also true in Animal Farm, where the established commandments of their society continue to be changed slightly as the pigs decide that they should be able to behave more and more like the humans that formerly oppressed them. Unfortunately for both of these societies, the people are forced to accept the propaganda as fact, or else face the wrath of the government.

A dystopia is the idea of a society which is too bad in some way to exist, typically due to tyranny and/or government corruption. This is basically a fallen utopia, a society which is too good to be true, and in many cases, dystopia can stem from utopia. Many will argue that utopia will always lead to dystopia, as a society which is “perfect” must be under significant control by some sort of government, and thus corruption and tyranny is implied. However, while this is often the case, I would argue that there isn’t necessarily always this connection between the two.

Examining dystopias from the viewpoint of different genres allows us to see the concept through a new lense, opening up different common themes and perspectives. For example, with romance dystopian novels, you often see recurring themes of sacrifice and silver linings, while with sci-fi dystopian novels, the idea of the dangers of technology is typically prominent. This doesn’t usually change our definition of a dystopia, but it does add to it for different genres and often reshapes the main ideas of the depictions of dystopia.

More recently, there’s been a rise in YA dystopian novels, those that are geared towards young adults. Dystopias in these contexts don’t change in definition, but do become limited in the content that they can offer, often sparing the gory details and explicit nature. However, this can often means we see more in depth character development, and the path to maturity is a theme that’s more predominant throughout the subclass of dystopias.

While there’s quite the range of subcategories throughout the dystopian novels, they all share the basic definition and a variety of similar themes. I’m looking forward to discovering the nuances of each genre as we read and learn more throughout the semester, as more reading into the topic will certainly 

Works Cited

The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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Too much darkness can kill yet too much light can blind.

A dystopia is nothing but the embodiment of this very basic fact of life.

When we are young, we think of everything as either black or white. Lying is bad, no matter what. Breaking rules is wrong, no questions asked. Yet as we grow older, we start to recognize that life is, in fact, a huge spectrum of infinite hues of grey. Lying is acceptable if it brings happiness and not all rules are right despite what we might have learnt as kids. And this is what defines us as humans. Excess of everything is bad. A little of both good and bad gives us a reason to choose and leaves room for error. Now, while errors may not be the best always, they are the cause of progress. A ‘perfect’ society where all possibility of error has been eradicated, as demonstrated by dystopias, tends to stagnate. When you take away the license to think or act in any other way than prescribed, that’s when you set yourself up for a better(maybe), but a stagnant future nonetheless – devoid of innovation.

As a result, a lot of dystopias focus on societies where the freedom of some major choices of life have been taken away – specifically those of love and profession.  These are the choices that most of us grow up anticipating and preparing for.  As a result, romance as a sub-genre of dystopian fiction strengthens my definition and plays a major role in most dystopias, because here, more than anywhere else, the act of even feeling love for someone is an act of defiance.

Dystopias work best when marketed as YA literature because having a young adult as the protagonist makes the most sense. Adults, by the time they get to their age, have learned to conform – having either fooled themselves into complacency or simply accepted life with its flaws. Young adults, on the other hand, are still discovering new ideas and are supposed to be rebellious by nature. As a result, they question every norm with which they have been brought up and start thinking about why they are doing what they are. Also, for young adult readers, a lot of this makes much more sense as they themselves are going through a phase where everything seems subject to scrutiny.

The defining characteristic of a dystopian narrative is the roots of its society in a utopian ideal. We see the startling, disgusting logical end result of some well-intentioned vision. The sweet promise of industry eradicating labor turns putrid as the rain turns to acid, and crops and wildlife wither and rot. Man’s great dream of economic equality and political freedom warps into the nightmare of mass poverty and the police state. The wonder of instant, ubiquitous communication, heralded as the haven of democracy, enables the surveillance of every aspect of modern life.

