All posts tagged agency

For the dystopian heroine, as for the young adult reader who shares her despairs and triumphs, the quest for agency is the principle focus of the ascent to adulthood. In the realm of utopian literature, one can scarcely conceive of a society absent agency as anything other than a disaster.

In my conference presentation, A Sympathetic Tantalus: The Scorpion Rules and the Broken Promise of Agency, I will be discussing the role agency plays in young adult dystopian narratives, and more importantly the role young adult dystopian literature plays in developing a sense of agency in our youth. The talk will focus on Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules, following Princess Greta’s development from hostage schoolgirl to tortured captive, and finally to awe-inspiring trans-human intellect. Will we cover the intricacies of goat husbandry, or the intrigue of princess/goddess/farm boy love triangles?

“Goats — the shapers of history.”

Probably not. We do have our time constraints. Nevertheless, you will not want to miss the classic dystopian staples: ecological disaster, global war, genocide, filicide, panopticism, un-nerving robot intelligences that make us question the very nature of humanity, and more. We will also be forced to consider Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, painfully immediate though it is. Remembering the rumbling of dissatisfaction with the fate of Marcus’ revolution, the continuing existence of the DHS, and the absence of any true punishment for the dreaded Severe Haircut Lady, we will consider the efficacy of the ambiguous ending in literature as a spur to real-world action.

I argue that this pattern is greater than fear alone and more affective than mere hope. It is a thing that unsettles and forces a response. Having experienced the arduous road to revolution and the crushing defeat that follows, how do we choose to fill the void in our hearts and the vacant space the author leaves for our own story?

Works Cited:
Bow, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016, New York.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC., 2008, New York.
Elgaard. Goat in Argan Nut tree, Morocco. Wikimedia Commons, 22 Feb. 2015,

As young adults come of age, one of the essential duties of any society, dystopian or utopian, real or fictional, is the preparation of those young people for their roles as productive citizens. In The Scorpion Rules, Bow presents a story set in what is both a prison and a school for future world leaders. They learn, hands-on, humility and the principles of sustainable agriculture. In the classroom they are taught history, philosophy, and the futility of standing against the AI. It is this sense of powerlessness that serves as the cornerstone of many dystopian regimes, and it is in answer to this feeling that many writers choose to present an alternative to today’s youth.

The modern world faces dark times as the art of mass surveillance is perfected, the political elite seem bent on sewing division and dependence, and the great capitalist industrial complex refuses to respect our shared resources and habitat. How then do we entice our young people to abandon this despondence? How do we instill them not merely with a sense of vague, unjustified hope but with a sure and rational sense of social agency?

The Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen begins the series responsible for the survival of herself and her family. She is a capable and experienced provider, adapting to her environment with skill and cunning, yet she does not consider her potential to change the world. She refers to the games as “the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy” (18). Many young readers will empathize with this point of view. The rise from an obscure life of mere subsistence to become a true agent of revolution is a powerful and enviable story, though rather an emotional and perhaps unrealistic one. Don’t we need more than simple pathos in our appeal to the next generation? For my research, I intend to consider the rhetoric with which we teach agency, particularly focusing on the logical side of arguments. (Hopefully we can agree that young adults have logical sides to which to appeal.)

Works Cited:
Bow, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016, New York.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2009, New York.
Good, Thomas Altfather. Climate Protest UMaine. Wikimedia Commons, 21 Sep. 2014,