The genre of dystopia plays such a dominant role in the development of our culture, even in the modern day, that it seems necessary to craft a definition for the term. The difficulty with confining such a broad, complex style of literature into a single description is there will always be significant details left out. How could someone define something that is constantly adapting to the atmosphere of society, consistently referenced, and continuously ever-present?
Gregory Claeys claims that dystopia as a genre “refers to imaginary places that were worse than real places” and goes on to say the concept is the “dark side” of the Utopian concept. While I fundamentally agree with his analysis, I have to think there is more to dystopian themes than simply portraying a universe completely opposite of society’s utopia. In my opinion, a dystopian literature is one that reveals the flaws of our society to such an extreme that it engulfs the written reality and twists it into the worst possible outcome for humanity. The commonalities in such stories, such as a Great War or a vast abandoned colony, come together to represent this epic doom hanging over our heads that could consume our future if the warnings from the story are not heeded.
Like many other genres, dystopian themes can be combined with other categories of literature such as science fiction or fantasy. When considering such styles paired together I do not see the meaning of dystopia changing; I believe the best elements of each genre come together to adapt the broad definition into a more cultivated mixture of ideals. Science fiction brings about technological innovation and new ways of thinking in the devastated, previously hopeless environment of a dystopia. Fantasy gives way to epic battles and unearthed magic that, when used correctly, can highlight the desolate dystopian themes. Combining genres does not completely change the definition of a dystopia, it simply adjusts it to better fit the role it is made to fill.
When young adult themes are used to direct a dystopia, some slight changes in the genre can be seen. The authors, aiming to reach a wide range of ages from middle school to college, will create a broader story that could be applicable to many readers. The lessons they attempt to teach and the critiques they wish to be heard will be pushed slightly harder at the reader in order to ensure everyone receives some message from the book. The main characters in young adult dystopias typically mirror the projected audience in age, thought process, and interests. Overall, when an author aims to write a young adult dystopia the overall themes common in the genre remain with only slight changes to the style of writing.
Claeys, Gregory. “The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” The Cambridge
Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.