Surveillance camera

Science fiction dystopias display an even more pervasive fear of technological and scientific progress. The limitations on how quickly and drastically human society, and humans themselves, can change are lifted. Science fiction makes tangible our darkest, most distant dreams and enables our wildest fancy. The revelatory draught resulting from the blending of science fiction and dystopia is uniquely dark and bitter. Dystopias in this sub-genre are able to focus all the more sharply for their enhanced capacity to warp the lens through which we view our own society.

Mars transformed

When we consider Young Adult dystopias, there is a necessary change in the tone of the genre. Whereas we chastise adults for their role in bringing about the current state of affairs, we are gentler with the youth, merely cautioning them against our mistakes. Too, our perspective shifts, highlighting the way society treats the young. We are treated to a look at the system of education, the parenting, or lack of it, a grand insight into what forces form a dystopian adult. There are definite advantages to reaching the hearts and minds of the youth, as any utopian designer will attest, so young adult dystopias may well be the most impactful tool of social change available to the modern author.

The definition of dystopia is quite complex and it is often confused with those of utopia, science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and several others. One online definition is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” This is a very negative view of a place. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society and the citizens do not know what the world is like outside of their society. There is constant surveillance, and the citizens are to conform to uniform expectations where individuality is frowned upon.

While dystopias and utopias are complete opposite, the perspective taken on a society can change whether something is categorized as a dystopia or a utopia. A utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” For the ruler or government in charge of the place, the society can seem like a perfect and ideal place, a utopia. The citizens, on the other hand can be poor, miserable, and living a harsh life and view their society as a dystopia.

Dystopias are often confused with other genres. One big misunderstanding is that dystopias and science fiction are often confused with one another. In many dystopian societies there is advanced scientific technology and they are usually set in the future so it is easily confused as being a work of science fiction. Even in my experience with the dystopias that I have read, including The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series, they all included some kind of science fiction aspect.

Dystopias are often combined with the YA genre, which creates a more relatable storyline, since it does not limit the audience to a certain age group. YA novels usually include a protagonist in their age range who experiences similar things that a young adult would, including first love, family relations, and competitions. Older people can also relate to these stories, since they were young at one point in their lives. YA dystopia makes the problems relatable to a large audience in an easy to read format for everyone to enjoy.

“Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia.
“Dystopia.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dystopia.
“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006, http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf.

From my perspective, a utopia is a setting where everyone is equal. A place where everything is “perfect.” When I was younger, I used to be excited thinking that this was achievable. However, as I started growing up, each story I read about a utopia had one thing in common; they never worked out. For example, in the book The Giver, Everything started off well, but at the end the perfect society failed. Additionally, in a utopia, someone has to be in control. There has to be a leader or an oligarchy that is behind the scenes to make sure everyone is in their right place. Also, they have to control what the people know to make sure that one person is not smarter than the next. The moment that happens, whoever is in control automatically, makes him/herself better off than the population which makes the utopia “not perfect.” For example, in the movie The Divergent, everyone was equal, but there was a government that made sure there were rules and that the people abided by it. Consequently, just like The Giver, The society failed.

Generally, I like when the idea of a Utopia is combined with action, because it often physically depicts how the people will rebel against the government. Action has always been one of my favorite genres, so adding the utopian idea makes the whole concept that more interesting for me. As far as the Young Adult genre, it changes the way utopian societies are portrayed. As a young adult, I look for more a thrill when reading. So if I was an author, if I wanted to write a book about utopias for young adults, I would make it more fun and interesting to attract my audience. A book like The Hunger Games is a great example of a piece of literature that best fits a young adult.

How do you define dystopia (or other dystopia term: utopia, anti-utopia)? How does combining dystopia with another genre (sci-fi, romance, apocalypse) affect your definition? How does combining dystopia with Young Adult literature (YA) change the genre? You may use examples from class books or your own research book and to take our class discussion in an original or more in-depth direction.

 

There are two basic words I would use to characterize a dystopia: futuristic and bad. This is just a surface-level definition, but to me, dystopias take place in a future worse than our present times, and almost all feature an oppressive/tyrannical government. It is linguistically the opposite of a utopia, which the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines as an, “imaginary paradisiacal places, it has also been used to refer to a particular kind of narrative, which became known as utopian literature” (Claeys 4). But, while the setting of the books mostly follow the guidelines I have illustrated above, dystopias often have the theme of revolution and hope in overcoming seemingly impossible odds. In the Hunger Games movie, we hear President Snow remark that, “Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear.” Similarly, this is very strongly the main theme in my other favorite dystopian series, as a character remarks, “I will put my trust in hope once more, and perhaps this time, it will be enough” (Kagawa 335).

However, The Immortal Rules might be categorized in the post-apocalyptic genre along with dystopian. While these don’t have to be mutually exclusive (see: The Hunger Games), not all books that take place after an apocalypse are necessarily dystopian. The Immortal Rules takes place after a devastating plague eradicates much of humanity and, after mutating, turns the rest of its victims into mad, rabid vampires. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity mostly lives in cities ruled by non-rabid vampires who require tithes of blood in exchange for the scarce food left in the world, and they will take your blood even if you are on death’s door. They rule with an iron fist. The Lunar Chronicles is a sci-fi series that takes place in a less ravaged future, but it is on the brink of dystopia as a plague has arisen in the population. When these books deviate more from the dystopia genre (i.e. The Lunar Chronicles) it may lose some of those themes of oppression and hope to overcome.

Young adult is a genre full of tropes. Examples include the best friend group against the world, insta-love, The Chosen One, the speshul snowflake, the Mary Sue, and, of course, the much reviled and yet omnipresent love triangle. Of course, not every book has all of these (and a rare few have none!), but a YA book will have at least one. If an author chooses to write a YA dystopia, he or she faces an uphill battle in the fight to be recognized as a genuine, profound author, because many view YA literature as a trope-filled, unnecessarily light genre only able to be consumed by airheaded teens (maybe a bit dramatic, but as a YA lover, I’m frustrated). Making the protagonist a teenager also oftentimes requires the author to put their characters on a journey of self-discovery as they come of age.

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(After finding so many funny YA dystopia memes, I do believe I will post one with all of my blogs)

 

Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson, Lionsgate, 2012.

Kagawa, Julie. The Eternity Cure. Ontario: Harlequin Teen, 2013. Print.

 

Utopia, the ultimate society, and the impossible dream.

Dystopia, the harsh reality, and the inevitable outcome.

The origins for these terms go all the way back to the 1500s when Sir Thomas More wrote a book entitled Utopia, and as time went on, the concepts of utopian societies and its opposite, dystopian societies,  were found more commonly in the written world. Specifically in the past few decades, a relatively new genre has surfaced: Young Adult Dystopian Novels. A typical book in this genre will involve an attempt at creating a utopian society only to have it fall apart with the underlying reason being humanity’s own failings. This genre is centered around the idea that utopian societies are not in fact utopian but instead dystopian.

A great example of this genre is shown in the book series The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. In these books, the people of the Capitol are shown to be living the perfect life, the utopian life, whereas everyone else in the nation of Panem, specifically those living in the 12 districts, see life as a dystopia. The concept of attempting to create a utopia is clearly present in the novel; however, the society’s own faults end up leading to its downfall. Because of the oppression of the districts, the unfair treatment the districts receive, and the harsh punishment for an outdated crime, the districts unite against the Capitol to overthrow the society which they see as a means to end the dystopia that they are living in under the Capitol’s rule.

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In reading many dystopian novels including The Hunger Games, I have come to the conclusion that most if not all dystopian novels have roots in both history and society today. Many dystopian novels address inequalities based on who you are and where you were born, or serve as a warning to those who have obtained power through unjust means and use it for unlawful purposes.

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The genre of YA Dystopian novels in particular seems to be a means of educating the youth of today on the proper ethics of society without directly stating what is right or what is wrong, but instead relating experiences from their own lives (from what they’ve seen or heard) to what they have read and to apply it to their lives as they grow older and become a functioning part of society.

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This concept might not be the main reason people enjoy reading dystopian literature, but it could have contributed to the recent explosion of YA Dystopian Literature as a genre, and hopefully to a society that is closer to a true utopia in the future.

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